Utrecht University celebrates centenary stone-laying ceremony at Bijlhouwerstraat

Commemorative stone from 1922. Photo: Harold van de Kamp

On 8 June 2022, it will be one hundred years since the first stone was laid for the extension of the Phyisics Laboratory at the Bijlhouwerstraat. Today, the anniversary was commemorated with invited guests with presentations on the life of Prof. Ornstein, then director of the lab, and the history of the building. A class of primary school pupils from the neighbourhood symbolically laid a stone.

Utrecht University is a modern organisation, but we also honour our traditions and heritage.

Anton Pijpers
Chair Executive Board
Een foto uit 1922 waar een groep mensen toekijkt terwijl de eerste steen van het gebouw wordt gelegd.
Hadassa Ornstein laying the foundation stone for the extension of the Physics Laboratory on 8 June 1922. Source: 98725, collection Het Utrechts Archief.

Stone laying

On 8 June 1922 Hadassa Ornstein, daughter of Utrecht University professor and director of the Physics Laboratory Professor Leonard Ornstein, had the honour of inaugurating the renovation by laying the memorial stone. The building on the Bijlhouwerstraat currently houses the Utrecht University School of Governance.

Portret uit 1933 van professor Leonard Ornstein
Professor Leonard Ornstein in 1933. Source: Francis Kramer, Het Utrechts Archief.

Professor Ornstein was and remains inextricably linked to Utrecht. During his tenure at Utrecht University, he supervised 94 PhD students and was co-founder of the still active Nederlandse Natuurkundige Vereniging (Dutch Physics Society). Ornstein established contacts with industry and business, and was one of the main initiators of what later became known as contract funding. In 1941, he had to stop his work at the university during the German occupation in the Second World War: being Jewish, he was denied access to his own laboratory. Shortly afterwards, he died at the age of 60.

At the beginning of the war, my grandfather was denied access to his lab. That hurt him very much. That is why it is so wonderful that we are here again.

Leonard Ornstein
Grandson Leonard Ornstein
The Ornstein family at the 8 June 2022 meeting. Photo: Harold van de Kamp

De Bijlhouwersstraat

Besides Ornstein himself, the stones of the building on the Bijlhouwerstraat also have a history attached to them: from its construction in 1875, commissioned by the famous physicist and meteorologist C.H.D. Buys Ballot for what was then the State University of Utrecht, to the construction of the Physics Laboratory and its eventual accommodation for the Utrecht University School of Governance. You can read more about the history of the building in the story A century of ‘imagination and astonishment’ at the Bijlhouwerstraat.

A century of ‘imagination and astonishment’ at the Bijlhouwerstraat


Since 2020, Professor Ornstein's work has been featured at Vaartsche Rijn train station on the scientific mural about the Ornstein-Uhlbeck Process, the random movement in which an object makes a series of random movements. The mural was created by artist collective De Strakke Hand.

Mural “Prof. Ornstein onderzoekt de toevalsbeweging”. Source: photographer Het Utrechts Archief.