• Academic Leeuwarden

    Meet the Frisian knowledge institutes

    The RUG/Campus Fryslân is taking shape, and the ties with the Frisian knowledge institutes Dairy Campus, Wetsus, Tresoar, and the Fryske Akademy are being strengthened. But what those institutes actually do and what they can offer students is not clear to everyone.
    in short

    Last week, the first RUG/Campus Fryslân PhD candidate defended her thesis. This event kicked off a closer collaboration between Frisian knowledge institutes and the RUG in the near future.

    The master’s programmes at the ‘eleventh faculty’ will tie in closely to the Leeuwarden knowledge institutes such as Wetsus, Dairy Campus, Tresoar, and Fryske Akademy.

    Wetsus employs approximately 150 researchers whose work focuses on water treatment. Approximately 40 per cent of these are students.

    Wetsus has grand ambitions: they want to create breakthrough technology, and they have high standards for their researchers.

    The Dairy Campus looks like an ordinary farm, but they research all aspects of daily farm life and cattle behaviour – including emissions.

    Tresoar is a library, museum, educational space and archive all in one. The building is a paradise for students of history, housing Rembrandt’s marriage certificate and a document signed by Napoleon himself.

    At the Fryske Akademy, 70 current employees focus on research into the Frisian language, culture, and history. However, they also organise research projects that go beyond the provincial borders.

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    Last Friday, chemist Anna Casadellà was the first RUG/Campus Fryslân PhD candidate to defend her thesis. ‘It’s an enormous honour’, says Casadellà. ‘But I’m also feeling the pressure from all the attention.’

    This promotion is the start of a closer collaboration between the Frisian knowledge institutes and the RUG. Casadellà, who did her research at Wetsus, sees that as a good thing. ‘Because of this collaboration, I was able to use the knowledge and tools of both institutes’, she says. ‘That certainly helped.’

    To bolster the collaboration, the master programmes at the ‘eleventh faculty’ will tie in with the knowledge institutes in Leeuwarden. But what do these knowledge institutes even do? The UK visited them and found out.


    If you have travelled to Leeuwarden by train recently, you have undoubtedly noticed the Wetsus building. The structure’s interesting architecture makes it appear to be flowing, befitting an institute whose work all revolves around water.

    The building houses approximately 150 researchers, all od whom are focused on water conservation. According Board of Directors member Johannes Boonstra, Wetsus has the highest concentration of scientists in Leeuwarden. A large portion of the employees are students: there are 25 students who are doing their final projects at Wetsus and 30 students who are following the master programme water technology. This master was set up in 2008 in collaboration with the University of Twente, the University of Wageningen, and the RUG. Since then, it has become a joint degree attracting process technology engineers, chemical technology engineers, biotechnological engineers, and microbiologists from all the universities to Leeuwarden.

    Wetsus has grand ambitions. ‘We’re not interested in improving current techniques’, says Boonstra. ‘We want to create breakthrough technology.’ That is also why they set high standards for their employees. If they can’t find a suitable candidate for a PhD project, they will simply postpone it for a year. This strategy has led to many new insights and a few spin-offs, for example developments in the field of blue energy. In collaboration with Fujifilm, among others, Wetsus has developed membranes that can generate energy from water. These membranes are currently being tested at the Afsluitdijk.

    Boonstra sees these breakthroughs as a result of intense collaboration between different fields. ‘We employ 60 PhD candidates that are connected to 55 professors. All these researchers work together, which ensures new types of creativity.’ In addition, Wetsus works together with 105 companies that can generate ideas for new research in exchange for financial support. ‘This collaboration enables us to more easily market the technologies we develop’, says Boonstra. ‘Simply put, our research is very relevant.’

    Dairy Campus

    At first blush, the Dairy Campus looks like an ordinary farm. It is located outside the city: you have to bike a considerable distance through no man’s land to get there, and there are a few hundred cows milling about the facilities. But it’s not technically a farm, because the Dairy Campus is focused on research. The campus was founded by the University of Wageningen in collaboration with several large companies, such as Friesland Campina and LTO Nederland. ‘It’s a testing ground where business owners, researchers, and education collide’, explains communications staffer Nelleke Meindertsma. ‘Together, they do research in a wide variety of fields.

    This research, obviously, is aimed at the daily aspects of farm life, such as the quality of cattle feed and how to ensure an optimal milk yield. The researchers also look at things you might not expect. ‘We have behavioural researchers that study how cows act in groups’, says Meindertsma. ‘But we also have environmental experts that measure the cows’ emissions.’

