Interview with Victorine de Graaf-Peters

Thinking in values and solutions

Victorine de Graaf-Peters, Dean of the Institute for Life Science & Technology at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, has a passion for applied research.

Dr. Victorine de Graaf-Peters

In applied research, scientific knowledge and expertise is utilised to develop products and processes for practical use in a multi-disciplinary setting of students, (lecturer-) researchers and the business world together. This collaboration leads to new knowledge, new research and new business. Northern Knowledge open innovation platform wants to make this knowledge and expertise visible and accessible. Take grass.  

Victorine: ‘After mowing, grass is a residual product of which everyone wondered what its added value could be. It needs to be disposed of and processed. A costly operation, its sole purpose being to get rid of it. Yet what is generally perceived to be a social problem is in fact a challenge for applied science. An applied scientist is trained to think in terms of new values and solutions.’

How grass can be used to make new products, for example. Victorine: ‘Grass is a difficult product for bio-based research, because grass consists of 75 per cent water and many different substances. Students from the Hanze University of Applied Sciences tackled this question and discovered in their research that you can make paper from grass. Very surprising.’

Rare form of cancer

Or take adding value to care knowledge. In the foundation “Merels Wereld” the Hanze University of Applied Sciences and the UMCG collaborated clo-sely in developing a new drug against a rare form of cancer that manifested itself in a colleague at the university. There is often little funding for re-search into rare diseases. Collaborating on a research and implementation level then offers new possibilities.

Victorine: ‘ We [ the Hanze University of Applied Sciences] contacted the UMCG to look into the possibilities of carrying out research together. The collaboration resulted in setting up a cultivation lab within our institute where we grow specific cell lines that should lead to a new drug for treating this specific condition.’  These are examples of multidisciplinary research that benefits everyone: patients, students, researchers, industry and society. ‘Fantastic if you can be part of the solution as a knowledge institution,’ smiles De Graaf-Peters.

Open innovation

Victorine de Graaf-Peters studied Developmental Psychology and Experi-mental Psychology at the University of Groningen and gained a PhD in the human nervous system at the UMCG. In addition to her role as Dean of the Institute for Life Science & Technology at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, she is also a member of the Programme Board of the Northern Knowledge open innovation platform (NK). Thinking in values and solutions is an everyday practise for her. The basis of which is trust and collaboration.

Victorine: ‘In traditional times you often saw research environments where one person spread all the knowledge and the rest of the research group scampered around it. We now know from experience that innovation particularly occurs where knowledge is shared in a multidisciplinary setting. To dare to share knowledge, you have to trust each other.’

Northern Knowledge must become that house of trust, believes the Dean. A place for everyone with an interest in the valorisation of research. Where knowledge institutions and society are able to meet, and feel at home.

Out of the drawer

In its ideal form, the open innovation platform of the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, the University of Groningen and the UMCG functions as a library of the North; inventorying existing knowledge and expertise, and making it visible and accessible. A place to rummage around, try out new ways of working and give people unexpected ideas.

Victorine: ‘Prototypes designed by students while studying, tend to disappear into a drawer. Through Northern Knowledge, we could bring entrepreneurs and existing prototypes together. Take the project of adding value to grass. Students found that ant-acid can separate grass molecules into cellulose. Maybe there are companies in the Northern Netherlands that can also apply this knowledge to other areas or want to further develop the results of the research to bring to market.’

Cross-pollination of knowledge

University of Groningen – Hanze University of Applied Sciences
Stu-dents at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences are supervised in their practical training by Master’s students and/or PhDs from the University of Groningen or the UMCG. An important phase of collaboration, because knowledge and expertise is shared at a high level and contacts are established for future work environments. The Hanze University of Applied Sciences is the largest supplier of laboratory technicians to the University of Groningen and the UMCG, and a significant boost to new business in the region. Out of every 1,000 students, 83 start a business after graduating. Victorine: ‘Especially new business around ICT and digital innovation has been scoring high for years. But you also see that new business is now taking root from other research disciplines, including bio-based.’

Figures to confidently face the future with. Victorine: ‘We have wonderful knowledge institutes in the Northern Netherlands. Together we can create a wisdom that can do more than the sum of its parts. Under the umbrella of Northern Knowledge, we can shape this wisdom further together with industry and carry it into society. That is something to be proud of.’