Stories#089 Frieder's plea for change

#089 Frieder's plea for change

The story of Cornelise's shaping education is the story of Frieder's plea for change

Cornelise Vreman-de Olde gets excited about lifelong learning. She coaches teachers in designing their courses and helps them develop their pedagogical skills. Frieder Mugele is happy to share his ideas about the way we organise education. In his professional life, he has developed from an 'average' physics researcher to a professor and an advocate for firm climate measures. These are urgently needed, he says. ‘It will be bad. And well within my lifetime.’

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Monday 19 september 2022 

Drop it like it’s hot

Cornelise: ‘Frieder, we share a background in physics. How did you get into the field?’

Frieder: ‘I knew very early on that I would study physics. My parents were both biologists, but my father used to call physics the crown of the natural sciences.’

Cornelise: ‘You once told me about your own studies. Every now and then you would get a big test on all the material that you had covered so far. How do you look back on that now?’

Frieder: ‘That’s right, yes! When I was a student, I had my first serious exam after two years. It consisted of two parts, both oral. One on theoretical physics and one on experimental physics. These two parts covered all the subjects I had taken until then. The lectures were old-fashioned, one-way traffic. The teacher talked, we wrote along and afterwards we would read our notes to see what he had actually said. We had to really study the material at home, chew on it.’

Cornelise: ‘Well put. It’s a process you have to learn. Physics in high school is really different from physics at UT. That sometimes leads to great frustration.’

Frieder: ‘Well, no matter how you organise teaching and testing, the content doesn’t get any easier. Each professor here has also spent afternoons and evenings staring at the material and thinking: darn it, I’m not making any progress at all. Nowadays, we guide students a lot better. In my days, I could have just not studied for two years, so to speak. But then I would have had a problem at the end.

‘Still, the way we were tested had one big advantage: it gave us overview. I had to study all subjects at the same time. That opened my eyes to all kinds of interconnections. I think that our education fails in that respect. Every three months we test each subject individually without ever looking at the bigger picture. Even though the big picture is incredibly important.’

Cornelise: ‘But in your research you studied the behaviour of drops at a micro level and how you can manipulate them.’

Frieder: ‘That’s right. In recent years, I’ve been trying to broaden our department’s view. By doing so, we can make a greater contribution to solving societal problems, in particular the climate crisis. That drives me a lot more these days than moving a few drops back and forth.’

Finding solutions to the climate crisis motivates me more than moving a few drops back and forth

Frieder Mugele

Cornelise: ‘What triggered you to make that switch?’

Frieder: ‘That seed was planted early too. In the 1970s, my father bought the Club of Rome’s report ‘Limits to Growth’. I also have it on my table. It is more important than ever. What is happening now was already predicted in the 1980s. It is clear that we cannot go on like this.’

Cornelise: ‘Is that why you have the warming stripes as your background?’

Frieder: ‘Yes, great observation! This is the time to turn words from policy documents into reality. Together with some colleagues of Scientists4Future Twente, I wrote an open letter to the Executive Board. We pointed out that we still see too little of the Shaping2030 sustainability ambitions reflected in day-to-day policy. And with Brechje Maréchal I made a plan for UT air travel. We propose an internal tax on flying, for example. We could use this money to reduce the CO2 footprint of the campus. Or to compensate colleagues who need to stay an additional night in a hotel when they take the train and therefore have to travel a bit longer.’

Cornelise: ‘So you’re saying that we have to make more conscious choices instead of keeping on doing everything we’re used to doing.’

Frieder: ‘Exactly. If you look at our flying habits, we should primarily reduce intercontinental flights. They were responsible for about 3,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2019. But cancelling intercontinental flights will have consequences. For UT’s internationalisation policy, for example. Should UT encourage people to hold ancillary positions at universities in China or the US? Does that comply with a university that says sustainability is a prerequisite for everything we do?’

Cornelise: ‘You clearly see it as a task of UT to make people more aware.’

Frieder: ‘Yes, I do. If we, as a university, don’t set the right example, how can we expect society to follow? Some time ago, students from Arago, the study association for applied physics, asked if my department would sponsor their study trip to South Korea. We started talking about the CO2 emissions that such a trip would incur. The students picked up on this very well. They asked the Executive Board and other parties for financial support to offset their emissions. Very good, but from a sustainability perspective you can ask yourself whether you need to travel this far on a study trip. Could you not achieve the learning objectives by organising a similar trip by train to Spain, for example?’

If we want a more sustainable society, we must set a good example ourselves

Frieder Mugele

Cornelise: ‘Can UT also contribute to solving the climate crisis with technological solutions? Or is it mainly a matter of changing people’s behaviour?’

Frieder: ‘Both. We already have a lot of green technology, but it has yet to be implemented on a large scale. Think about solar and wind power. Moreover, we still have to take many steps to be able to store the electricity that is generated. And we need to work on capturing CO2 from the atmosphere.

‘But the best solution is: zero emission. In order to achieve this, we need to do many things differently and change the way in which our society and economy are organised. In that sense, I’m having trouble with news reports about the economic growth picking up after a period of corona lockdowns. We all seem to think that this is the only way. But growth will come to an end, because our planet does not grow.’

Cornelise: ‘Still, us humans tend to easily think: this will not concern me. Not in my lifetime.’

Frieder: ‘Yes, I used to think that for a long time too. But it will get bad, well within my life time. One of my PhD students from India describes how his state is already going from flood to drought and from drought to flood. And climate change is becoming more and more visible in our regions too. Think of the recent tornadoes in Zeeland and in Paderborn, just across the border. Or the large forest fires in France and Germany.

‘It is sad to hear what the climate crisis is doing to students and young colleagues. More and more I hear that they get depressed and frustrated. There was a lot of talk about mental health because of the corona pandemic. But that crisis will pass. The climate crisis will not just go away. Young people will be stuck with it. UT can’t solve it, but we can give hope and show a good way forward. Therefore, UT must put climate and sustainability first and continue to do so. Students appreciate that, it’s their future.’

Dr. Cornelise Vreman-de Olde (1968)

studied Applied Physics at UT. Because she was interested in learning and teaching, she went on and studied to become a physics teacher. After several years of teaching, she further developed her expertise in learning and teaching with a PhD project entitled ‘Learning by designing assignments’. Since completing her PhD, Cornelise has worked as a trainer and educational consultant at UT’s Centre of Expertise in Learning & Teaching (CELT). In 2020, she started working as a Process Facilitator, before becoming Coordinator of Educational Professional Development two years later. Within Shaping2030, Cornelise is project leader of the Shaping Expert Group Educational Innovation.

Prof. Dr. Frieder Mugele (1966)

studied physics at the University of Constance in Germany. There he also obtained his doctorate doing research on metal surfaces in an ultra-high vacuum. He then worked as a postdoc at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California (USA) and as a research assistant at the University of Ulm (Germany). During these years, he specialised more and more in the interaction between liquids and solids. Since 2004, Frieder has been Professor of Physics of Complex Fluids at UT. He is a member of Scientist4Future, a coalition of concerned scientists. Within the UT he is involved in the Sustainability, Energy & Environment (SEE) programme.