November 10, 2020

Leiden University prints a micro-sized Star Trek starship

Filed under: Film,Science,Technology by Orangemaster @ 11:59 am

According to CNN and BoingBoing on Twitter, while developing methods to 3D print synthetic micro-swimmers, microscopic devices that can propel themselves by interacting with the chemicals in their surrounding environment, researchers at Leiden University printed a model of Star Trek’s USS Voyager that’s just 15 micrometers long. As a comparison, a human hair is around 75 micrometers in diameter.

By studying synthetic micro-swimmers, we would like to understand biological micro-swimmers,” Samia Ouhajji, one of the study’s authors, told CNN. This understanding could aid in developing new drug delivery vehicles; for example, microrobots that swim autonomously and deliver drugs at the desired location in the human body.

Why did they go for Star Trek and why one of the franchise’s later starships? Jonas Hoecht, one of the study’s co-authors, claims to be a big Star Trek fan and was told he could print anything he wanted. Of course, I still want to know why he opted for Voyager and not a version of the Enterprise, but it’s still extremely cool.

(Link, image

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February 22, 2019

Dutch instrument could help search for extraterrestrial life

Filed under: Science,Weird by Orangemaster @ 12:41 pm

Dutch scientists have developed an instrument capable of detecting the presence of living plants kilometres away, which in the future could be used to help search for extraterrestrial life.

Lucas Patty of the VU Amsterdam has built the TreePol spectropolarimeter, a camera with special lenses and receptors able to detect the rotation of light that occurs when it is reflected by plants. His instrument is able to detect the difference between healthy and dying vegetation. Patty tried out his instrument on the roof of the university by pointing it at a nearby football pitch and didn’t get a signal: turns out the pitch was made from artificial grass.

Scientists are now investigating whether TreePol could be used to monitor agricultural crops from an aircraft or satellite, and maybe it could be used at even greater distances. “We’re also working on a version that could be used on the international space station or a moon lander,” explains astronomer and co-developer Frans Snik of Leiden University.

Over the last two decades, astronomers have discovered almost four thousand ‘exoplanets’, planets that orbit stars other than our own sun. Astrobiologists have often focused on the presence of water, oxygen and carbon, but these molecules and atoms don’t always show the presence of life and therefore involve the risk of a ‘false positive’. TreePol could finally eliminate that false positive, and that is all kinds of exciting.

Back in 2013 we wrote about the search for extraterrestrial life at Leiden University by detecting oxygen on far away planets using transit observations.

On an related note albeit not a Dutch one, if you want to listen to entertaining YouTubers talking about what they call ‘woo woo’ (UFOs, weird places on Earth, spooky stuff, etc.), then you absolutely need to listen to Gary and Diktor van Doomcock on the ExoZone on Nerdrotic and/or Overlord Diktor van Doomcock.

(Link:, Photo of an artist impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope by ESO/L. Calçada, some rights reserved)

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May 12, 2018

Dutch stumble upon possible toddler planet

Filed under: Science by Orangemaster @ 10:32 am


During a look up in the sky, an international group of astronomers headed by Dutch researchers from Leiden University may have found a ‘growing’ planet.

The astronomers were examining the dust disc around the young double star CS Cha when they saw a small dot on the edge of their images, which turned out to be a small planet of only ‘a few million years young that moves along with the double star. CS Cha and its special companion are located some 600 light years away from earth in a star formation area in the southern constellation Chameleon.

In the future, the researchers want to examine the star and the companion in more detail using the international ALMA telescope on the Chajnantor plateau in the North Chilean Andes.


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April 7, 2017

Leiden University creates smallest Dutch supercomputer

Filed under: IT by Orangemaster @ 3:17 pm

Little Green Machine II, the successor of Little Green Machine I built in 2010, is a Dutch supercomputer built by researchers at Leiden University together with help from IBM. It has a computing power of more than 0.2 Peta FLOPS, which is 200,000,000,000,000 calculations per second and will be used by researchers in oceanography, computer science, artificial intelligence, financial modeling and astronomy.

The biggest difference between the two LGMs is that LGM II uses graphics cards that are made for big scientific calculations, and not default video cards from gaming computers. As well, it uses OpenPower architecture developed by IBM instead of architecture from Intel. Little Green Machine II can apparently be carried around on a big bicycle – how Dutch is that.

The little supercomputer will be tested by simulating a collision between the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy, hence the Dutch space pic.

(Link:, Photo: A coloured photo of Hanny’s Voorwerp)

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December 12, 2016

Going to the edge of space with Dutch instruments

Filed under: General,Technology by Orangemaster @ 10:18 pm


In a few days, weather permitting, NASA’s stratospheric balloon STO2 will be launched from Antarctica to the edge of space to measure cosmic far infrared radiation in order to find out more about how stars and planets come to be.

The STO2 design has been headed by the University of Arizona, with vital contributions from SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research (Utrecht and Groningen) and Delft University of Technology.

One of the tools is a receiver at 4.7 terahertz, one of the three frequencies that help find the presence of elements in space, including electrically neutral atomic oxygen. The localisation of the latter can be achieved using a 4.7 terahertz receiver, the first time such a tool will be brought to the edge of space for an unrestricted view, for two weeks.

As well, The teams of Alexander Tielens (Leiden University) and Floris van der Tak (SRON/University of Groningen) will help analyse the observations.


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July 29, 2016

Smiley cubes with real-life applications

Filed under: Technology by Orangemaster @ 7:00 am


Physicists from Dutch FOM Institute AMOLF in Amsterdam and Leiden University together with colleagues from Tel Aviv University have developed a method to design patterns that can appear on any cube’s surface.

AMOLF group leader professor Martin Van Hecke explains that if pressure is applied to, for example, a 10x10x10 cube, some of the sides cave in, while others bulge out. By stacking several of these blocks researchers could make three-dimensional structures. Their research is said to pave the way for the use of ‘machine materials’ in, for example, prostheses and wearable technology, as published in ‘Nature’ today.

“Although Van Hecke’s research is fundamental in nature there are applications on the horizon. This type of programmable ‘machine materials’ could be ideal for prostheses or wearable technology in which a close fit with the body is important,” says Van Hecke. “If we can make the building blocks more complex or produce these from other materials then the possibilities are endless.”

(Link and photo:

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February 26, 2016

Groningen University wins bullshit bingo slogan award

Filed under: General by Orangemaster @ 10:31 am


Last November we told you about the Dunglish/bullshit bingo fest that made up Dutch university slogans, and we even had a favourite horse in the running.

“One sticks out above the rest in our view, it’s the RUG with ‘Born Leaders Reach For Infinity’ that has the flow of an acronym, but the appeal of an overflowing bin bag with rotten food begging to be taken out.”

We proudly picked a winner. I even did a search using the word ‘infinity’ to find our original posting.

The second place goes to the University of Amsterdam with ‘We are U’, ‘U’ here is the Dutch word for ‘you’ and a nod to the word university, which is oddly quite North American. Third place was taken up by Leiden University and their ‘Excel in Freedom’ albeit actually in their own language ‘Excelleren in vrijheid’, which is airy, like the clouds in the sky.

These awards are part of a debate about university financing because someone paid someone good money to come up with these ridiculous slogans while universities waste money badly mimicking businesses rather than act like proper universities.


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December 2, 2015

Dutch-Moroccan ethnolect has its own flavour

Filed under: General by Orangemaster @ 11:58 am


Does the Dutch-Moroccan ethnic group speak ‘street language’ (urban slang) or just a modified version of standard Dutch? According to postdoctoral researcher Khalid Mourigh of Leiden University, it’s an ethnolect, or what he likes to call ‘Moroccan Flavoured Dutch’ (MFD), a term coined by two linguists Jacomine Nortier and Margreet Dorleijn back in 2006. Interestingly, other ethnic groups and the native Dutch use words and pronunciations from this ethnolect.

Wikipedia tells us that Dutch-Moroccans make up some 2% of the country’s population, and the city with the most Dutch-Moroccans is Gouda, with Amsterdam in second place.

Mourigh explains that Dutch-Moroccans often speak Berber and Arabic at home with their parents, but since Berber isn’t taught formally and Arabic is more for the mosque, Dutch is what young people speak with each other, albeit with an accent, sometimes a heavy one. Urban slang is more something for the ‘native’ Dutch and Surinamese youth. However, Dutch-Moroccans of the second and third generation choose to have an accent when they speak to distinguish themselves, according to Nortier and Dorleijn. On the other hand, if they want to put their best foot forward in a job interview, standard Dutch is usually preferred.

(Link:, Photo of Djellabas by Roel Wijnants, some rights reserved)

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February 15, 2013

Extraterrestrial life could be detected within 25 years

Filed under: Science by Branko Collin @ 7:04 pm

Astronomers of Leiden University have discovered a method of detecting life on planets outside our solar system.

In a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal of 20 February (and also at Ignas Snellen and his colleagues explain how current technology can be used to detect oxygen on far away planets using transit observations—observations performed when a planet crosses the line of sight between the observatory and the planet’s star.

Until now detecting oxygen from Earth was considered problematic because the oxygen in our own atmosphere would interfere with the observations. Snellen and his team propose to use “the enormous potential of high-dispersion spectroscopy to separate the extraterrestrial and telluric signals making use of the Doppler shift of the planet”—meaning that because the Earth moves, detected oxygen of the far away planet will show up slightly different every time it is measured.

The astronomers expect oxygen could be detected in as little as ‘a few dozen’ transits. Oxygen is too eager to form molecules with other elements to remain a free agent for long in an atmosphere and an abundance of oxygen suggests it is being replenished by life forms (the way plants do on our planet).

Snellen told Space Daily: “With an array of such flux collectors covering a few football fields one could perform a statistical study of extraterrestrial life in the solar neighbourhood. Although there is still a long way to go, this should be possible within the next 25 years.”

A telescope in space could also do the work, but currently there are no plans to build such a telescope and the cost would be high.

(Photo of an artist impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope, because the images of flux collectors I could find didn’t seem to look very telescope-like, by ESO/L. Calçada, some rights reserved)

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May 20, 2012

How to defend your thesis at Leiden University

Filed under: General,History by Branko Collin @ 6:59 pm

Australian law blogger Kevin Jon Heller got his PhD in Leiden and describes the process of defending his thesis in a recent posting:

My casual attitude didn’t last long — only until I began to put on my tuxedo, complete with tails, in the room in which candidates change. My interlocutors for the viva, kindly known as ‘the opposition committee’, were changing on the other side of the room. The solemnity of the occasion finally penetrated my thick skull — this was my rite de passage into an academic tradition that had been taking place in Europe for centuries.

Once I had changed, Leiden’s pedel (registrar) explained the viva process to me and my two paranymphs, Mirjam and Bianca. The role of the paranymphs is now purely ceremonial; they sit and stand beside you during the viva. Traditionally, however, they served as the candidate’s protectors, intervening on his behalf if the opposition committee was being unfair or physically abusive (!).

The defense traditionally takes place in the Senaatskamer (Senate Room, 1733) which is adorned with portraits of the professors of the early days of the university and seats 64.

(Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Effeietsanders, some rights reserved)

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