The Athena Institute is a research and education department at the Faculty of Science, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Athena’s mission is to scientifically study and design interfaces between science and society, with the aim to:
- increase academic and societal understanding of key factors in innovation processes
- enrich science with increased societal legitimacy and improved research utilization
- improve societal awareness of how innovations may benefit the sustainability, equity and fairness of societies.
Already at the inception of the department in 1982 we asked ourselves the question: how can science and technology development contribute to the improvement of health and well-being in a sustainable and equitable way?
The overall vision of Athena is to realize a highly valued and well-funded research program, which is strongly embedded within the academic community, fully backed and integrated with an advanced educational program that allows for the development of excellent bachelor, master and PhD students fit for academic research, and strongly appreciated and supported by societal organizations. Athena focuses on science and technology developments that are specifically – but not exclusively – related to health and life sciences. Specific domains of our research in the health and life sciences are: neuro sciences, ecogenomics, mental health, maternal health, sustainability sciences, health sciences, global health and biotechnology. Research is done in close interactions with the other departments inside and outside the faculty. We aspire to be a worldwide acknowledged center of excellence in the field of transdisciplinary research on innovation and communication in the health and life sciences with a specific focus on processes of inclusion and diversity.
Our strength is that we not only focus on the analysis of problems and innovations, but also develop methodologies for knowledge integration (reflection and learning). This knowledge and expertise is rather unique in the academic world. Our very good/excellent assessment of our master program (MPA) was amongst others based on the strong problems-solving and knowledge integration focus.
Our mission in a nutshell
Science and Technology Contribute to Progress
Science and technology have contributed to substantial economic progress in many countries and have brought increased welfare in terms of health and living standards to millions of people. Science and technology have pervaded our personal and everyday life, and have changed the way we feel, think, communicate and act. Prominent developing fields in science and technology are the health and life sciences; rapid changes in these fields alter our lives in ways we cannot foresee.
To mention just one example, the increasing amount of technological breakthroughs in the field of genomics has made it possible to study the genetic basis of living organisms with far greater accuracy, while developments in proteomics and functional genomics give insight into the translation and functionality of genes. This provides unprecedented opportunities to further understand disease mechanisms, develop innovative therapies (e.g. personalised medicine), as well as new plant breeding options, to name but a few.
In addition to these more disciplinary based innovations, distinctions between scientific disciplines are fading and large-scale research programs are increasingly interdisciplinary in nature resulting in new scientific fields. Ecogenomics, a merging of ecology and genomics, is an example of such a new interdisciplinary field with fascinating prospects for innovative applications.
The Challenge is to Realize the Potential Whilst Addressing the Concerns
The combination of progress in science and technology, the emergence of new broad interdisciplinary fields and the technology-driven nature of the innovation process creates new problems in society, amongst others with equity, environmental and health issues. The continuous challenge is therefore to realize the optimal potential of emerging science and technology fields, by integrating strategies addressing the anticipated possibly negative aspects, during the innovation process.
The question we posed in our department more than 25 years ago is: how can science and technology development contribute to the improvement of health and well-being in a sustainable and equitable way?
Athena’s research program aims to contribute to academic and societal understanding of key factors in innovation processes, and enriching science with increased societal legitimacy and improved research utilization in a wide variety of societal sectors, such as health, agriculture, environment and energy. Within science we particularly (though not exclusively) focus on new developments in the field of life sciences.
Athena Institute consists of two sections:
- Science and Society, headed by Prof. dr. J.F.G. Bunders-Aelen
- Science Communication, headed by Prof. dr. J.E.W. Broerse