Kick Off
Interdisciplinary Thesis Labs 2024

Kick Off Interdisciplinary Thesis Labs

We're off! About 40 master students from Leiden University, Erasmus University Rotterdam, TU Delft, students of The Hague University of Applied Sciences and Hogeschool Rotterdam and many old and new clients started their journey this week to find answers to four major sustainability challenges. In four Interdisciplinary Thesis Labs, participants will do research and propose solutions for sustainable care, sustainable aviation, changing mega-systems and creating a circular industry in the region and for a sustainable, fair transition of the South Holland landscape. 


Young sustainable leaders: 'Here is your chance'.
"Here is your chance!” says former Lab-participant Roosa Joesnu at the start. “A great opportunity to test your ideas on others, brainstorm with a diverse group of people about your questions and to broaden your view. Roosa is one of the four young leaders who opened the Kick Off and gained experience in earlier Thesis Labs. She participated in the Circular Aviation Lab in 2022 and completed her master Aerospace Engeneering in 2023. She now works as a finance trainee at Damen. Shipyards. 


Four young leaders opened de Kick Off:  from the left: Luciano Lopez Santesteban, consultant sustainability, Count Energy Trading, Pieter Jelle Nijdam, projectleader Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu (RIVM), Cathelijne Pallandt, associate at  Strategy& en Roosa Joesnuu, finance trainee at Damen. 

The many faces of  ‘sustainability’ 
In her current job, Roosa takes full advantage of what she has learned two years ago in her own Lab, she explains on stage. “The Lab helped me develop a broader view which now allows me to better investigate the meaning of sustainability. The bank, the customer, the shipbuilder, each has its own requirements and ideas about what is sustainable. This often also depends on the context, such as geography. In Europe, ships have rechargeable batteries for offshore use. But outside Europe, not all countries have enough electricity to power those ships. What is sustainability in such a case? It requires a broad view to combine the requirements of all parties involved and to create standards that fit best. The Lab helped me in this.”

Developing such a broad view is one of the main goals of all Labs. This year, for the first time, students from The Hague University of Applied Sciences and Hogeschool Rotterdam also participate. Such as in the Lab Circulaerospace, where students investigate with Airbus how technology, digital innovation and alternative business models can contribute to more sustainable aviation. How can bio-based materials (such as mycelium, enzymes) be used for aviation? How can quantum computing contribute to research into the possibilities of such materials? What performance indicators should Airbus use to determine whether a new business proposition is actually circular? "Motivated students and a lot of energy," lab-coordinator Elise Blondel laughs.


Green calculators, AI and durable incontinence material
The Lab ‘Sustainable care’, a collaboration with Medical Delta, also had its Kick Off. Is it possible to develop a ‘green calculator', that measures and analyses the environmental impact of sustainability measures on the IC? What is the most sustainable choice in the surgery room: disposable products, or medical instruments that can be reused? What does a sustainable process for making PET / CT scans look like? How can AI and ‘machine learning ’ contribute to sustainable care? And how can we reduce the environmental impact of the use of incontinence material in elderly care - responsible for 85,000 tons of waste per year? 

“I have learned a lot today” says Sil Verouden, master's student of Global Business and Sustainability at Erasmus University Rotterdam. “I noticed how much I look at the issue of sustainability in healthcare mainly from an organizational perspective. Others in the group look differently: from the perspective of medicine, health, or long-term demographic developments, such as the aging population. Or prevention. ‘The most sustainable care is no care ’. That is an interesting approach, I had never thought about this.”


A fair transformation of the South Holland landscape
In the Lab ‘sustainable and just landscape transformation ’, students will study on the transition of the South Holland landscape. With nitrogen problems, a declining peat meadow area - and textra CO2 emissions - increasing drought, more heavy rainfall and decreasing biodiversity, there challenges are enormous. There is a lack of housing,  a large group of socio-economically vulnerable inhabitants and a urgent need to make the food supply more sustainable. 

Saskia Ruijsink, coordinator of the Thesis Lab: "participants will investigate possible consequences and solutions in all kinds of areas: public administration and the application of transition theories, water and soil management, biodiversity, landscape design, spatial planning and broad prosperity. They share their insights with each other and the clients involved and work towards joint, interdisciplinary developed knowledge about a sustainable and just South Holland. I am really looking forward to it." 


Major systems and changes in the Port area
With the province of South Holland, Innovation Quarter and the Economic Board South Holland (taskforce Circular Economy), students are also looking for opportunities and challenges for a circular carbon industry cluster in South Holland. "That is an enormous challenge," says Els Boesveld, one of the caseholders and policy officer at the Province. "By 2050, the industry in the port of Rotterdam must be fully CO2 neutral and circular. Beautiful steps are made in the field of energy. The transition to circular way of producing and handling materials will have to follow. There are all kinds of initiatives, but what is really needed to scale up to a fully circular port area? I hope that the different theses and the joint final assignment will provide good insights."

Students of this Lab approach the issue in a completely different way. Nevertheless, a common thread soon emerges during the conversations: the question of the 'feasability', the 'ability' and the 'willingness' of companies to start doing business in a truly circular way. “ Nice, we can build on that in our next meeting, " says Lab-coordinator Jan van de Ende. But when the clock indicates it's time, the conversations do not stop. "