Snorkeling for study credits in ‘unique Honours Class’
A new Honours Class allows exceptional students to do research in Normandy into the origins of life. What is especially extraordinary is that the Honours Class is the product of a collaboration between the universities of Leiden, Utrecht and Amsterdam, and two museums. Dr Rinny Kooi of the Institute of Biology Leiden calls the class ‘unique’.
Gathering credits for your degree by snorkeling and looking at fish, searching for starfish among the rocks, and collecting 100-million-year-old shells in Normandy. This is possible in the new Honours Class Crises in Biology, offered by the universities of Leiden and Utrecht, the VU Amsterdam and the Naturalis natural history museum. The University of Amsterdam and the Maison du Fossile in Lion-sur-Mer also offer support. The course aims to teach exceptional students about the origins of life. Aside from this, the organisers of the Honours Class want to show that research on this subject is not limited to geology and biology. From history to astronomy: every scholarly discipline contributes to the search for answers about the so-called Tree of Life. The course is open to students from all disciplines.
‘Crises in Biology is unique from several perspectives,’ says its organiser, Dr Rinny Kooi of the Institute of Biology Leiden. ‘Firstly, because four different universities and two museums are participating. That has never happened before.’ The programme of the Honours Class is also extraordinary. In June the students become acquainted, at top speed, with biological crises in the course of geological and biological history. A group of scientific researchers from the participating universities and from Naturalis talk about the origins of life, the rapid increase in biodiversity that took place 500 million years ago, how arthropods adapted to live on dry land, and life in the universe.
- Crash course
After this crash course the students do two weeks of fieldwork in France. During the first week they search for evidence of life in geological history. Normandy lends itself perfectly to this aim because there are rocks dating back to the Precambrian and Tertiary periods (from 544 to 1.8 million years ago), and fossils of bacteria colonies and of large oysters and ammonites. In the second week the students examine the biodiversity of life in and around the sea, under the supervision of a group of marine biologists.
- Complement and reinforce
The Honours Class is also extraordinary because students from various universities, and from all sorts of disciplines, are allowed to participate. ‘We are using this set-up in order to show that many different disciplines contribute to research into the origins of life,’ explains Rinny Kooi. ‘A mathematician, for example, can make a model to show how DNA “builds” a life form. A physicist knows more about the forces that can play a role in the development of a landslide. An expert on the area of changes in the geomagnetic field can tell you about the age of earth strata; and possibly how old a fossil is. In this way complement and reinforce each other. In the sciences you also needs each other in order to find the answers.’
- Apply now
There are places for 20 students. The application deadline is 1 April. The organisers of the new Honours Class are Professor Jan Wijbrans, who was recently appointed extraordinary Professor of Geology, Dr Rinny Kooi of the Institute of Biology Leiden, and Dr Lars van den Hoek Ostende, who is affiliated to Naturalis.
• More information about the ‘Crises in Biology’ Honours Class
• Photo series from trip to Normandy
• Inaugural lecture Prof. Jan Wijbrans
• Institute of Biology Leiden
• Fundamentals of Science research area