Twenty-five TU/e students from all over the world participated in Expeditie Spinvis. ‘Expeditie’ (expedition, ed.) is a good term because it started off as a journey with its destination unknown. The hall full of people watches the film with live music by the students and Spinvis himself. In between the scenes, the musician and artist reads from a diary that he kept during the expedition: “What do scientist see as beauty? We then first need a definition of beauty, someone rightly commented. And that is different for everyone."
Fabian Lucas Luijcx, Electrical Engineering student: “It was a very nice experience, somewhat vague, but not in a negative way. Because of the many discussions we had during the workshops, I really got to know the other participants better.” Alice Sibiescu agrees with him. For the Industrial Design and Electrical Engineering student the highlights of the expedition were the moments that the group discussed matters. “All those different people with different backgrounds who discuss fundamental issues together. Very paradoxical. because that was both my favorite and hardest part. But you come to innovation if you put people from different backgrounds together."
The students learned from Spinvis to view science in a poetic way, but he also learned something from them. “Language is important, also in logic and mathematics. And because of the diverse participants of this expedition, I had to do everything in English - and that was not too easy for me. You start to be more careful. But I would not say it limited me. You learn how to get to the core of what you want to convey. If people had prejudices that beta students are less open to poetry, the opposite has now been proven. But for me that is nothing new.”
Part of the expedition was the trip to the particle accelerator in CERN, Switzerland. Candidates who wanted to participate in the expedition had to make a one-minute video with their motivation, a personal object that symbolizes beauty for them and the explanation why they like the object.
As Cursor wrote earlier, those personal objects were intended to be left in CERN, which happened. Luijcx buried a Philips light bulb. “It was a bit of a weird feeling. With the whole ritual around it, it felt like you were going to bury something very dear.” Spinvis buried a bit of ash from his deceased father there. "He was a mathematician and physicist, so I’m sure he would have thought it would be wonderful to be buried there."
Spinvis reads his last diary entry: "I failed. I did not come back from the expedition with a clear answer for the question how beauty manifests itself in science." Nicole Ummelen, member of TU/e’s Executive Board, thinks the mission is anything but failed. “There may not be a clear answer, but you have already shown me that beauty is experienced by everyone individually. Furthermore, there is already so much beauty in science and what you have shown is beauty in itself." This was a pilot, Ummelen says, “but I am proud it went the way it did and I promise here and now that it will be continued.”
Joep Huiskamp, TU/e advisor and initiator of Expeditie Spinvis, started this project with the idea of challenge based learning: helping students to learn things that are not standard in their curriculum. “Going off the beaten track. And that succeeded. It is not about finding one answer to the question of how beauty can be found in science; the journey is at least as important."
Although the film is not yet available online, participant Fabian Lucas Luijckx shares fragments from the closing evening in Natlab below.