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Blind Date: from polymers to a well-stocked treasure chest    Apr 30, 2019

Blind Date: from polymers to a well-stocked treasure chest
Apr 30, 2019

One table, two chairs. That’s all it takes to have a good conversation. We brought together two people from different fields to talk about their work, insights, and passions. Prepare for a dynamic dialogue about taxation, green energy and the satisfaction of teaching.


Dirk: “Nice to meet you! Who are you and what do you do at UHasselt?

Elly: “Nice to meet you too. I am Elly Van de Velde, a professor in tax law and head of the research unit ‘Law, Tax, and Business’. I am also program director of the law education at UHasselt since the 1st of September 2018 and vice director of the doctoral school.

Dirk: “My name is Dirk Vanderzande and I am a professor at the faculty of sciences. I am a chemist, organic chemist to be more precise, and I am the head of a research group working on new solar cell materials. I am also the director of the Institute of Material Research and OMT-president of chemistry education.


Dirk: “Three years ago I started a new research group, something that actually happened by chance. Initially, the plan was to do the start-up part and then leave it in the capable hands of others. Yet here I am (laughs). We are working with organic and mineral materials, and are trying to merge them together to create new semiconductors. It’s a hot topic within the field and there is still a lot left to discover. So it is really fun to work on this project. The downside of the story is that I have to retire in 3 years.

Elly: “Then you have no choice but to let go.

Dirk: “Indeed. You wonder what will happen to your brainchild and you want to see it grow. So what is your research about?

Elly: “My main focus is the legal protection of the taxpayer. For example, can you trust the deals and agreements you make with the tax authorities?

Dirk: “I always have the feeling that you are in a weak position.

Elly: “That’s true. I am investigating which tools you can use and what is legally possible. These are things that are still shrouded in mystery for most civilians. I recently did a ‘University of Flanders’ talk about this. Additionally, I am also doing a lot of work for our law faculty and Law, Tax and Business Unit. The collaboration within our unit is amazing. One plus one equals three, I often say.


Dirk: “The freedom. I am a bit allergic to having a boss. (laughs)

Elly: “It’s the same for me. Freedom, independence, … I arrived in a faculty filled with young pioneers, where everyone had to operate independently and take responsibility from the start. You were really thrown into the deep. For me, that felt amazing.

Dirk: “That’s the advantage of a young faculty. When I started 32 years ago, I was in a similar situation. I arrived in an empty lab and got the message: come up with a research project, preferably something involving polymers. (laughs) On one side it was quite challenging, on the other side it provided me with a lot of freedom.

Elly: “Though with the independence also comes quite some pressure. Personally, I also love the variety: guiding Ph.D. students, teaching, management, … It’s great! Yet sometimes I get the feeling that we have not enough hours in a day (laughs).

Dirk: “Absolutely, I love teaching and telling stories as well. Thanks to the small group system at our university you can really interact and see how students react to what you’re saying. Teaching is what I will miss the most when I will retire.

Elly: “Me too, I like to entertain the students and give lectures. Something I am really proud of is our unique teaching system within the law faculty. Problem-based learning where you can guide small groups of students to a solution. We are the only one within Flanders using this system for over a decade now.


Elly: “Yes, I always think of connections and everything has a bit of taxation in it (laughs). I have always wanted to do a research project about the greening of taxation. Tax law exists in protecting our treasury and to ensure that enough money is being collected. However, environmental taxation is often used to create certain behavior patterns, like for example a kilometer charge. It’s contradictory because when you achieve in creating the right behavior, you cannot charge taxes anymore and the inflow of money stops. I sometimes wonder if this is an ideal tool. With solar panels, which is your research topic, it is a similar story.

Dirk: “Wouldn’t that qualify as a negative subsidy outside of taxation?

Elly: “Indeed! What’s often missing in these cases is a long-term vision. It was the same for the solar panel story.

Dirk: “I have the same impression. In the case of the solar panels, they overestimated the obstacle one must take when introducing new technology in society. At the time, the technology was still really expensive so everyone looked at the government for help to get the first phase started. But the incredibly fast progress in the field of solar panels was even to us researchers surprising. I only just now bought solar panels myself because the investment has become affordable.

Elly: “I was waiting to ask that question (laughs).


Dirk: “That’s a simple one for me. I already knew that I wanted to become a scientist when I was 14 years old. The interest in science was there at a young age, but I did not know yet which direction it would take me. I even had my own lab at home. It started with a microscope and a chemistry box. I was a real nerd back then (laughs).

Elly: “I wanted to become many things when I was younger. In the sixth grade of middle school, my teacher asked me the exact same question. My answer was that I wanted to become a teacher. However, my teacher protested, telling me that I had many options to choose from like becoming a doctor. So I answered: then I will become a teacher at a university. Hoping that this would be the right answer. (laughs) I also loved standing on stage and doing creative things. When I was choosing my university career I considered becoming an architect for a moment. As you can see, I did not go through with that idea, but I did design my own house.


Dirk: “I think it would be too much of a jump into the unknown for me. I like to be in control. As a result, I would be in constant agony, wondering what the hell I should be doing. Short answer: I would rather not."

Elly: “I would like to see how another faculty at our university operates. It would be a learning opportunity. But other than that, I am fine."

Dirk: “Learning from each other is a great opportunity. Every faculty is different and by walking a mile in someone else their shoes you can better understand them.


Elly: “What do you want to realize before you retire?

Dirk: “I hope we can find someone who is as passionate as we are about our new research group. Someone willing to continue our work. There is a lot of untapped potential in this field. And you? Where would you like to be in 5 years? It almost looks like a job interview (laughs).

Elly: “I want to reinforce and brand the research unit as well as our law education. I would like to further professionalize our problem-based learning and strengthen our connections with our alumni as well as our partner universities KU Leuven and Maastricht University. I try to put as much positive energy into this as possible so we can put UHasselt on the map. If we achieve this within the next 5 years, I will be very happy.


Check out our previous blind date post here.