"Sustainability research within the natural sciences should be more visible"

Interview with Science for Sustainability initiator René van Roij

On 24 March (13:00-17:00), the kick-off event for the new platform Science for Sustainability will take place. Science for Sustainability (S4S) is a new community designed for and by researchers within the natural sciences doing research related to sustainability. The community aims to increase the visibility of and create collaboration between these research groups within Pathways to Sustainability, one of the four strategic themes of Utrecht University. 

Jamie and Tara, two Master students doing their internship for S4S, spoke with René van Roij to find out why he took the initiative to start S4S, what the goals of S4S are and what will happen during the kick-off event.

What is your position within Utrecht University?

“I have been working at Utrecht University for 22 years now, currently as professor and scientific director of the Institute for Theoretical Physics. I studied physics at Utrecht University and later specialised in soft-matter theory. Currently, I am doing fundamental research on nanomaterials. Within this field, I can think of various applications that could contribute to sustainability.”

What is your role within S4S?

“When Utrecht University formulated the four main strategic themes a couple of years ago, I was very enthusiastic about Pathways to Sustainability and its relation to the natural sciences. Over the years, I have come to realise that sustainability is a much broader theme than I had imagined initially, but also that the natural sciences, at least to my taste, were somewhat underrepresented within this strategic theme. This is why we initiated S4S together with some colleagues. With S4S, we aim to create more visibility and awareness of the sustainability research within the faculties of Science and Geosciences.”

What does S4S offer and to whom?

“The natural sciences community in Utrecht is quite big, so not everyone knows what is going on in other labs or research institutes. The S4S platform is an effort to get to know each other and create fruitful collaborations outside of our own direct networks. We are planning to organise various events where we can meet, inform and inspire each other, with the ultimate goal to increase the impact (and the funding) of our research. You can already sign up for the first event: the kick-off meeting on March 24!”

What do you hope to achieve over time?

“For now, our focus is on building a community and setting up opportunities to meet each other. By finding cross-links between our projects, we can strengthen each other’s research. Hopefully, this collaboration will grow organically and we will come up with new and interesting research proposals focusing on sustainability.”

Why should people join the S4S kick-off event on 24 March?

“At the kick-off event, several researchers from the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Geosciences will present their research on sustainability. After the presentations, there will be plenty of time for discussion and interaction. By meeting people from other departments and faculties, you can broaden your perspective on sustainability in your research and get to know more about the possibilities and developments regarding sustainability within your faculty. We’ll also explain more about the Science for Sustainability Graduate Programme, which allows eight excellent Master’s students to pursue a PhD at the Faculty of Science. The kick-off therefore also provides a platform for match-making between Master’s students and their potential supervisors.”

Register for the kick-off on 24 March