Stephan Heunis. Foto | Bart van Overbeeke

“Open science can be of great value”

Stephan Heunis, PhD candidate at Electrical Engineering, received an award during the online Open Science Festival, which took place on Thursday afternoon, for his efforts to promote ‘open science.’ The South African is the driving force behind the Open Science Community Eindhoven and founder of OpenMR Benelux, an initiative aimed at sharing knowledge within his own discipline, brain ‘imaging’ with MRI.

photo Bart van Overbeeke

During this year’s edition of the Dutch National Open Science Festival, outgoing minister of education Van Engelshoven announced PhD candidate Heunis as one of the two runners up of the Open Initiatives Trophy – first prize went to the team behind ReproHack NL, a series of hackathons centered around software reproducibility. Apart from the trophy, Heunis will also receive 250 euros.

The organizing committee had invited him to come to the recording studio in The Hague, Heunis says. “I couldn’t manage that, unfortunately, so I followed the livestream from my home. It felt strange not being there, but the minister wasn’t present in person either.” He doesn’t know who nominated him for the award, “but I’m very grateful to that person, naturally. To me, the Open Initiative Trophy is a great way to stimulate open science.”

MRI signals

Stephan Heunis is currently finalizing his thesis. In the Signal Processing Systems research group, he worked at the improvement of electrical signals of functional MRI – in particular real time. He did so in collaboration with Philips Research and Center for Epileptology Kempenhaeghe, which has an MRI scanner built by Philips at its disposal.

In addition, he has actively been promoting Open Science for years. “I’ve spent four years working in industry before I started my doctoral research, and I became aware during that period how much more efficient it is to collaborate whenever possible. So much information still gets lost because scientists don’t regard each other merely as colleagues, but as competitors as well.” His South African background also plays a role, he believes. “Free access to information and knowledge, which is what the open science movement strives for, can be of great value to a continent like Africa.”

Lunch meetings

Heunis initiated the Open Science Community Eindhoven, together with staff members at Data Management and Library, and scientists Daniël Lakens and Veronika Cheplygina. The group organizes regular lunch meetings during which participants share experiences and ideas with regard to making research data accessible. Heunis also founded OpenMR Benelux, a community for scientists working in his own field of magnetic resonance (MR) imaging. This initiative has led to international meetings in Leiden and – last year – in Nijmegen. “This year’s edition will take place online, with participants from outside the Benelux as well.”

Heunis is also involved with Brainhack, a similar initiative, which has a broader and more international setup. He is proud of his contribution to the large online-meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping, which took place last summer. “I was co-chair of the Open Science Room during that meeting. It was very time consuming, but I got many nice responses to that.”


Even though there are quite a few open science initiatives in Eindhoven, Heunis thinks that there is still some effort to be made at TU/e. “It’s mostly bottom-up here, whereas in Delft, for example, investments in open science, as far as policy and infrastructure are concerned, are initiated more by the university itself.” Heunis expects to be able to focus fulltime on facilitating open science after he has obtained his PhD degree. “I have found a nice position that perfectly matches my convictions.”


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