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“He gives you the keys to the car, but watches from a distance”

“He gives you the keys to the car, but watches from a distance”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Simone Golob

Lorenzo Moroni inspired by Joost de Wijn

A real “maestro” – this is how Lorenzo Moroni, professor of biofabrication for regenerative medicine at MERLN, describes the retired biomaterial scientist Joost de Wijn, formerly of Isotis B.V. “In the traditional sense of the word: someone who is leading and actually shows you the way.”

His first meeting with Dr de Wijn was “a little intimidating”, recalls Moroni, who had just arrived in the Netherlands to do his PhD at the University of Twente. De Wijn was his assistant supervisor. “He had a peculiar way of presenting critiques. Very direct, which is very Dutch, I later learnt.” De Wijn told Moroni straight out that the analyses he wanted to do for his dissertation were among the most difficult in the field. Moroni was looking into designing smart materials that would contribute to the formation of new functional tissues for medical purposes, from a mechanistic point of view. “That put me on my guard. I thought: do I really want to do this?” Moroni laughs. “But later on, you learn to keep up.”

Although he was critical, De Wijn’s arguments were always well-founded and he was always happy to help people on their way. “I went to his office once after having made the same observation twice. I thought I was on the right path, that my hypothesis was true. He remained sceptical. I left the office feeling a bit disappointed. In the days that followed I kept thinking about how I could convince him, but then he showed up at my door. ‘Let’s go into the lab and prove it together’, he said.”

This was typical of De Wijn, says Moroni. “He’d give you the keys to the car and let you drive, but then watch from a distance. If you strayed out of your lane, he would help you get back on track. To become independent and critical, which is exactly what a PhD is for – to become an independent, critical thinker.”

Another of De Wijn’s strong suits was his technical knowledge. “He really knew his way around the lab. Which is uncommon for an older scientist. Most become research managers as the years go by. Myself included; I rarely work in the lab nowadays.” De Wijn used this talent in his personal life as well. “He had a little workshop in his garage where he built things. When I finished my PhD he built me a lava lamp, with different fluids going back and forth, as a present. It doesn’t look like a fancy lamp you buy in the store, but the principles are all there. I thought it was very cool that he made that for me at that special moment in my life.”

De Wijn has retired and Moroni moved to Maastricht, but the two still keep in touch. “We send each other regular updates about our lives. He’ll say things like: ‘My knees hurt, have you found a solution for that yet?’”

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