Everyone knows… #1Bert Kers
‘I want what I do to save lives’
He’s standing in his very own lab. Behind him, there are posters and photographs of the Lutjewad measuring station, where he studies the CO2 in the atmosphere, among other things. Next to him, computers process the data from CO2 measurements taken from the air above the Zernike campus.
On his hip, he wears a walkie-talkie. The walkie-talkie. If anything goes wrong at the Energy Academy, Bernoulliborg, Nijenborgh 4, or the Linnaeusborg, it will come in through this walkie-talkie. That’s because Bert Kers isn’t just an isotope researcher; he’s also the team manager for the in-house emergency response team at the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE). ‘This is it!’ he says proudly as he puts the device on the table. ‘This is where everything comes in on.’
He’ll also receive alerts of a potential fire. When that happens Bert, the faculty’s trained firefighter, can leap into action. ‘I was asked to fill the position way back in the eighties’, he says. ‘I accepted and started training.’
This means he is qualified to rescue people or tell the professional Groningen fire fighters where to go in burning buildings. ‘It’s very important to me that what I do saves lives’, he says.
Put out a fire
That’s how most people around here know him. Every year, Bert participates in the FSE safety instructions. Over the course of a week, thousands of students learn how to put out a fire, as well as many other useful things. ‘Look!’ he says, holding up a picture of students in white lab coats attempting to put out a roaring fire in the car park of Nijenborgh 4. He’s in the photo as well, dressed in his fire fighter outfit.
He also teaches students how to use a fire blanket, or how to handle liquid nitrogen that’s 196 degrees below zero. ‘Turns out they had no idea’, he says. ‘That’s why we added it to the training roster.’
Red liquid was running down the stairs, which was an unpleasant sight
Bert also provides lab training for the students at his own CIO, the Centre for Isotope Research, and the Energy Conversion department. He gives tours, explains procedures and how the equipment works, and talks about safety measures. This is absolutely necessary, since he can’t be everywhere at once. ‘A lot of the time, we’ll get an alert and the students have already resolved the issue before we’ve even arrived.’
But things do go wrong occasionally. The worst thing he ever saw was when a fume hood exploded and wounded a student, who was also exposed to toxic substances. The wound had to be irrigated immediately. ‘When I came running up, red liquid was running down the stairs. That was an unpleasant sight.’ He remembers how the people from the trauma helicopter helped the student, after which she was taken to hospital by ambulance.
But he loves working at the university. Upon finishing his studies, Bert knew he didn’t want to work in a ‘corporate lab’. ‘At the university, we work on expanding the boundaries of knowledge. That’s a great challenge.’
Students start out at the bottom and end up surpassing me in knowledge
But the favourite part of his job is ‘helping students grow. They start out at the bottom and end up surpassing me in knowledge.’
He’s seen the UG change over the years. Once, FSE was dominated by men; the women were pretty much confined to the administrative department. But this has definitely changed. ‘The other day, I saw three female PhD students explaining to each other how the measuring systems they’d designed themselves worked’, he says. ‘That was the first time since I started working here that I saw three handy ladies tinkering together.’
He spent quite a lot of time at the faculty during the pandemic. ‘I had to take measurements, service equipment, and replace parts. I can’t do that from home.’ Now that staff is no longer advised to work from home, you might just run into him more often, especially now that practical classes are back on. ‘When there are students in the building, someone needs to keep an eye on them.’
Series | There are some UG employees that everyone knows. The cafeteria worker with the nice laugh, the concierge who can always tell you how to get somewhere.