PE&RC in the Spotlight: Bart van Laatum

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Hi, my name is Bart! I am a third-year PhD student in Wageningen University and Research's Agricultural Biosystems Engineering (ABE) group. I was born and raised in Amsterdam, which is still my hometown. My project is about autonomous greenhouse control, for which I am designing an Artificial Intelligent controller that autonomously controls the greenhouse climate to grow tomato crops. During my summer holidays, I love to visit the Mediterranean countries with a big group of friends!

If you could change one thing at your university/research institute, what would it be?
Inspire for more collaboration! Currently, a lot of groups and scientists are working on similar projects. However, they mostly work side by side rather than learning and inspiring each other. My bachelor's degree was an interdisciplinary study, and I found it inspiring how people from different research backgrounds ask questions from different angles. A lot of inspiration can be found in different research directions, such as neural networks stemming from cognitive science or soft robotics inspired by biological organisms.

What should all 1st year PhD candidates know?
Have fun! During your first year, the pressure is not yet that high and deadlines are still far away. That stress will come at the end of your project, so try to enjoy it as much as possible during that first year, especially your free time! As a PhD, you have quite a lot of freedom to organise your own time, so use it.

What do you currently do to de-stress?
I like to do some sports, especially running, cycling, or tennis. For my PhD, I have to program a lot, which can be quite exhausting for the mind. Sporting is a perfect way to clear my mind; you don’t have to think of anything. Also, it is a great counteractivity against all the sitting! Besides, I recently started helping to maintain my grandfather's old vessel. It is beautifully located near the dunes in Noord-Holland and is the perfect place to go off the grid, as it does not even have electricity!

What is your favourite meal? / What have you been cooking lately?
Every once in a while, I make a huge jar of kimchi. The great thing about kimchi is that you can preserve it for months, and it keeps getting tastier. But if you keep it for too long, it might become a bit too funky! I love to make egg-fried rice with homemade kimchi, but peanut butter sandwiches with kimchi are also the best.

What is your greatest accomplishment in your life? / What are you the proudest of?
My greatest accomplishment so far is finishing The Marmotte. This 190-km cycling race in the French Alpes involves multiple big cols like l’Alpe d’Huez and The Galibier. Despite the extensive preparation, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. At the end of my PhD, I might think differently…

What is your useless talent?
I can perform a belly dance… with my tongue! .

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