Science Research at UvA-VU: HRSMC

15 December 2015

One of the longest-running Amsterdam research collaborations, the Holland Research School of Molecular Chemistry (HRSMC), was formally launched in 1994 when the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science sought to merge research in the Netherlands into research schools.

‘There was a kind of natural conglomeration around research with the molecule as its basis,' relates professor of Molecular Spectroscopy Wybren Jan Buma. ‘It consisted of researchers from Amsterdam's two universities and the then state university of Leiden. That collaboration became the HRSMC, which still exists today.' The research school was founded and accredited by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and is currently in its fourth accreditation period.

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Education and symposia

Buma says that a key aim of the HRSMC is to provide education for doctoral candidates and advanced Master's students in the form of local courses, summer schools and career-focused activities. 'In that respect, our schools have acquired an outstanding reputation. We attract renowned foreign speakers and a considerable part of our participants come from other Dutch and, especially, foreign universities. For our doctorate candidates, this is also a good opportunity to develop their networks.' Buma goes on to say that the school also runs a graduate programme, which he describes as interuniversity and multidisciplinary. After a thorough introduction to the affiliated groups, talented Master's students are given an opportunity to write their own research proposal, which they can then go on to conduct under the guidance of supervisors of their own choice. However, after two cohorts the funding for the programme has ended, Buma says. 'Nevertheless, the programme is still proving attractive: this year another four talented students have been selected.'

Buma says that the participating doctoral candidates are able to network effectively during the annual symposium which features a number of poster sessions, PhD and staff lectures. For the staff members, too, the annual symposium is the perfect opportunity to meet up. Buma reports that three Nobel laureates spoke at the school's 20th anniversary in 2014. 'That shows just how much of an international reputation we enjoy.' The HRSMC also runs a fellowship programme that attracts international researchers to the Netherlands for a period up to six months.

Diversity in research

The research carried out at the HRMSC is unquestionably the most diverse conducted at any Dutch research school. 'It's all about the properties and applications of molecules. Applications may be in areas of importance to society, like health, energy and sustainability. But it's important that they are underpinned by fundamental research. The HRSMC's research themes of synthesis, spectroscopy and theory are components of the research programmes at all three universities, he says. 'In the case of theoretical chemistry, for example, the VU Amsterdam works mostly ab initio, or at the atomic level. Here at the UvA, we focus more on larger distances and time scales; while Leiden's research is mainly geared towards processes on surfaces.' There is no competition between groups. In fact, the opposite is true: 'People are aware of their colleagues' areas of expertise and know where to find one another. Together, we are a powerhouse of knowledge at the molecular level.'

Added value

Many of the other research schools established in the 1990s have since closed. The HRSMC is very much alive and recently decided to add Radboud University Nijmegen on the basis of an associated membership following a request from Nijmegen groups. According to Buma, the HRSMC has shown that it provides considerable added value to science and education. 'Despite having to operate on a limited budget for a long period in the past, we have developed into a highly successful research school.  With its broad educational activities and graduate and fellowship programmes, the HRSMC offers an excellent platform for interuniversity and multidisciplinary cooperation, as well as an incentive for world-class education and research in molecular chemistry and physics.’

Text: Jeroen Scharroo

Published by  Faculty of Science