Rinze Benedictus

31 MAY 2011

Prof. Rinze Benedictus

Head of the Structural Integrity Group, Departmental Director of Aerospace Structures & Materials 

Private life?
‘I am married and the father of two sons, aged nearly 4 and 1.5. In my younger years I was a judo and korfbal fanatic, and also took up fencing later on, but my weak ankles put an end to that.  Now I enjoy sailing, especially on student association De Bolk’s vessel, a smack named ‘Trui’. It was built in 1875 to fish the Zuider Zee but today it’s used for pleasure trips. My wife and I take it out onto the Wadden Sea for a week, together with friends, every year. What I like about that ship is its authenticity. No luxury whatsoever, with the smell of linseed oil thrown in to boot. The minute you cast off, you throw your 24-hour rhythm overboard and adopt the 12-hour rhythm of the Wadden Sea. That means a lot of hard work at high tide, which could well be in the middle of the night, but at low tide you’re still and there’s time to read and relax. Back to basics, in other words. Wonderful!’

Favourite pastime?
‘Most of all I enjoy being outside, with the family. We might go for a walk one day and a cycle ride the next, so long as we have an objective. But I also take pleasure in a good day’s gardening. We like taking our ten-year old Deux Chevaux out for a spin. We used to do quite a bit of touring in it, to Greece, near the Albanian border, for instance. We’re hoping to go to the 2CV World Meeting again this summer. The 2CV fans are meeting in France this year, but in the past we’ve also been to Greece, Scotland and Italy. Driving a 2CV is real, old-school driving. The car doesn’t think for you, you have to do everything yourself. Simply stepping on the gas is not an option; you always have to think ahead. Every bit of our blue duck rattles, and if the weather’s good we open the roof. Fantastic!’

Highlight of your career?
‘That’s hard to say. If I might modify that question slightly, to what I am proud of, than I can think of various highlights. The moment in 1997 when I obtained my PhD in Material Sciences, for example. After two years of hard slog I discovered something nobody else had ever looked into before. The moment I saw the light was very special indeed. The fact that the Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities later awarded me the Young Talent Award for my doctoral research, felt like the icing on the cake. The presentation I then had to give for an audience of 500 fellow professionals was another highlight. But so too is the moment I heard that I had been appointed a professor, in 2005.

Equally memorable was the conference we organised in 2007 in honour of Jaap Schijve’s 80th birthday. In ’72 Jaap was the first to hold the chair which I now have the honour of holding, as fourth in line. He retired in ’92 but is still here. I think of him as my scientific ‘grandpa’. The entire international community in our field attended that conference.  A very impressive experience indeed, which actually had an interesting follow-up. As a professor, you are constantly seeking to explore new frontiers of research. Several innovative ideas were submitted during that conference, by René Alderliesten among others. In response to this, Calvin Rans researched the possibility of developing fatigue models to enable the safe glue bonding of aircraft components in the future. This resulted in a Veni innovation grant awarded by the NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) to young research talents who have recently obtained their PhD.’

Favourite aspect of your work?
‘From a very young age I have always felt the urge to keep starting something new. I easily get bored if I do the same thing for a long time. My current position is just perfect for me in that respect. I am continually involved in new research projects, new relationships, new contacts. New energy is constantly coming in, in other words. It also pleases me tremendously when someone from my group develops and achieves a position in which he or she can really make a difference. I have a few people in my group now who have that potential. Some of them will move to North America to pursue careers there, but they will still bear the stamp of the group.  Management tasks take up a lot my time, but with people like these, who further the research, it's worth it. When I retire, I’d like to be able to say I that I had helped produce an Einstein in my field.’

Why Delft?
‘When I went to work at Hoogovens after graduating, I soon realised I wanted to do something in the field of aviation materials. That gave me the choice of industry or an academic environment. I wanted a job where I can do what I want. The world of science is best suited to this; less funding is available than in the commercial sector but it does enable you to pursue your own vision. And of course Delft is a highly renowned university in my field.’

Best quality?
‘Perhaps that I like to stay in the background and do not need or want to take all the credit. I prefer for my staff to be in the foreground. I also enjoy collaborating with others. Under Jaap Schijve, and later Boud Vogelesang, the Structural Integrity Group has become an internationally renowned group. We seek to maintain that high standard, but I need the right people to accomplish that. United we stand, divided we fall.’

Worst quality?
‘I’m an introvert, which is not very useful as a professor. During meetings, people sometimes think: ‘he’s not saying much so he must approve’, but that is by no means always the case. They can then be quite taken aback when I do voice my opinion.’

Which topic would you like to see high on the political agenda?
‘If it were up to me: investment in the future of education. Don’t think of it as a cost item, see it as an opportunity! Unfortunately, educators’ possibilities are severely restricted due to lack of funding. Everything is also prescribed to such an extent that there is hardly any room for their own input. Give lecturers more freedom, within certain frameworks, and invest in that.’

Source of inspiration?
‘In the course of your lifetime, we are influenced by all kinds of people. But if I were to name two sources of inspiration, then they would be Jaap Schijve and Boud Vogelesang. Jaap is a man with a purely scientific focus, who has built up a considerable reputation in the science world. Boud has more group feeling; he makes Jaap’s scientific knowledge visible. Take our aviation material Glare, for example, which helped solve the immense problem of metal fatigue in the aviation sector. Aircraft constructor Airbus currently uses the product for large parts of their A380 Super Jumbo. Jaap made this technically possible; Boud approached the right people. I would like to be a combination of these two.’

Philosophy of life?
‘Something I always tell my doctoral students is: take the initiative! You’re better off asking for forgiveness once than for permission ten times. The key is to take your own initiative. I like to see people who, rather than sitting around waiting, see and seize their opportunities. That is what leads to new initiatives, which must of course correspond with the research domain. A good PhD student is someone who can independently set up and perform a research project and break new ground. Somewhere in the third year he or she should feel they know more than their supervisor – in that one specific little area they are concentrating on, that is.’