Portrait Liedewij Laan

News - 23 June 2021 - Communication TNW

Associate Professor, Bionanoscience

“Last year was a very interesting year. To my mind, TU Delft is a stable environment. COVID-19 meant that without warning, things that had been optimised had to be organised differently. There was suddenly room to be more creative with processes. I found this invigorating. My group showed itself to be very flexible and managed to adapt in no time. In addition to experimenting, we started focusing on modelling and machine learning, for example.

One of the advantages of these times was that I didn’t have to keep travelling the world for conferences. Zoom made it easier to contact specialists from all around the globe and have valuable scientific discussions with them. So in some ways, the world has actually become larger. I still go into TU Delft once a week. I consider that important. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken away a lot of our space, so my office now doubles up as a workspace for PhD students and post-docs, but I can always book time in my office via Google Calendar.

I think that we’ve entered a transition phase. It will take time to readjust, but we’re able to work together more now and leave our bubbles. I have three children, aged seven, five and one, so I’m delighted that schools and childcare facilities have reopened. That gives me some breathing space. Last year’s events forced me to become highly efficient. I had no choice. I want to use the extra hours I’ve gained from not having to focus on two things at once to be more creative. I’m already mulling over which research lines I want to stop, which ones I want to expand and whom I’d like to work with.

My group studies the physical and chemical aspects of evolution. Cells are particularly good at mutating to adapt to new situations. That is a huge challenge when you are talking about viruses or cancer, but it’s also very interesting: how can a system be so robust yet adaptable at the same time? Funnily enough, we saw the same happening at TU Delft and in society as a whole. We have proved that we are more adaptable than we thought. And also, being able to predict evolution now has a huge impact. That’s very inspiring!”