Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An hommage to Marthijn Sonneveld

When you write a PhD in the Netherlands, you not only get a supervisor, a well known professor who mostly has not time for you, but also two or three daily supervisors, younger scientists who are assistant professors. The great thing of this approach is that you get to work closely with people who have time for you. It does not come as a surprise that these people really influence your vision of the world and science.
At my PhD defense : Marthijn, Jan Huigen (the farmer who initiated my research project), me and Roel
Marthijn Sonneveld was one of my daily supervisor, next to Jetse Stoorvogel and Roel Jongeneel. He was probably the most silent one of all the three, nonetheless his understanding of soils and how they influence the landscape dynamics had a deep impact on my PhD. Not only he had great knowledge about Dutch soils, it formation and use, but he was passionate about teaching. He was not afraid to stand in the field and dig deep wholes to show concretely what he is talking about. Like no one else he was capable of explaining relationships of soils with the landscape as a whole in a easily understandable and yet fascinating way. I guess Marthijn taught me to appreciate and feel home in the openness of Dutch landscapes.

During on of the excursion with students in Friesland
Also Marthijn had a great network of stakeholders through out the whole of the Netherlands. He was one of the few scientists in my surroundings, who truly tied contact with Dutch non scientific partners to make science work for people out there in the landscape. I got a lot from his vision about involving a broad number of stakeholders to answer societal questions, something I try to keep doing in my daily work at ILRI.

Marthijn passed away before the end of the year 2013 after a short fight against cancer, leaving behind a young family. It left me, like many of my colleague speechless in front of powerlessness that we faced and filled me with a deep sorrow. I am glad and privileged that i got the chance to work with him and learn from him. He might have left us, but his ideas and visions will remain and evolve through us, students and colleagues who had the chance to interact and learn from him.

May his family and close friends get a lot of strength to overcome this difficult time and may he rest in peace.
The openness of Dutch landscapes

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