Wageningen University & Research: Valuable to transfer knowledge from one field to another

“There seems to be a lot of attention for innovation; for the latest techniques or building new devices. My own career is mainly based on looking at what other people are doing and using it in a different way. I think there is a lot to be gained from transferring knowledge from one field to another.”

Joris Sprakel is originally a food technologist, who went from chemistry to physics to being Professor of Physical Chemistry and Soft Matter. Sprakel is now Professor of ‘Green Mechanobiology’ within the Laboratory of Biochemistry of WUR.

Don’t reinvent the wheel
“There is a technique from the 1980s for measuring the flow in blood vessels. I thought that this technique might be suitable for measuring within materials, then the technique turned out to be useful for research in painting and even in the control of plant diseases. So you can do completely new things without reinventing the wheel. That gives me energy.”

Unusual switch
Quite a special switch, that’s what Joris Sprakel dares to call his most recent step. “Within the classical picture of science, this is unusual. I’m now surrounded by people who do and know completely different things than I do and that’s what makes it so interesting. They see things I don’t and vice versa. I think that’s also part of the future of science. Solving problems by looking outside your own discipline.” That seems easier than it is. “Science is often geared towards specialists. You definitely need those specialists, only the cross-pollination, connecting the lines is just as important.”

Practice is unruly
We talk a lot about the importance of multidisciplinary in science; does Sprakel see this reflected in practice? “I think we would like to, but the practice is more unruly. I hope that my new role can do something here. That it shows that it is both inspiring and effective to work together in other constructions.”

Science is often geared towards specialists. Only the cross-pollination is just as important.
Joris Sprakel
Does he have examples of that? “I think it would be great if we pursue diversity in a broader sense. In addition to the – not to be underestimated – importance of different backgrounds in gender and origin, that we also strive for a mix of disciplines and personality types in a group. Among other things, the fact that Dolf (Weijers ed.) gives me the opportunity to do my research within Biochemistry shows that more people think that way.”