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On 1 June the University of Amsterdam (UvA) formally launched its new Institute for Advanced Study (UvA-IAS). The new institute offers scholars a haven where they can tackle important fundamental scientific and societal issues, free from the boundary constraints between disciplines.

Oude Turfmarkt 141 - 147
Foto: Eduard Lampe

The institute is meant to promote interdisciplinary research. Most degree programmes stay within the confines of a single subject area, research funding is monodisciplinary and so is its evaluation. And yet the most pressing issues require knowledge from multiple disciplines, says Peter Sloot, professor of Computational Science at the UvA and scientific director of the UvA-IAS. ‘Take climate change, the issue of immigration and the financial crisis: all are themes that should be examined in collaboration with scholars from a variety of fields.’

Tipping points

The IAS will be housed on the UvA’s City Centre Campus in Amsterdam and will offer a select group of researchers from numerous disciplines a place to conduct research. ‘In order to encourage interaction between, say, a biologist, a sociologist and an economist, we will choose alternating research themes that are relevant to various fields’, explains Sloot. He names ‘tipping points’ as an example, which is one of the institute’s two chosen starting themes. Tipping points play an important role in sociology, not only in regime changes such as the Arab Spring, for example, but also in biology, in ecosystem changes and in phase transitions in physics. 

The UvA-IAS will host full-time research fellows from the UvA and other institutions. In addition, 10 Associates from various departments will work on a regular basis at the IAS.   

Nobel Prize Week

Sloot, co-director Anita Hardon (professor of Anthropology of Health and Care) and the Associates have ambitious plans for the UvA-IAS. In addition to the rotating group of fellows, the institute will offer a place for guest researchers and recipients of the Amsterdam Excellence Scholarship. Sloot also wants to organise a ‘Nobel Prize Week’ once a year. His plan involves inviting Nobel Laureates to the IAS to discuss interdisciplinary issues, such as mapping out the energy supply and demand of the future and contemplating ways to deal with future pandemics. The agenda also includes think tanks, knowledge cafes and a summer school. ‘I’m very proud that the UvA is now taking this step’, says Sloot. ‘I am also fully confident we will be able to realise our ambitious plans together with those who have affiliated themselves with the UvA-IAS already and those who will join us soon.’

The UvA-IAS has renowned scientists on its Scientific Advisory Board: Robbert Dijkgraaf, director of the IAS in Princeton, Helga Nowotny, president of the European Research Council, and Bertil Andersson, president of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and former chief executive of the European Science Foundation. The institute is also overseen by a Board of Trustees, the members of which include Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan. A festive opening event on 19 September will mark the official launch of the institute.