Where the (Euro)shit goes down

Following courses is an integral part of a PhD. In the past couple of weeks I’ve been following an Advanced Course in Environmental Biotechnology. Delft is a European powerhouse in microbial bioengineering ever since the days of local hero Anthony van Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope and actually started the whole science of microbiology. With exciting lectures on hot topics such as stoichiometric of microbial growth and gas-liquid inter-phase transport, the course lived up to the standards required from the birth place of the trade. It might sound awkward to some people, but as I’ve mentioned so often before – I am a nerd and I actually enjoy this stuff. Although I’m absolutely no biologist so as far as I’m concerned they could have gone lighter on the topic of Microbial S-, N-, and P-conversions.

Unlike the courses I am used to in the engineering world, this one was inhabited mostly by (micro)biologists and biochemists. In plain language – girls. Surprisingly, this does not appear to make much of a difference. As usual with this type of occasions, the course also included the usual portion of socialising – meaning drinks and dinner, and whether its guys or girls – the conversation is mostly revolving around sex. The only difference might be the girls needing a bit less beer to get started, a simple matter of lower body mass. Hey – I am implementing the biology lessons learned already!

The absolute highlight of the course was undoubtedly the visit to the practical part of environmental biotechnology, a waste water treatment plant in Rotterdam. This is where the shit goes down, literally. Well, actually the shit goes up. The Dokhaven plant treats the sewage of some half a million people. In a proper Dutch way, it is built in a dried dock under the sea level. So when the sewage water is cleaned, it has to be pumped several meters upwards to be discharged into the Maas river. All in all I’ve had a very useful course, and a unique opportunity to see with my own eyes where it all goes to once I flush. Engineering rules!

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