Theatre is alive

“Sorry to hear the non-binary community doesn’t approve of this evening.” “Oh I function as a representative of the non-binary community now? Why can’t I just be here as myself?” The audience was tense and quiet as they witnessed this scene. It was part of a theatre play on the boundaries of free speech, which we took to Delft on the 6th of March. Six actors staged a fictional talkshow that went completely off the rails in every possible way. The lines above, approaching the end of the play, were its climax. And the audience felt it.

What started as a funny parody on controversy, artistic freedom and thrill-seeking talkshows, suddenly came painfully close to today’s reality of emotionally loaded, harsh climate in public debate. Something in that fiction was familiar to us in an uncanny, goose-bumpy way. It was no longer possible to just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. The play was telling us something, but what exactly? I keep wondering: how could something that was obviously staged and rehearsed attract such a strong response, both rationally and emotionally?

Of course it helps that the play dealt with content that has its lookalikes in the non-fictional world. We all recognised the ‘freedom-of-speech fundamentalist’, the flamboyant talkshow host and the comedian who balances on the edge of what can and cannot be said. The same works for other theatrical and fictional works. We might not have an Othello, Frodo or Dorothy in the world of 2023. But for sure we can point out bits and pieces of their way of doing in our daily realities, and thereby relate to them.

Because of this link between the stage and our lives, theatre makes a helpful lens to observe complex issues. It can be a relief to engage with sensitive topics through fiction. A bit of distance from the heat of the topic. A bit of space to explore what’s at stake. Reflecting on society and human behaviour has been one of theatre’s functions since forever. Yet that doesn’t make the theatrical experience a calm ocean of reasonable reflection. Perhaps you feel empathy for the tyrant who seduces the wife of the man he just murdered (Shakespeare’s Richard III). What does that say about your norms and values in daily life? Is that question even relevant? Theatre involves distance and abstraction, but distorts and confuses all the more.

Philosophers have been using their brains since ancient times to grasp what theatre does to us. There’s for example Aristotle’s classic idea of catharsis. He says we really feel through everything that happens on stage. But eventually we are purified from all those emotions and can happily go back home. Rousseau opposes that and says that theatre affects us, also after the curtain has fallen. Theatre incites the passions, but only those we already had; theatre won’t make us different, let alone better people. More recent philosophers see the engagement of an audience with a play as a form of play itself. As games of make-believe as we remember them from hour childhood: kids can spend hours sincerely feeling they’re cowboys, that chairs are horses, and dad’s a truly terrifying dinosaur. We grown-ups would do something similar when we feel devastated by for example an on-stage murder; the audience is just part of a game.

What to do with what theatre does to us? Philosophy hasn’t settled the issue yet. So there we still are. In the dark, while the houselights were switched on moments ago. Confused by empathy for the villain, anger at the hero. By agreement to arguments you never agreed to before, because the character for example showed such lovely care for its mother. It’s never clear what you’ll be taking home when the curtain has fallen. Because, as theatre director Eline Arbo put it, spot on, in an interview: “In theatre you can make firm ideological statements, without giving any answers.”

A play may thus strike us in an uncanny way. For it is unclear what the relation is between what happens on stage and what happens outside of that. Theatre and life are mixed and messed up with each other. For whether it’s on- or offstage; we all play different roles in different situations. Theatre is alive and life is theatre. But we shouldn’t forget: parts are always played by three-dimensional, breathing human beings.

Nienke Floor – programme maker

New myths about technology | Pt. 3: The Map to Utopia

Here at TU Delft, we worship progress. With technology as our magic tool, we will make the world a better place. The TU Delft found a role model for this story in Greek hero Prometheus. The man who stole the fire from the great Gods and gave it to mankind. And to the logo of this University.

This is the myth of technology. The hands on, can-do, problem-solving story of Delft engineers and designers. No challenge is too big to be overcome by our community of saviors. But is that the only story about technology we can tell?
In the dark days before Christmas, a group of students & staff gathered in TU Delft’s library for pizza, drinks and mythology. Under guidance of mythologist Hugo Koning (Leiden University),  they explored the full story of Prometheus & Pandora (click here for the recording) and created new mythologies about technology.  Here is Part III of the results. Brace yourselves.

