JRCZ is more than just a beautiful building

Eugène de Kok, editor HZ Discovery

‘It will be a catalyst for innovation and inspiration'

When the Joint Research Centre Zeeland (JRCZ) opens its doors next year, it will be more than just a beautiful building on the edge of 'Het Groene Woud' in Middelburg. The research centre is a milestone in the Campus Zeeland project, which is intended to raise education and research in Zeeland to a higher level and thereby help make the province future-proof.

Project leader Adri de Buck and leading lector Robert Trouwborst of the Delta Academy Applied Research Centre of the HZ University of Applied Sciences are at the heart of the JRCZ. Trouwborst made the initial sketch of a research centre for Zeeland's educational institutions in 2015 as part of a replacement assignment for the HZ. He knows how things work. Years earlier he was involved in a similar project at ‘De Uithof’ for Utrecht University.

Technical education

In 2015, the Cabinet asked former Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende to look into ways of strengthening Zeeland's economic structure. Education and research have been important themes from the start. Balkenende wants to give technical education in particular a boost. This is intended to act as a catalyst for innovation within companies in the region. This in turn will generate knowledge that will attract new knowledge workers, who in turn will generate more innovations and knowledge and so on. "That is when you start to gain momentum", says De Buck. "If you want to give education and research this kind of impetus, you need good research facilities. That was not available in Zeeland."

Themes

One and one is two, reason de Buck and Trouwborst. They are formulating a new plan for a Joint Research Centre which can be used not only by the HZ, but also by Scalda and University College Roosevelt. The themes water, energy and food must be central. "They are subjects that are close to the DNA of a delta area like Zeeland," says the project leader. Trouwborst explains that major changes are taking place in these areas. Salinisation, the lack of fresh water, the protein transition and the switch to sustainable energy are just a few to name a few. "We are dealing with significant events. That is why, over the next thirty years, new professionals will be needed, who will utilise good research facilities. They are people who understand the scale of these transitions, want to and are able to work together as a team and communicate effectively.”

Comprehensible and engaging

The plan for a joint research centre is well received by Balkenende and his committee. They suggest in their recommendation that it should consist of an ecology lab, a chemistry lab, a facility for engineering and a so-called physics lab. The latter will be substituted for a data lab at some stage. Trouwborst believes this to be a good choice. Because of the growing need for data in all disciplines, a lot comes together in the data science environment. "See it as a spider in the web.” It is also important in terms of communication. With digital tools, you can present both the social challenges as well as the sometimes more complex solutions in a comprehensible and engaging way.

Modern science

According to Balkenende, the JRCZ will ensure more innovation in Zeeland, strengthen the relations between knowledge institutions and entrepreneurs, bring alpha, beta and gamma sciences together, as modern science regularly demands, and attract students and highly educated people, both from within the Netherlands and abroad. The Cabinet shares the former Prime Minister's enthusiasm and is making 12 million euros available. In total, the facility will cost 21 million euros. A large sum, but in return you will get a remarkable facility, says Trouwborst. "You sometimes see these kinds of labs in the Netherlands, but the way we organise things, the themes that are central, the collaboration and the continuous learning curve make it unique."

Load them up with knowledge

The JRCZ is aligned with the way in which HZ wants to organise its education. "We want to equip our students with as much experience as possible, so that they are of added value to society and are resilient and flexible in that respect," says De Buck. "It is not just their professional development that matters, but also their personal development. Therefore, four things are important: learning to learn, stimulating creativity, working together in teams on complex subjects and knowing that what you are doing has an impact on society. Ethics are important. It is therefore vital to involve society in education from day one."

Starting point

Teamwork, creativity and the social context clearly come together in the research centre. "It is a lively, stimulating environment where students, teachers and researchers from different disciplines work together in a makerspace on tasks that are challenging, based on questions from the wider community. The labs are located around the makerspaces," says Trouwborst. In addition, there will be brainstorming rooms on every floor where students, teachers, researchers and entrepreneurs can reflect on issues. "The working method is intended to inspire everyone." De Buck believes that this is the way to motivate students to develop their talents optimally. "It used to be theory, theory, theory. If you want knowledge to sink in, you need real-life case histories. That has to be the starting point. Then students learn to really comprehend problems and to search for solutions together in a living lab-like environment." The JRCZ organisation must encourage this approach. "You have to ensure that the right people keep coming together. That requires a lot of organisational capacity. After all, nothing happens by itself."

Campus site

The JRCZ is an important part of the campus site at ‘Het Groene Woud’. Ultimately, the HZ site will need to be integrated. De Buck also hopes for a strong relationship with the Rijkswaterstaat and PZEM offices and the student housing in the area. "That way, you get a campus where education, research, industry and student housing come together. Even lectors who are guests from abroad, will be able to stay there temporarily." As a whole, it must have a sustainable character that fits in with the themes that are important to the HZ. De Buck believes that the campus ethos is important for cohesion and identity. People must feel welcome at the site and in the JRCZ. “That way it will be a catalyst for innovation and inspiration. The JRCZ is a foundation for innovation.”