Toespraak van minister Van Engelshoven bij de opening van het HFML-Felix-laboratorium

Toespraak van minister Van Engelshoven bij de opening van het HFML-Felix-laboratorium, op 8 juli 2019, te Nijmegen. De toespraak is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

[Het gesproken woord geldt!]

Dear friends,

Dear Han, dear Niek,

Let me begin by thanking you for your thought-provoking words about the importance of fundamental research.

My response can be summed up in a few words: I couldn’t agree more.

These are not empty words – they are backed up by deeds. And by solid financial resources.

This government puts its money where its mouth is, and that means investing heavily in research: €400 million structurally in research and innovation, and a one time investment of €100 in research infrastructure.

But let’s focus on the here and now. On the HFML – the High Field Magnet Laboratory – and the FELIX laser lab.

Even though these projects partly resulted from the government’s research funding, they couldn’t have come about without the effort of you all.

To highlight the importance I attach to your work, let me take you outside for a moment, into our natural surroundings.

We are here in Nijmegen, not far from the border between the Netherlands and Germany. The small, densely populated Netherlands with an average of 411 people per square kilometre. And Germany, 9 times larger, where a square kilometre is populated by 225 people on average.

You would expect the space offered by a vast country like Germany to be reflected in terms of biodiversity. That the number of bird species would be higher in Germany than in the Netherlands, for example. Maybe not 9 times higher, but significantly higher nonetheless.

As you may already have guessed: that is not the case. Roughly speaking, the Netherlands has just as many bird species as Germany: a little over 300.

Surprising when you consider that Germany has every kind of landscape you can find in the Netherlands – and more. What we Dutch call a mountain, our eastern neighbours would hesitate to call a hill.

This relatively high diversity in the Netherlands is down to the fact that our country is a transitional area. Within a relatively short distance, we have the transition from the fresh water of the rivers, to brackish water and salt water. Peat and sandy soils alternate, as do forest and heathland, and here you can walk directly from a moraine to a stream valley.

And it is there, on the edges of these habitats, that life is at its richest and most varied. These are the places where species meet and variety flourishes.

This is not only a natural phenomenon. It can also be seen in the arts, where crossovers often lead to productions that sparkle with life. In music, dance, and the theatre.

And of course it can be seen in the world of science. Take a look around – at a place where 2 laboratories have connected. Where 2  worlds have come together: the worlds of powerful magnets and of intense infrared light. These were previously separate worlds – worlds which already offered an incredible range of possibilities in their own right.

Konstantin Novoselov and Andre Gejm know exactly what I am talking about. They discovered graphene with the help of the powerful magnetic fields in the HFML, and were awarded a Nobel Prize for their research.

I can’t even begin to imagine what will happen when those magnetic fields are combined with free-electron lasers. And the great thing is: even you – the experts – don’t know exactly where this adventure will lead. The outcome of what you are about to do here is uncertain. Because it has never been done before.

Driven by curiosity and a sense of wonder, you will embark on experiments here. You will utilize opportunities that we have yet to see, and come up with unexpected solutions to problems that we have yet to foresee.

We do not know exactly what this meeting of the worlds will yield, but it is sure to lead to fascinating new discoveries.

Dear friends,

There is another reason why the Netherlands is so rich in bird life. And that is the appeal our country holds for migratory birds. In the autumn, they come from the north, when conditions there become too harsh. And in the spring they return from the south, to escape the hot, dry summer.

Our water does not evaporate in summer, nor does it freeze in winter. The comparison is an easy one to draw: what the water is to birds, the research climate is to talent, from home and abroad. 

The standard here is high. Our English is good. Our university cities are attractive.

There is room for fundamental research. And our facilities are top notch.

And after today, that climate will get even better. This new large-scale facility is a huge asset to our research climate. And to Nijmegen and the Dutch knowledge economy as a whole.

The moment for the official opening has nearly arrived. And I for one can’t wait.

Thank you!