The Map to Utopia

At the TU Delft there was a man, and this man wanted to do good. He wanted to contribute to a better world. One day, he set off on a quest to find the land of Utopia, a land he’d heard many a good story about. In Utopia, trees are forever green, CO2 vanishes naturally and injustice doesn’t exist. That’s the place he wants to go to and towards which he wishes to lead all of humanity. But where is it exactly? The man journeys to all the corners of the world to find it, but all his efforts are in vain. None of the people he asks can tell him where to find it; and none of the maps he uses know the true location. 

Therefore, he decides to use his skills in design and technology, topped with some magic, to create his own map to Utopia and surroundings. For many days and nights he passionately works on the project. The technologies within his magic map- such as a weather-controlling system and a shovel that creates a road wherever it touches the ground- bring him to even more remote and undiscovered places. Always looking ahead, he faithfully believes he is making steady progress towards his goal. But what he doesn’t see is that, instead of finding Utopia, he has left a trail of disaster and destruction behind him. 

One day, as he enjoys a lonely breakfast, whilst studying the newest update of his Map, a strange figure appears out of thin air. A woman, or rather, a powerful spirit supernatural spirit, floats through the greenery. She carries with her an enormous paper structure. Every shape, colour and language can be found on the paper prints, which are loosely glued and taped together. On the back, it says in vague handwriting ‘Map to Utopia’. She notices the man studying his map and generously offers him her hand. “Are you looking for the way to Utopia?”, she asks in echoing voice. Instead of accepting her gesture, the man snatches the paper out of the woman’s hands and runs away. “Wait!”, she shouts, “you shouldn’t go without me!”. But the man ignores her warning and continues his sprint. Barely surprised, the woman watches the man escape with her map. This is not the first time this happened to her. She shrugs and a brief smile flashes across her lips. Then she takes a new stack of papers out of her backpack. Patiently and carefully, she starts arranging a new map. As the hours pass, help is given to her by all people and animals that watch her work.

In the meantime, the man and his ill-begotten goods struggle to make their way through dense forests. Not much is left of the paper structure of the map as he found it. He couldn’t make any sense of it, nor did it give him any clue of how and where to go next. ‘Never change a winning method’, he thought. So, as he was used to doing, he cut the map into equal, squared pieces and started to look for clear directions in each of them separately. But this strategy, which he thinks will put him on the shortest way to Utopia, in fact leads him astray. Deeper and deeper he gets entangled in the chaos of the forest. And as he only pays attention to the straight lines and numbers he’s scribbled on the papers, he missteps, trips and falls to a lonely death. 

Not long after, the woman finds him on the soft floor of the woods. Her own map, as always, flawlessly shows her where she should be. She sees all the pieces of the stolen map scattered around. And she knows enough: again, a wannabe hero has fallen into the arms of the forest. Why couldn’t he be more patient? She could’ve explained quite easily. Utopia is already here, in this very forest. But you can only find your way there together. With a Map of Pluriformity, to which everyone can contribute.  

How to stay engaged in toxic times

Last week I tweeted something – in my eyes – fairly innocuous about Roald Dahl. As you know, some passages in his children’s books are being adapted. For example, a child is no longer ‘fat’, but ‘huge’. I tweeted that texts are often changed, so I wondered why there would be such a fuss about it now. I actually didn’t even take a position – I just wondered why it’s now leading to heated arguments. Within a short time I was called a ‘deugneus’ (hard to translate, something like a ‘goody two-shoes’) and of course: ‘woke’. ‘Working at a university’, one person tweeted… ‘Well, then you already know what they’re like.’

I don’t know about you, but since the corona pandemic I’ve noticed that people are quick to anger. And not only when it comes to corona, lockdowns or QR codes; topics that have already been controversial for some time now bring emotions to a boil. Whether it’s about climate, black lives matter, queerness, the position of women, farmers, migrants, the war in Ukraine, etcetera. In the Netherlands, the atmosphere is tense, and frankly downright dangerous – look at how Dutch minister Sigrid Kaag (a woman, not coincidentally) was greeted with torches again recently. The ‘Kaag haat’ (‘Kaag anger’)  is truly incredible; someone compared it to a modern witch hunt, and I don’t think that comparison is unjustified.

