Suzanne Hulscher seeks sustainable and flexible solutions in water management
Suzanne Hulscher combines being a professor and chair of the group of Water Engineering & Management at the University of Twente with membership of the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR). The WRR is an independent advisory body for government policy with the task of informing and advising the government on issues that are of great importance to society. This is an important task, in which she is able to translate her physical and mathematical oriented work into practical advice. "That suits me well and is a common thread in my career. I started as a physicist and obtained my PhD at the Deltares knowledge institute and Utrecht University. During my PhD, I learned not only to look at how things are, but also at how they develop and what you can do with them."
Hulscher and her group at the University of Twente are working on sustainable solutions with knowledge of nature. "We need water, but we are also threatened by it. The Netherlands has a good reputation when it comes to knowledge about water; we earn a lot of money from it. Our country has learned a lot from the threats in the past. Dutch water knowledge belongs to the top of the world. We carry out major interventions, such as the Room for the River projects. It's unique how well we work together: the universities among themselves, but also with partners such as Rijkswaterstaat, engineering firms and dredgers. We play a pioneering role worldwide and I see many opportunities here for our country. Climate change is bringing more extremes and we have to be prepared for that."
The research of Hulscher's group focuses on surface waters. The professor explains: "It's all about questions like: 'How does water behave in rivers and along the coast?'. Running water carries along grains of sand that constantly change the bed and banks. This is a slow process. We are trying to find out how the bed is changing so that we can offer smart solutions for river dune areas and riverbanks. Sustainable and flexible solutions are needed because we don't want to pour everything into concrete."
In addition to leading her group and her other positions at the WRR, Hulscher still likes the combination of research and education very much. "Working with students is very rewarding and motivates me. Students are open-minded. When I work with them, I hear a lot of new things. I have invested a lot in creating a good research atmosphere in my department, stimulating internal cooperation, international research exchange, initiating various series of research interviews, organising national and international conferences and involving MSc students in our research. Bachelor students do an external final assignment to taste the field of work, they also get a more general education. But for our research it certainly has an added value to use master's projects. Then we have extra capacity, especially if we do this in collaboration with an external partner. That way, we can make the link with their research objectives, which is very good. And for the student it is very motivating if something really happens with the research he or she does. In addition, PhD students help in teaching practical assignments. They are still very close to the students and can inspire and motivate them to do PhD research themselves. This way of working works very well, we have about 30 graduates every year within our group." These graduates are in high demand, explains Hulscher. “They are often recruited before their graduation. To me, this is inspiring and motivating. Most of them still complete their education, but it is good to notice that we are educating professionals who are needed and wanted by society.”
Since 2002, Prof. Suzanne J.M.H. Hulscher has been head of the Water Engineering & Management group. She obtained her PhD in 1996 from the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy on the subject of modelling soil patterns in coastal seas. The research was carried out at Deltares (former WL|Delft Hydraulics) and IMAU, Utrecht University. After this she held various scientific positions within the Cluster Civil Engineering & Management of the University of Twente, and from 2002 she held the Chair of Physics of Water Systems. As a visiting scientist she stayed in Canada and Spain.
In 2002 she won the Minerva award from FOM (Fundamental Research on Matter). In 2003 she received a VICI grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to investigate roughness modelling for water management applications. She was then invited to participate in the DJA (young senior scientists) of the KNAW (Dutch Academy of Sciences) and the KNAW Council for Earth and Climate. From 2007-2010 Hulscher was part of the Dutch Innovation Platform, chaired by Balkenende (former Dutch Prime Minister). She has acted as a PhD promotor 37 times and supervises a large number of PhD students.
Hulscher is chair of the scientific advisory board of the Wadden Academy. Hulscher was a member of the committees for the Hedwigepolder and the IJsselmeer afsluitdijk and advised the Dutch government. Hulscher is PI of many STW and ALW projects in the field of sand waves, coastal and river dunes, often in collaboration with TUD, UU, WUR, NIOZ and RU in a multidisciplinary setting. Hulscher is particularly chairman of the STW perspective programme RiverCare, in which 5 universities and 29 non-academic partners work together. Hulscher is the (co-)author of 142 papers in scientific journals (Web of Science) and she chaired the MARID (2004) and RCEM (2007) conferences. In 2014 Hulscher joined the board of NWO-ALW. In 2016, STW appointed Suzanne Hulscher as Simon Stevin Meester, the highest distinction in the Technical Sciences of the Netherlands. From 2017 Hulscher will be elected as a member of the KNAW (Dutch Academy of Sciences). In 2018 Hulscher entered the kernel group of the ENW (expertise network in watersafety) and she chairs the ENW-river group. In 2019 she joined the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), which is an appointment for 5 years.
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