Margot Weijnen

Position

Professor of Process and Energy Systems.

Career in brief

"After taking my doctoraal in Chemical Technology and obtaining my PhD from TU Delft, I worked for Shell in Amsterdam, Pernis and The Hague. From 1990 to 1995 I was scientific director of Interduct, the Delft University Clean Technology Institute. In 1995 I was appointed Professor of Process and Energy Systems, and in 2000 I became head of the Technology department (now Infrastructure Systems & Services) at the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management. In 1998 I was appointed scientific director of the Delft Research Center for the Design and Management of Infrastructures, and I have been director of the Next Generation Infrastructures Foundation since 2003."

The person behind the prof

"I am married and we don't have children. I have three very strokeable Norwegian Forest Cats and an Austrian Mountain Cat. The little spare time I have during the week is taken up with playing the piano, and every Saturday my husband and I go horse-riding for an hour or so. We enjoy travelling, and if there's an opportunity to go diving, then we do. We are keen shell collectors, but I'd like to emphasise that we never bring back shells when we go diving. It’s our principle never to touch anything when we're underwater. In between all these activities, there's usually a book I'm reading, and my orchid collection requires quite a lot of attention too."

Best quality

"Other people find me a very driven person, I think. Yes, when I really want something I'm very single-minded about it. Take the Next Generation Infrastructures programme, for example. After an exploratory phase of interfaculty research in Delft, the programme has really taken off on an international scale. Because I believed in NGInfra and its importance for the development and research profile of the faculty, I was highly motivated to keep going and find the resources that will meet our level of ambition: to create a leading knowledge centre in Europe. I can't let go of my vision, and it motivates me to pull out all the stops. The purely operational side of things is not my strong point. For that I need practical people around me, whom I can trust to implement things. I give them all the scope they need to put their own creative and intellectual stamp on the programme."

"Obviously, my drive also has a down side. I can be quite monomaniacal. On those occasions, the rest of the world ceases to exist for a while and I'm not very sociable at home."

Life motto

"Don't regret the choices you make. Try to learn from them. Above all, look ahead."

Difficult

"Making choices. I like to leave as many doors open as possible. At school I found it really difficult to choose my subjects because I enjoyed them all and was actually good at everything. I remember how difficult it was for me to choose a degree course. In the end I opted for Chemical Technology, but I could just as easily have chosen history and I would have been just as happy with that. Chemistry fascinated me. It wasn't my best science subject at school, but I wanted to learn more about it. The emphasis on experiments and myth-busting appealed to me."

Who or what has most inspired you in your scientific career?

"That's difficult to answer because I've worked in so many knowledge fields. Looking back, I can see that there was a logical progression. My interest in networks in the process industry evolved into an interest in large-scale infrastructure networks, which are the backbone of the economy, and in fact they determine how we live our day-to-day lives. From the field of clean technology I moved into the world of environmental and energy policy, and then into technology and innovation policy. In the context of my external networks, as a member of organisations such as the Dutch Energy Council, the Advisory Council for Science and Technology Policy, and the first Innovation Platform chaired by Balkenende, I have had the privilege of meeting many inspiring people with a wealth of experience. The external contacts I have through my advisory and executive work are hugely enriching for me. I also draw inspiration from other cultures. For me, travel is an inexhaustible source of inspiration."

What sort of teacher are you?

"I'm a real chatterbox. I always have too much to say and I have to be careful that my lectures don't over-run. What strikes me is that the groups of students vary so much from year to year. Each year group has its own character and group dynamic. I always enjoy it if a group takes an active interest, is critical, and asks a lot of questions. Those are the most rewarding lectures."

Telegraaf or Volkskrant?

"The NRC. I always skim through the columns by Frits Abrahams and Gerrit Komrij. And obviously I read Fokke & Sukke. I don't watch much television, and when I do it's usually current-affairs programmes such as Netwerk and Pauw & Witteman. I think Paul de Leeuw is terrible. I really can't stand him."

What are you doing in India?

"A knowledge centre for Science, Technology and Policy has been set up in Bangalore with the support of the Indian government and the private sector. They want to work with us to develop a laboratory for Next Generation Infrastructures. They want to learn from our experiences, and we foresee close cooperation in the form of research projects, workshops, training, and exchanges for students and staff. For us it is an excellent opportunity to test the applicability of NGInfra knowledge in the economic and cultural context of India. Apart from that, there is a wealth of valuable research material available in this country where all those new infrastructures are still being built. India is a remarkable country, with high-calibre engineering courses, a democratic system of government, an independent judiciary and a rapidly growing middle class. But it's also struggling with corruption and a caste system that is still deeply rooted. The casual observer probably sees nothing but chaos and congestion, but Indian companies are really beginning to make their mark in the world, including the Netherlands - take Mittal and Tata, for example. Bangalore is India's showcase for technology and innovation. It's a hive of energy. I always come back feeling really buoyed up and energised."

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