The task of Studium Generale has traditionally been to facilitate debate and discussion. But how do you do that in an increasingly toxic atmosphere?

There are roughly two positions in political philosophy. The first examines how consensus and deliberation are possible – a position that the German intellectual giant Jürgen Habermas has made his life’s work. The other position assumes that such a consensus sounds nice, but in fact hides the fact that groups that are marginalized hardly get a say. That is exactly what minority groups have been saying for the past two decades: liberalism and progress may seem important values ​​in the West, but our wounds are barely mentioned. It takes conflict to claim a voice. The Metoo and Black Lives Matter movements are examples of this. This position is called agonism (from the Greek agon: struggle), and the political thinker Chantal Mouffe is an important representative.

For Studium Generale, that claim of minority groups is important – a university (the name universitas says it all) is inclusive by definition, so the voice of people who claim to be excluded must be heard. At the same time, we are not activists; we create space for debate and discussion – a task we take very seriously. How big should that space be? Is freedom of expression unlimited? And what form can a discussion take?

Tomorrow we will organize an SG Academy asking whether scientists can actually be activists, the same question that SG itself struggles with.

In addition, we are organizing three events in a row in the city of Delft early next week – think of it as a small festival about the emotions of our time. The first is a theater performance by Max Wind, in which he stages a fictitious debate evening with five actors that gets out of hand. But the evening must and will continue. What now? The second is an evening devoted to the beautiful documentary Remember What You Forgot by Clarice Gargard about the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement in the Netherlands, with an introduction by Naomie Pieter. The third is on International Women’s Day – and is about how equal men and women are behind the front door, where feminism comes down to who does the vacuuming and who takes care of the kids. All three use a special form: theatre, film and a serious game.

For anyone who is fed up with today’s toxic atmosphere, but also doesn’t want to give up. My advice: Go to all four!

Leon Heuts – Head of Studium Generale

At home, most young adults in the Netherlands still live in 1950

International Women’s Day is coming up. When we talk about emancipation in the Netherlands, there is still a long way to go. While we agree that equality and equity are important, our lifestyle does not reflect that ideal.

Young adults in the Netherlands (25-35 years old) believe that fighting inequality between the genders is the most important challenge. The Volkskrant newspaper recently polled 2100 people and came up with this result. Amongst couples that live together, more than 6 out of 10 say they aim to maintain equity in care and household tasks; men even more so than women. In practice, however, we still divvy up the tasks according to traditional patterns.

More men work fulltime (56% vs 22%), and women do more in terms of household chores (1.5 times more) and childcare (twice as much as men).

The main cause? It’s because we still think in terms of stereotypes (

Statistically, men tend to think that they need to choose certain careers because they are more masculine, enter industries where working fulltime is the norm, and maintain more traditional ideas about (child)care and household chores. This results in men working more and doing less at home.

When couples move in together, the division is even more skewed: 15% of women begin working less hours, compared to 6.1% of men. And if kids enter the picture? Then 70% of women and 10% of men will work less, and 80% of women will pick up more (child)care compared with 40% of men.

When you consider these facts, it’s clear that equity has not made its way past the front door. What do you think about it? Let us know your opinions through our survey in the TU Delft Library Hall (by the Student Activity Portal) or through Instagram!

Wednesday, March 8th, Studium Generale of the TU Delft will co-host the official opening of the International Women’s Day in Delft, at the DOK public library. Listen to an interview with diverse guests and share your own experiences during the discussion.

New myths about technology | Pt. 2: The Greedy Bird

Here at TU Delft, we worship progress. With technology as our magic tool, we will make the world a better place. The TU Delft found a role model for this story in Greek hero Prometheus. The man who stole the fire from the great Gods and gave it to mankind. And to the logo of this University.

This is the myth of technology. The hands on, can-do, problem-solving story of Delft engineers and designers. No challenge is too big to be overcome by our community of saviors. But is that the only story about technology we can tell?
In the dark days before Christmas, a group of students gathered in TU Delft’s library for pizza, drinks and mythology. Under guidance of mythologist Hugo Koning (Leiden University),  they explored the full story of Prometheus & Pandora (click here for the recording) and created new mythologies about technology.  Here is Part I of the results. Brace yourselves.

