Athena Institute

The Athena Institute is a research and education department at the Faculty of Earth & Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. 


The Athena Institute develops and applies transdisciplinary approaches for joint reflection and action on innovation processes among a wide variety of stakeholders who have different interests, values, visions in order to address complex problems in stagnating systems (society or organizations) in a sustainable and equitable way.

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. 

Research Focus

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 three sections: