Wetenschap - 31 januari 2002

English summary

Wageningen researchers appear to be workaholics.

Many have so much holiday outstanding that they could stay off work for a few months. Three years ago a new 'holiday leave rule' was introduced to limit the number of hours that can be carried over from one year to the next. At the beginning of this year there were 1515 staff who had more than the maximum of 120 hours to carry over. The 'Optare regeling' was introduced in January, whereby it is now possible to exchange five days' leave for a new bicycle, take paid parental leave, or convert five days into study leave. It is not yet known how many people will take advantage of these possibilities.

The continuing imbalance between the number of female and male members of staff at Wageningen University has prompted a number of older Wageningen women graduates to do a study of the female graduates and scientists of the institution from 1918 to 2003.

Not only have increasing numbers of women graduated over the last eighty years, to the extent that nearly a quarter of all graduates is female, but a larger percentage of the women who start now finish their studies than their male counterparts. Fifty years ago the path to graduation was far rockier for women: as one put it, 'whether you graduated or not depended on your boyfriend'. Things still have a way to go though: while 39 percent of the total number of university employees are now women, in the upper echelons the figure is only 21 percent.

Environmental technologists in Wageningen have come up with a way to make the phosphorus industry more environmentally friendly.

Instead of mining phosphorus ore phosphorus can be extracted from waste water with the help of micro-organisms. The technique uses specific micro-organisms that can store phosphates in very high concentrations. It is then relatively easy to separate the phosphate from the micro-organisms in a form that the phosphorus industry can use. Given the dwindling amounts of naturally occurring phosphorus reserves Dr Hardy Temmink and Dr Bram Klapwijk of the sub-department of Environmental Technology believe that the new technique is a golden opportunity to save these reserves and at the same time reduce the flow of phosphates into waste water.

Applied Plant Research in Naaldwijk has developed a way of keeping parasitic wasps in cucumber greenhouses all year round.

Cucumber growers use parasitic wasps to keep whitefly from harming the cucumbers. Because cucumbers are not grown all year round, each year the wasp population dies off when their food source is removed, and at the beginning of each growing season the farmers have to buy a new supply of parasitic wasps. However, by putting wild plants (known as banker plants) in the greenhouse, which carry whitefly that do not attack cucumbers but are parasitised by the wasps, the grower can create a permanent wasp population. According to researcher Marieke van der Staaij, farmers are interested in the new technique. Now it is a question of finding companies that are willing to grow banker plants with wild whitefly. This will mean a reduction in the amount of parasitic wasps they can sell.

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