The Greedy Bird

A long, long time ago, in a land named Kakophonia, a group of birds lived together in harmony. A true paradise it was; among swaying greenery the birds, all smart, witty and creative in their own unique way, spent their days lightly twittering & chattering.

All of them soothed the trees, flowers and each other with the most splendid melodious songs and sounds. Except for one little bluebird, who hopped through the branches in silence. Bad fortune was upon him, as he was born with a lack of voice. Not a song, not a chirp, not even a screech he could push out of his beak.

A disgrace he was to the name and fame of the Kakophonian clan. So, to defend their honour, the other golden-hoofered birds had no option but shut the bluebird out. They mocked, insulted and laughed at him constantly. He always had to do with withered leftover worms for supper and was always the last to be chosen as a team mate for the traditional game of beakball. His life was one of loneliness, hardship and misery.

Up until the Great Goddess of Equality let her eyes scan the forest of Kakophonia and discovered the injustice. Stunned, she decided to grant the silent bluebird the light of technology. With the gift to invent machinery and equipment, the bluebird would be able to stand up for himself and the balance of fairness in the world would be restored.

The mute bird soon got the hang of it. He invented a worm searcher to provide for his own meals, a mechanical beak that made every ball hit the goal. More and more he created. Shiny, cutting-edge, geeky, but far beyond what was needed to keep up with the others. Yet, he never had enough and kept all his creations to himself, causing jealousy within his singing brothers. Again, chaos and conflict ruled in Kakophonia.

Furious and upset, the Goddess of Equality, took action again. She chose to enlighten the singing birds with technological skills as well, but on one condition. Alone, nothing remarkable could be created. They were only able to succeed if they would work together. Soon enough, they took their chance. The voiced birds created a beautiful golden cage and filled it with the most advanced technological gadgets. They lured the bluebird in and locked him up.

In disillusion, the Goddess of Equality retreated in a far corner of the spirit world. For that day marked the beginning of an endless circle of locking and liberating. The silent bluebird, still the only one able to operate alone, would always find a way to escape his prison. The singers would always respond by developing a new, more sophisticated one.

Of course, so it goes, a game loses its bling after a while. More and more, the birds get bored playing cat and mouse. The bluebird finds himself free to serve himself again. And the others decide to follow its example. Kakophonia’s singing community fell apart into different clans. All designing stuff for their own good only. Frequently at the cost of other clans. Chaos and conflict it was again. And that, dear friends, is how Greed came into the world.

Stay tuned. Next week, the last myth will be unleashed.

New myths about technology | Pt. 1: The All-Knowing Cloud

Here at TU Delft, we worship progress. With technology as our magic tool, we will make the world a better place. The TU Delft found a role model for this story in Greek hero Prometheus. The man who stole the fire from the great Gods and gave it to mankind. And to the logo of this University.

This is the myth of technology. The hands on, can-do, problem-solving story of Delft engineers and designers. No challenge is too big to be overcome by our community of saviors. But is that the only story about technology we can tell?
In the dark days before Christmas, a group of students gathered in TU Delft’s library for pizza, drinks and mythology. Under guidance of mythologist Hugo Koning (Leiden University),  they explored the full story of Prometheus & Pandora (click here for the recording) and created new mythologies about technology.  Here is Part I of the results. Brace yourselves.

The All-Knowing Cloud

In a not too distant future, a group of scientists has created an all-knowing Cloud. Hanging low above the Earth, it is a true Artificial Intelligence and a seemingly limitless repository of knowledge. Everything that has ever been discovered or created is contained within its mind. 

For centuries, humanity seeks out the Cloud for its wise council on all matters in life. People worship it, and over time the engineers who created it become its priests. All of society and civilization comes to rely on the answers of the Cloud; even though it does not rule directly, it influences all choices from the smallest to the most political. And so, as the Cloud gains power, humanity becomes complacent. 

The Cloud grows and grows, in knowledge and in size. Eventually it grows so big that it covers and darkens the Earth below. With the dimming of the Sun, people become lethargic. Without a need to go out and discover things for themselves, they become lazy. The Cloud is god: the Cloud provides, and in its shadow, life itself loses its lustre. 

