I am drawn to resilience as a research theme because I believe it is crucial in creating safe and robust systems. Rather than posing the question; does the system function? A resilience view results in the question; Can the system withstand stress and adversity? This is essential because many disruptions occur unexpectedly and are difficult to prevent or combat. Consider climate change, a phenomenon that is not easy to prevent or mitigate. The same goes for something more limited, like a power outage. Of course we try to prevent them from happening, but how resilient are systems if such events occur?
My research focuses on resilience in farm animals. Here, adversity can come in the shape of, as one example, a virus. Despite efforts to keep the environment of the animal clean and use antibiotics to prevent sickness, sometimes a virus still comes along and makes many animals sick. In that case, we want to unravel what it is about those individuals that are not affected by the disease that keeps them healthy. What it is that makes them resilient? One thing we found is that being able to fulfil their natural cravings, like rooting, makes them more resilient. Providing them with some substrate to root – straw for example, not only makes them bite each other less, it also keeps them healthier.
The 4TU RE Centre allows us to combine forces with many different disciplines. This allows us not only to look at the resilience aspects within our food supply, but also in our water supply, electricity, transportation, and how all of these systems influence each other. We also want to examine and understand the consequences of the loss of resilience within those same systems. My ambition is to develop resilience thinking in engineering and help develop a connection to education so that the engineers of the future think about resilience from the beginning of the design process, whether it involves animal housing, water control systems or new neighborhoods.
I was a supervisor in the 4TU.DeSIRE Postdoctoral programme.