Many laboratory courses have been postponed for more than a year as it was impossible to maintain the one-and-a-half metre rule. But there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.
On 23 March, the Minister of Health, Hugo de Jonge, said at a press conference that, depending on the infection rates at the time, as of 26 April, all institutes of higher education may give physical classes to their students. The students would need to show a negative quick test though. From 26 April, students and staff who so wish, may be given two corona tests every week to test themselves at home.
This is a great show of support for TU Delft’s Valorisation Centre that has worked for months on pilots to get physical classes back on the rails.
300 AE students will be working in ‘bubbles’
The TU Delft pilots go further than the easing of restrictions that the Government has announced. Aerospace Engineering will probably start a 10 week laboratory course in which bachelor students can work together for the yearly Design Synthesis Exercise. This will involve about 300 students working in groups of 10. This is the most comprehensive lockdown laboratory course to date. There are also plans to establish laboratory courses for Civil Engineering and Geosciences master students.
Dr Joris Melkert, the coordinator of the undergraduate final project, is hopeful that the laboratory courses can start this month. "But", he says, "I haven't received the necessary corona tests yet. Hopefully, those will come next week. Fingers crossed."
At the beginning of March, AE students could already do flight tests using the research aeroplane (a Cessna Citation) belonging to TU Delft and the Royal Netherlands Aerospace Centre. This is an annual laboratory course to teach students about flight dynamics. Anyone joining the course had to be tested for corona in advance.
‘Get too close to another bubble, and the device around your neck starts beeping’
“The idea is that each group works separately,” says Sascha Hoogendoorn-Lanser of the Valorisation Centre about the AE course that is due to start soon. “They are to work within their own bubble as far as they can." The idea is to put markings on the floor and between the tables showing where you may be. Some students may temporarily be given a small device to hang around their necks that quietly beeps and lights up if they start coming too close to students in a different bubble.
The Ministry of Education assigned TU Delft as one of the sites where this type of experiment may be done. The Universities of Groningen and Amsterdam are also running trials. On 18 January, the University of Groningen started a pilot in which students were invited to be tested 24 hours before a physical exam.
Hoogendoorn-Lanser and traffic flow experts from the Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences (Transport & Planning Department) are also monitoring traffic flows on campus. They are using around 30 cameras to register pedestrians and cyclists and show them as moving dots in space. They are not recognisable as individuals. The idea is to identify and deal with congestion – places where people come to close to each other – such as traffic jams.
With an app in the Library
There is a comparable experiment in the TU Library in which visitors to the Library are given either an app on their telephones or a wrist band that communicate with transmitters in the building. This system allows researchers to check if people are maintaining enough distance. There are some critical spots where people walk past each other in close proximity, such as doors and corridors. But up to 220 people can be in the Library at the same time, without any problems occurring, a test showed. Whether it is wise to let even more people inside at the same time will be revealed in follow-up experiments.
TU Delft is preparing for the next academic year with these and other experiments. “We have also come quite far in running exams at the one-and-a-half metre minimum,” says Hoogendoorn-Lanser. “From 6 April, we will use our monitoring systems (like the one at the Library) at X during some exams to check if there are any more bottlenecks.”