The Jonge Academie has appointed 10 new members, half of whom come from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). Andres Algaba (machine learning), Pieter Libin (artificial intelligence), Shari Mackens (medicine), Cedrick Van Dijck (English literature) and Maarten Stragier (art science) aim to use their knowledge to contribute to a nuanced debate on science, art, policy and society through publications, events and other actions.

Andres Algaba

Data scientist Andres Algaba, 30, studies artificially intelligent algorithms with a focus on their reliability and transparency. He applies mathematical techniques to create AI algorithms that interrogate other algorithms. He also identifies the opportunities and limits of AI in research, both across disciplines and within specific fields.

β€œAs scientists, we have a duty to inform and support society as best we can. My goal is to allow scientific knowledge to play a more important role in policymaking.”

Pieter Libin

Pieter Libin, 41, investigates how AI can support decision-makers. He develops algorithms that learn from realistic simulations and allow the decision-maker to assess conflicting interests. He works closely with experts from various disciplines.

β€œRecent developments within artificial intelligence are enabling us to address key societal challenges. This requires close collaboration with experts in the field. My interest in interdisciplinary research and society’s impact on it is the main motivation for my involvement with the Jonge Academie. My core interests within the academy are open science – specifically the reproducibility of research – and science for policy, to support decision-makers with scientific insights.”

Shari Mackens 

Shari Mackens, 36, of VUB and UZ Brussel, is a gynaecologist and fertility specialist. She studies the implantation of human embryos after IVF through fundamental research on endometrium and analysis of clinical data from fertility treatments. Her goal is to more accurately assess and increase the chances of successful implantation, with the healthiest possible pregnancy as the outcome.

β€œScientific research results only make a difference if they reach the general public and can direct policy. The Jonge Academie is fully committed to science communication and that’s where I will play a part, from my field. I hope to reduce inequality by highlighting minority groups in their roles as both scientists and patients. Within and with the JA, I will also strive for the open access/open science culture that the future so desperately needs.”

Maarten Stragier

Maarten Stragier, 38, of the Royal Conservatoire of Brussels and VUB, is a guitarist. He examines whether, and how, the traditional roles of composer and performer operate in recent classical musical works. He also creates his own experimental music in which instruments, space and even social context actively play a role in composition alongside musicians. To do this, he uses unpredictable instruments and incomprehensible playing rules, among other things.

β€œI applied so I could help to improve the integration of arts research within the academic fabric. Among other things, I’m looking forward to working with regional stakeholders in the Artistic Research working group to achieve this. I also want to help with the upgrading of grassroots innovation by young creators in the Belgian arts landscape.”

Cedric Van Dijck

Cedric Van Dijck, 32, is a literary scholar. He studies the cultural, social and political role that literary magazines played in the tumultuous early 20th century. He searches archives for the often forgotten history of magazines from the First World War or from the colonial past of sub-Saharan Africa.

β€œThe Jonge Academie aligns with my view of science as a collaborative and socially engaged phenomenon. So membership offers a great opportunity for me to apply my expertise in society. Specifically, I want to reflect with other members on the place of Flemish higher education in the wider world: from reflections on the colonial past of our universities to new partnerships with the Global South.”

Words into action

As an urban engaged university, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel plays its part by committing to education, research and community engagement. Scientists and research must serve society by finding sustainable solutions to contemporary societal problems.

β€œWe live in a world of confusion and disinformation. Science is being questioned and conspiracy theories are growing. We must take responsibility and commit to spreading the scientific method to the widest possible audience. Science is not just another opinion. The fact that these promising young researchers are putting words into action and actively contributing to public perceptions of science is therefore only to be applauded,” says VUB vice-rector for Research Pieter Ballon.

About the Jonge Academie

The Jonge Academie is an interdisciplinary, inter-university meeting place for top young researchers and artists with their own view on science, society, art and policy. Through publishing opinions and organising events on topical issues, it aims to contribute to the public perception of science and the debate on science policy, from the perspective of young academics and artists.

The scientific members must be affiliated to a Flemish university and/or a Flemish or federal scientific research institute and have obtained their PhD between three and 10 years before admission. Artistic members are aged between 25 and 39 and have a clear affinity with the subjects of the Jonge Academie. Membership lasts for five years. Candidates are elected after an open call and on the basis of a strong dossier and motivation. The Jonge Academie seeks broad representation from various research disciplines.