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The hidden secret inside VU Amsterdam Research Building

The building currently being erected in the Innovation District (or Knowledge Quarter) in De Boelelaan is quite extraordinary. Perhaps even more than the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam’s other buildings, this particular building will be devoted to high-precision research. Its entire structure has been designed to ensure that research results are completely accurate and cannot be influenced by external vibrations, for example. Around the basement structure, additional diaphragm walls have been installed. These form a second skin around the building, protecting the foundations from any movement, such as traffic on De Boelelaan. In the middle of the basement, between floor -1 and the ground floor, large blocks of concrete have been put in place, again providing a very robust and above all stable structure.


‘Since the Research Building will be the new home for the physics, neurosciences and earth sciences departments, the research will focus primarily on these areas’, explains Paul Goossens. He is head of department in the Accommodation office in the VU Faculty of Science. ‘We work with state-of-the-art lasers, electrons and microscopes. This enables us to achieve extraordinary results. One area we will be focusing on is how chloroplasts function, which are found in most plants. The remarkable thing is the way they convert almost all the solar energy they receive into energy that they use themselves. Through our research, we are attempting to discover how this works. If we’re successful in uncovering the secret, the use of fossil energy could become a thing of the past.’


Another example involves research into the cause and cure of Alzheimer’s disease. Goossens: ‘We use an electron microscope to compare the brain of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s with a healthy brain. We also explore how the brain responds to stimuli and how we can reactivate parts of the brain. This lab will also make it possible to subject drugs currently under development to more extensive and accurate testing and perfect them.’ In order to ensure this process runs as effectively and efficiently as possible, there will be a lot of collaboration, including with Amsterdam UMC. ‘In any case, knowledge sharing is an important part of what we do. It’s one of the key aspects of all our research.’


One area of research that might seem unexpected involves paint. Goossens: ‘Imagine someone finds a painting by Rembrandt in the attic. We can use our equipment to determine whether the paint actually originates from that time. By taking a tiny amount of the top layer of paint, we can see whether the material used has the same composition as the paint on verified Rembrandt works.’ But this is not the only type of research that will be happening: ‘Do you remember the wolf that was run down by a car last year in Ede? By investigating a piece of tooth, we were able to discover that the wolf came from Poland and not from the Netherlands. This kind of research will be continued and perfected in the new Research Building.’


The Research Building, set to be completed in late 2023, will not only make a substantial contribution to society, but also to the Kenniskwartier (Knowledge District). This part of Zuidas is now being developed at as a so-called Innovation District. Thanks to the arrival of the Research Building, The Pulse of Amsterdam, Stepstone and OBA Next, it will be a neighbourhood that brings together innovations in the field of health, science and business. In the near future, you will be able to live and work here, there will be a cinema, a theatre, more hospitality outlets, sports centres and gyms. In other words, it will be an inviting and attractive area for everyone.

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