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On gravitation waves and 500 years of renting history

On gravitation waves and 500 years of renting history On gravitation waves and 500 years of renting history

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loriane Bodewes and Joey Roberts

Student Prize winners

MAASTRICHT. A total of 26 students, from various study programmes, received a prize for their theses last Tuesday. The (17) bachelor’s students did so in the morning in the auditorium on the Minderbroedersberg, the master’s students in the afternoon during the foundation day celebrations in the Vrijthof Theatre. Observant spoke to two of them.

More modern conveniences for a better price

Every student complains about it at some time: the rent. Way too high, of course. And with each passing year, it only gets more expensive. But is that actually correct? Matthijs Korevaar, now a PhD student at Finance, looked at the rent prices in European cities for the past five hundred years for his master's thesis. What he found was that rents have become more and more affordable. “Rent prices have risen, but salaries have risen even more. Living conditions have also improved tremendously. In 1500, you could live in a cellar, now we live in clean houses with central heating and our own showers and toilets. Our standards are high, we consume much more than before.”

Korevaar compared prices in cities such as Antwerp, Paris, Amsterdam, and London. “The data was already present, but there was no overview. And comparing is not so easy. You have to take into consideration the various currencies, inflation, and the various types of accommodation.” He converted his discoveries into charts that show the history. “Antwerp was the most expensive city for rented accommodation for a long time, but after the Fall of Antwerp in 1585, the port closed. The prosperous merchant navy moved to Amsterdam. That is when you see rent prices rise there, whereas they drop in Antwerp.” The siege of the city of Paris in 1590 is also clearly visible: the line in the chart takes a deep dive downwards. “There was great scarcity, people died of hunger. Rent prices dropped drastically.”

Korevaar likes this part – “I always loved history” – but making the link with the present is what he likes most of all. He is doing the same in his current research, where he applies theories from behavioural economics to historical data. “Experiments always take place in a lab, but by looking at history we can see whether theories are applicable to real life. I look at owner-occupied houses – why do people buy and sell their houses?”

Korevaar kind of saw the thesis prize coming. “I had a high grade, so you know that you make a chance. But it is still a really nice surprise. Certainly now that the former queen will be at the presentation, which makes it extra special for me as a Dutchman.”

“A discovery that was a long time coming? That is not correct”

“But I didn't enter into any competition,” was Robin Schormans’ first reaction when he read in an e-mail that his bachelor's thesis had won a Student Prize. He is now a master's student of European Studies on Society, Science and Technology. He grins: “But then of course, I was very happy.”

Schormans, who studied Arts and Culture, looked at the discovery of gravitational waves in September 2014 from the point of view of a cultural scientist. The existence of these waves, ripples in spacetime that arise when, for example, two heavy astronomic objects orbit one another or when two black holes merge, was predicted by Einstein a century ago. “There was a huge press conference, with a lot of fuss and to-do, where it was said: ‘This discovery was coming for the past one hundred years’. That is when I thought, something is not right here.”

Because, Schormans felt, scientists are never that sure of a discovery. “There is the idea among the public that scientists know exactly what they are doing. A statement like this confirms that idea. In actual fact, they often don't know what the result of an experiment will be, come up against difficulties and sometimes don't agree with each other. In theoretical physics, you start with a theory that you then try to prove through experiments. There is no guarantee of success. The argument that such a discovery will at some time follow automatically, because technology is continually improving, is not correct. That is not how science works, scientists are in general very aware of that.”

Schormans analysed the press conference, the press release, and the scientific article, and he studied the history of the research into gravitational waves, focusing on the nineteen-sixties and the turn of the century. “When Einstein came up with this in 1915, there was no possibility whatsoever to prove it. The first attempt was made by Joseph Weber in the nineteen-sixties. This created an interest in others. For years, he claimed that his setup could measure the waves, even though nobody else believed it. After that, dozens of other models were tried.”

Science, physics and technology have always held Schormans’ interest. “But I also like culture very much. I used to be a fan of Star Trek, where progressive technology is combined with moral stories and ethical questions. It is great that I can now combine all those things in my master's.”

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