The social distancing uni

Solutions outside the box

Laboratories are slowly letting in a few researchers at a time. Students can once again rent study cabinets at the UB. But does the university have enough room for tens of thousands of people? Students and staff came up with a few out-of-the-box ideas.
By Christien Boomsma and Giulia Fabrizi

The corona umbrella

We’re proud to present the corona umbrella. It’s a see-through umbrella that covers you like a bubble. It can be used in places where it’s impossible to stay 1.5 metres away from others. You’ll have enough room inside to read a book or newspaper or to work on your laptop. The idea was sent to us by Antoinet Dunning, wife of CIT application developer Jan Hemel. 

She came up with the idea when she needed a way to visit her elderly mother-in-law during the lockdown. ‘She’s housebound and we wanted to make sure she got some air’, says Dunning. ‘But she would have to come with us in the car, and she’s in a wheelchair, so we wouldn’t be able to keep our distance.’ But then there was the corona umbrella.

‘She really loved it.’ Sitting in the back of the car was no longer a problem, and Dunning’s mother-in-law could carry the umbrella herself when she was in her wheelchair. ‘If she were to cough in the car it wouldn’t hit us, and if we were to cough while pushing her in the chair, it wouldn’t hit her. If you unfold that umbrella, you’re completely protected.’ 

The umbrella’s got everything going for it. During a stroll around the neighbourhood, Dunning and Hemel discovered that you’re still visible and audible while carrying it. ‘People were kind of giving us weird looks, since it wasn’t raining’, says Dunning. ‘But everyone can hear you perfectly.’

It’s also an affordable solution, and a long-lasting one. The umbrellas are just ten bucks on the internet. ‘They’re also easy to clean. If you think someone spit on your corona umbrella, you can just wipe the plastic down’, says Dunning. 

‘I can see this working for students, as well. In class, for drinks outside, in the theatre, at festivals. Whenever you’re not feeling comfortable, just pop open your corona umbrella.’ You’ll have plenty of room to continue taking notes or drink a beer. ‘And if it starts raining, you’re automatically protected.’

Photos by Jan Hemel

2. Silent disco lecture

The UG may be struggling to cope with the coronavirus, but so is ‘pride of the north’ FC Groningen. The players have isolated themselves in fear of getting ill, and not only are they playing games in empty stadiums, their market value is decreasing rapidly. Perhaps the UG and the FC can help each other, UKrant columnist Bauke van der Kooij thought.

Bauke writes: ‘The FC Groningen stadium will be divided into four sections. Two long sides, and two short ones. I’m not great at maths, but I calculated one student for every twelve chairs. That means six hundred students on each long side and 350 on the short ones.

We’ll put four gigantic screens on the field, each with a lecturer teaching a class. The lecturers will talk into a microphone that’s connected to headphones for the students. This means the lecturers won’t have to shout over each other to be heard; the students will have their own silent disco, listening to their lecturer over the headphones and looking at the class slides on the screen.

This method allows four classes to be taught at once, for a total of 1,900 students. Scheduling classes from 9 to 11 a.m., 12 to 2 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m. means a total of 5,700 students can attend class in a day.

The stadium also has lights, so you could even teach evening classes!’

3. The Round University

Most offices and rooms at the UG are square, which makes it hard to calculate how to make them coronaproof, says professional draughts player and UG IT employee Wouter Sipma. It would be much easier if everything was round. Having straight corners works if you want to cram as many boxes into a truck, but not if you need everyone to stay 1.5 metres away from you on all sides.

So how many square metres do we need? Sipma does the calculations for us: a circle with a radius of 1.5 metres has a surface of π x 1.52 = 7.07 m2. The UG has a total combined floor area of 432,500 m2 (according to data from 2014), which means there’s room for a little over sixty thousand people. The university has 32,700 students and 6,100 FTE worth of staff, so that should work. 

Time to get rid of all the square rooms and make way for the Round University.

4. Insta-spiration

The university recently asked people to come up with ideas on how to make the buildings suitable for social distancing. We then asked you this question on our Instagram account. Here are some of the responses you gave.

5. Traffic lights

Perhaps, facility manager Albert van der Kloet suggested in UKrant last week, it might be a good idea to install traffic lights at the UB bathrooms. The hallways are extremely narrow and people will never be able to keep their distance from each other.

It’s a great idea. Besides, the technique has been used for years on amusement park slides, which means it could be used in other places at the university as well. How about traffic lights at the staircase in the Heymans building? Or right outside the revolving doors to the UB?


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