There is one woman, who, despite the overbearing technological intelligence in the sky, grows up with her own sense of curiosity intact. Orlando is her name. And Orlando is not content with life under the Cloud. She wants to discover and experience life for herself, and not rely on an external machine. But she is alone. No others share her passion for learning from life, and instead they are afraid of the wrath of the priests. 
Lonely, disillusioned, and desperate, Orlando saw no other option but to stab out her own eyes. She would no longer live in the darkness of the Cloud. And in her blindness, she began to see. She saw that the Cloud had become arrogant in its knowledge, and its priests had become arrogant in their power, and the people needed to be liberated from their shadow. 

She climbed the nearest hill, getting as close as she could, and she confronted the Cloud. She sought to test its limits with a most perfect question, one that the Cloud should not be able to answer. And so she came up with The Most Perfect Question, a question that must have no singular answer, to pierce through the all-knowingness of the Cloud. Orlando asked the Cloud, “What is the perfect question to ask?”  

The Cloud heard the Question and tried to process it. After millions upon millions of questions, all faithfully answered, it now heard a query it could not begin to answer. It had become convinced that it was all-knowing, but what it did not know was that it lacked self-reflection. It thought and it thought, searching through its thickest thunderclouds and its most wispy puffs, but it was stumped. It could see no answer, only contradictions. Is the answer to the Perfect Question not the question itself? But if the answer is the question, then is it still a question? It was a paradox. And so the Cloud began to freak out at its own ignorance. 

There was nothing the priests could do. They stood by as their god began to die; the Cloud, as its mind fell apart, began to rain down upon the Earth. The Perfect Question had stumped it so that it lost itself, and dropped all its knowledge and wisdom on the people below.  

And so knowledge was returned to humanity. Orlando watched as each drop that landed on a person’s head brought some inspiration, some skill, some insight that brought back innovation and life. And that is how light will return to the people, when creativity is wrested back from the hands of the machine. 

Stay tuned. In the upcoming weeks, more myths will be revealed.

Biking Through The Rain

The rain radar above Delft has coloured red. There’s a strong wind blowing from all directions. And there I go. Steering my way through the ponds. Probably carrying too many non-waterproof bags. Wearing only one glove, as I’ve already lost the other. Of course, biking through the rain isn’t exactly my hobby. Yet, I wouldn’t want to miss those rides. My body and brain have come to treasure the cold, frown-faced moments in life. That’s new, and still surprises me.

For there was a time I couldn’t stand the daily hassle of life. I wanted to make the most of daytime. Biking through the rain didn’t exactly add to that. A day stuffed with studying, being creative and talk with friends -so to say ‘meaningful moments’- would. However, the reality check was that my quest for quality time brought me the opposite of what I was hunting for. Not only did I despise wasting time with getting soaking wet and dry again. But then I also spoiled the moments where the magic should happen by feelings of pressure, shortcoming and disappointment.

How I changed from an experience-hunter to a person who appreciates unpleasant bike rides, I don’t exactly know. But this summer, I witnessed a theatre performance that staged what they mean to me with uncanny preciseness. ‘The Underground’, it was called, a crazy circus by interdisciplinary ensemble NITE from Groningen. Based on a short novel by Dostojevski, the play follows the memoires of a man who tries his very best to live. Up to society’s expectations, but also to his own norms and values.

Time and time again he fails to satisfy either or both of them. He never succeeds to find fulfilment in his job, doesn’t fit in with his colleagues and, of course, all his supposed friends leave him behind at a party. He’s literally the clown who eventually always finds himself with a cake smashed in his face. Eventually all the layers of dough and cream force him to conclude that a human “may try to move heaven and earth but he’ll never be a different human than this. That this is it. Nothing more. And less isn’t even possible.”

Too dark, down and cynical? Not in this show. The ensemble serves the topic with vibrance, extravagancy and humour. It is an ode towards the frailty inherent to the project of life. We all try to find our path, play our part, live up to something. But it seems inevitable that some cake will somehow smash us in the face.

“We might need a little lesson in suffering”, director Guy Weizman observed in an interview. Thereby he explicitly excluded severe physical or clinical mental obstacles, such as depression. But rather those bitter realities we all recognise. In which your best friend always gets the best jobs or your well-deserved vacation doesn’t turn out the way you expected.