    In May, they will open three new stables that should make the research even easier. There are sensors everywhere, so the scientists can follow the individual cows through a tracker in their collars. The new environmental stable is equipped with three different floors, each of which processes the cows’ excrement differently. ‘We can replace these floors every few months to try something new’, says Meindertsma. The campus is flexible enough to support different types of research.

    All this research is mainly performed by college students at Van Hall Larenstein and researchers and students from Wageningen. Dairy Campus also expects that the collaboration with RUG/Campus Fryslân will draw more Groningen students to Leeuwarden. ‘Not just people who want to be farmers, either’, Meindertsma emphasises. ‘We also welcome soil researchers, managers, behavioural researchers, environmental experts or anyone else who is interested.’


    The Tresoar building is a library, museum, educational space and archive all in one, and people from all walks of life can be found within its walls. While students are studying at their laptops in one corner, senior citizens are looking at old population registers in another. This variety is also reflected in Tresoar’s collection. ‘We collect private archives from deceased Frisian authors, for example’, says curator Inge Heslinga. ‘But we also own the Wadden society’s archives, and the ceramics museum’s.’

    These collections do have something in common: they are all connected to Friesland. Tresoar is the pre-eminent depot for Frisian language literature. But that does not mean that they only collect Frisian pieces. Heslinga: ‘We work in accordance with the concept ‘Friesland in context’. So everything that involves Friesland somehow ends up here.’ 

    In addition to collecting new pieces, Heslinga is also working on setting up an e-depot in collaboration with the National Archives. ‘The archives belong to everyone, so we want to make sure that everyone can access them.’ Many of Tresoar’s projects revolve around digitisation. For example, they are working together with Groningen researchers to digitise old maps, so they can project new maps over them. Moreover, they want to connect their website with information about Frisian people to Wikipedia to make it readily available. They also have a genealogy website where you can discover your Frisian roots.  

    All these efforts to digitise the archives does not take away from the fact that there are plenty of good finds there: Rembrandt’s marriage certificate, a collection of portraits by Frisian artists, and even a deed signed by Napoleon, seal and all. The oldest item in the depot, the book ‘The Attic Nights’ from 836, is kept in a safe – although, funnily enough, the key to the room is kept on a chain right next to the door. Any history student would be happy to spend a few days in this place.

    Fryske Akademy

    The Frisian people have clearly fully embraced the Fryske Akademy, as evidenced by the fact that the institute was gifted the Coulonhûs, a monumental building close to the crooked Oldehovetoren. And although most employees work in a new, modern building behind this one, the old building still houses meeting rooms and offices.

    It just goes to show how much the Fryske Akademy is an initiative by the Frisian people. When it was founded, the intention was that the Akademy would become the Frisian version of the KNAW (The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences), but that turned out to not be feasible. Nowadays, the 70 current employees focus on research into the Frisian language, culture, and history. ‘To work here, you must have an affinity with Friesland’, says communications representative Richard de Boer.

    Yet the Akademy does not focus solely on Friesland. Historian Hans Mol, for instance, is working on HisGis, a project that takes land register data and data from population registers and inputs them in a geographical information system. You can look up any address and see who lived there 70 years ago, what his or her civil status was, and even what their religion was. ‘We’re now working on expanding this project to other cities and provinces’, says Mol. ‘Amsterdam has been mapped in its entirety, too.’ And the archaeological research does not end at the provincial border, either.

    The Akademy also does a lot of research in multilingualism. ‘We have been providing our education trilingually for decades’, says linguist Hans van de Velde. ‘This is unique, so we’d like to research it thoroughly.’ In this, they also research any applications, such as language computers for the healthcare sector. The new master’s programme multilingualism will probably contribute to this. ‘When there’s a place for people to come together, it bolsters interdisciplinary research. And we want to work together to increase knowledge.’

    The new faculty

    The first master’s programmes at the RUG/Campus Fryslân will have strong ties to the knowledge institutes. The master water technology, for instance, will regularly collaborate with Wetsus, and the multilingualism master’s programme will work closely with Tresoar and the Fryske Akademy. Any applications gained from the master environmental & energy management can be tested at the Dairy Campus. Moreover, the new faculty will also initially offer a high-tech systems & materials master.

    The RUG/Campus Fryslân wants to expand the master’s programmes on offer even further in the coming years with, among others, governance & security and tourism & geography. They also hope to add programmes such as game technology and dairy & global food challenge at a later stage. This last master’s programme will offer more opportunities for collaboration with the Dairy Campus.