Looking back on Meet the Professor 2022

On Wednesday 23 March, more than 100 professors visited primary schools in Utrecht. True to tradition, they all got on their bicycles in robes, which this year was equipped with a sniffer sensor to measure the air quality on the way.

100 hoogleraren staan met hun fiets voor het Academiegebouw in Utrecht
Group photo Meet the Professor

Early in the morning, the professors gathered in the Academiegebouw for a joint opening. Something the professors were really looking forward to after two years, with a cancelled and an online edition due to the corona virus. For me, this really is the highlight of the year', a professor exclaimed enthusiastically as he entered the building.

Flying inflatable llamas

The opening ceremony featured brand-new Professor of Public Engagement Erik van Sebille, who proved how important he considers public engagement to be by emailing the Meet the Professor organisation on his first day as a professor to ask if he could still participate. In a simulation of plastic by ocean currents by a 'sea' of professors, things got wild with two plastic inflatable llamas flying through the air.

This year, professor of epidemiology Roel Vermeulen had equipped all bicycles with a sniffer sensor that could measure the air quality on the route to the schools. Afterwards, it turned out that the bright blue sky was no harbinger of good air quality. The particulate matter content was relatively high that day. The professors who crossed the water to Leidsche Rijn, De Meern and Overvecht-Vecht had lower levels of particulate matter and better air quality, as did those who cycled on to the Utrecht Science Park.

Special guests of honour at the opening were the pupils of De Toonladder primary school. A video was recorded with them beforehand with tips for the school visit of the professors, such as: take an object along, or get the class to do something. During the opening, they were allowed to question the professors on whether they had done their homework.

Hoogleraren fietsen in toga door Utrecht

Melting ice cubes

This year, 109 school classes and professors participated. Beforehand, the school classes received golden envelopes with hints. In turn, the professors also received profposts: questions and drawings from pupils about what they thought their professor looked like. This resulted in many drawings of a man in a lab coat doing experiments with Erlenmeyer flasks: one of the many stereotypes that Meet the Professor aims to break.

During the school visit, the pupils saw that underneath the toga there is a very ordinary person, who does not always do experiments and is not always a man either. The professors told about their research, brought along objects and sometimes let the pupils do an experiment or gave a demonstration. Professor Steven de Jong, for instance, simulated landslides with a slope and an oven dish, sea level professor Roderik van de Wal melted ice cubes and Olle ten Cate worked with infrared thermometers.

Prof. Leoniek Wijngaards-de Meij op bezoek bij basisschool De Schakel

"I like best that children see that a professor is more than an inventor, but that there really are professors in all fields," a teacher commented afterwards. "And that professors are ordinary people, who also had to find their way before they found their work and place." Another teacher responded, "It broadens the children's world. A real professor makes the (unknown) world of the university concrete." "We would like to do this more often as a class!"

Plant a seed

The professors returned from their school visit with great satisfaction: "It's such a shame that it's over already!", "I really enjoyed it" and "This gives so much energy". "It is very nice to share your knowledge with children and show them why science matters", commented one of the professors. "It's a superior annual event - it gets you out of the house for a while and nicely forces you to get through your knees," said a professor afterwards. "One of the students asked me how she could ever 'get through' university, as none of her relatives had studied. That you can plant that seed, and change her image of the future so that studying is also for her, that's what you do it for."