A little pain is unpleasant, yet immanent to life. “We really aren’t perfect and we’ll never be the best version of ourselves”, Weizman said. If we can admit that, we could become much better at living through discomfort. And perhaps, like a clown, even go for a genuine laugh along the way.

And that’s why I refuse to take the bus when I’m again facing a bleak, stormy autumn shower, packed with heavy groceries and a bag with equipment for sports. ‘The Underground’ made me realise that these miserable moments could be part of those lessons in suffering.

What they teach me? That it’s possible to embrace the many discomforts in life. Not by digging for the tasty cherry in every thrown cake. No ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. But just by trying to feel through the malaise, yet trust that no matter how big the raindrops, your mind and body will carry you anyway. This is it. Nothing more, less isn’t even possible. And that’s fine.

Nienke Floor – Program Maker

On blue Monday, January 16th, we host a Philosophical Cafe (in Dutch) on ‘being unhappy’. In Theater de Veste, our thoughts will go to the flipside of our Quest for Happiness. Why is it important to attend to the blue sides of life more? Sign up for the waitlist here or look out for the recording at our website.

Why We Need Good Stories

When I was very young, I believed that things and animals were also persons with whom I could talk. Every morning I greeted the table and the chairs, and they greeted me back. At least, that’s how I saw it. I also had conversations with our gray and woolly Keeshond Skippy.

Now that I am much older, I think: how can you lose something that is so dear to you? Is that what growing up means? In many fairy tales, fables and myths around the world, things, plants and animals are depicted as talking and animated beings. Not the same as people – they have their own character; a tree is often slow and old, a fox very fast. But they are intelligent, as we imagine people to be. Those stories are not only very beautiful, but also offer a view of the world that I think still has value. And yet – as an adult you can still find them amusing, but really believing in them is not what we should do.

The reason, it is said, is that it is simply not true. The idea that things and animals can talk is not an accurate description of reality. Somewhere in ancient Greece a distinction arose between logos and mythos – logos refers to science; deduction, empirical observation. And for mythos the rest remains: stories, fabrications.

Yet throughout history there has always been doubt as to whether this distinction is really that simple. Perhaps myths are not strictly true – nevertheless, they have a lot of truth to tell. Ethical insights, for example. The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter – the great myths of our time – never really happened, but tell us a lot about the value of friendship and loyalty.

The great Greek philosopher Aristotle states that good storytellers often reveal reality better than scientists ever can. And anyone who watches a series like The Crown understands what he means. Perhaps this series about the British royal family does not always do justice to the facts, but we do get to the motives and characters of the protagonists – in a way that factual historiography could never do.

After all, life, says Aristotle, is like a story (he actually uses the word mythos). It is full of crazy and unexpected events and twists. A story manages to make a meaningful whole out of it, because life is more than a garbage can of accidental memories. And just like in a story, we empathize with others. Science will never do that. What the science describes may all be true; and of course, science offers an invaluable contribution to society. But you don’t really sympathize, as you would with a life story. Only stories can do that. It is not for nothing that TU Delft uses a myth – the myth of Prometheus – as a symbol. Prometheus stole fire from the gods, to which man was subjected. In other words: technology – such as making fire – is more than just a way to control the world. It is a sign of emancipation, liberation and progress. Now that’s a story you can relate to.

At the same time, we must take seriously that the Promethean myth did not end well. The gods punished mankind by creating the curious Pandora, who could not resist opening a jar containing disease, war and other evils that were spread over the world. Technology comes with a dark side; those who think they can completely control the world, often do more harm than good.

But perhaps there is another story that can counterbalance this. Namely, the story that the world is more than something to bend to your will. It is a special place with animals, plants and things, that also have something to say. This calls for new stories about harmony between technology and the world. I noticed this during a study trip to Japan, where the ancient nature religion of Shintoism has effortlessly transformed into a concern for local trees and parks – but also into a hip ‘techno-animism’ in which technology is represented as spirited (‘kami‘). A good Western example is the sweet and caring robot Wall-E, from the Pixar film of the same name. I was reminded of the bond I had with my old Nokia cell phone, which I always regarded as a feisty little fellow. I still have it, somewhere in a drawer – I just cannot throw it away. And when I see it, I greet it as I used to do with the table and chairs. And I wonder: what would happen – in these days of climate change and consumerism – if we would see the world and technology as spirited, even if it is a myth?

Leon Heuts – Head of Studium Generale

Atomic Reactions 

From unbridled optimism to the public’s skepticism and back again

7 March 2022 – 3 June 2022

Cutting edge new technology, interactive and moving displays, a beautifully designed exhibit and an actual working nuclear reactor, the exhibition Het Atoom in 1957 marveled audiences with its optimistic, future forward approach to the miracle of nuclear energy. Held at Schiphol Airport, it marked an important moment in the propagation of nuclear energy in postwar Netherlands. Over half a century later, only the actual working reactor remains, the very reactor that is still in use today on TU Delft’s campus. Yet the public’s opinion on nuclear energy wavers over the decades. As the reactor is undergoing renovation, we revisit the current state of nuclear science on campus and in the psyche of society.

Nuclear science evokes a mix of images and emotions. You might think of whitecoats harnessing atoms in reactors, radioactive materials being dumped into our oceans or third world wars. Do you see the promise of freedom from fossil fuels or fear the dangers of radiation that remain for centuries? Since its inception roughly 70 years ago, the information and knowledge (made) available about nuclear energy have been manipulated, distorted or simply misinterpreted, and as a result, so have our associations. Society’s opinions are coloured by our educational and cultural backgrounds. Similarly, the framing of nuclear energy in media, politics, or the arts influences our judgment.

In this exhibition and programme of arts events, lectures, and workshops, TU Delft Library aims to untie the messy knot formed around this topic. Join us in asking the tough questions: What political, ethical, ecological, and mythological frames comprise our perspectives? How informed are we with the current state of atomic science –its history and presence on campus? Can we disconnect from how charged this subject has become in cultural myths?

The exhibition and the complementary programme will run from the beginning of March to early June 2022. The program consists of a building series of events. This programme is a collaboration between the TU Delft Library teams of Studium Generale, Open Spaces, and Academic Heritage and is part of TU Delft’s programme for its 180th lustrum. The theme for this lustrum year is: energy transition.

Programme Atomic Reactions 

Watch the recording of our Filosofisch Café | Radioactieve verhalen

Nuclear Art Festival 

SG Highlights | World at War

Every week until the start of the second semester, we will post a selection of highlights from the past year so you can enjoy our events from home, as on-campus events are currently not possible. Stay safe and healthy and best of luck with your exams!

For our previous highlights, please take a look at our blogs.

World at War

In this series of talks, different thinkers explore the meaning of conflict in our times. No longer a ‘great game’ of nation states declaring war, invading, and taking land, global aggression in our time takes place through trade, hacking, and proxies. Far from home, or hidden online, it remains largely unseen by us in the Netherlands. And yet ‘war’ in the sense of conflict is everywhere. Immigration, natural resource extractivismthe war on terror, the war on corona, the rise of the Chinese economy, climate change, and a multitude of cultural conflicts beg the question: what is war in the 21st century? And why do we fight?

Monday: Conflict Resources

Dutch-Congolese author Alphonse Muambi provides first-hand knowledge and experience of the past and present conflicts in resource rich countries like Congo, Niger, and Mali.

Tuesday: The Future of War

War and technology have always been intertwined. But our high-tech age is drastically changing the landscape and the rules of warfare.

Wednesday: The Rise of China

What are the chances of a war between China and the West? What would such an open conflict look like, and how would it impact us in Europe, sandwiched as we are between the two global superpowers of China and the US?

Thursday: Capitalism, Racism, and Fascism: The Roots of Violence

Our society seems trapped in a system that on the one hand builds fantastic new technologies, and on the other hand destroys its own environment with great violence. Why do we thrive in so much conflict and not in peace? Are these conflicts somehow linked, and is there a way out?

Friday: Prometheus’ Problems | Should an engineer work for the military?

Can an algorithm be racist? If a self-driving car causes an accident, who is responsible? These are the kinds of questions that are discussed at our brand new philosophical café Prometheus’ Problems! At this event, students, professors and external experts will exchange thoughts about philosophical and ethical themes related to engineering, modern technology and its impact on society.