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Innovations in Human Health and Life Sciences

Improving education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics through research-based innovations: Innovations in Human Health & Life Sciences division

At the Innovations in Human Health & Life Sciences (iH2LS) division, we are dedicated to merging scientific theories of education with the context of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Our commitment to understanding how things work drives innovation in both research and teaching practices. Our team of teacher-researchers explores novel teaching concepts and learning methods that foster new insights that enrich various study programs in the Faculty of Science. Our research flourishes from multi-disciplinary collaboration and integration of different knowledge and techniques. The dual focus on understanding STEM teaching and learning as well as performing scientific research, consistently stimulates innovation in both areas.

Below performing and innovating research and teaching processes, the iH2LS group is dedicated to supporting the development of young professionals (e.g. junior lecturers or Ph.D students) within the department of Chemistry & Pharmaceutical Sciences (CPS). Junior lecturers are important assets in educational programs and, similar to a PhD-trajectory, junior lecturers follow a development process. It is our aim to let junior teachers reach and utilize their full potential in teaching, while safeguarding both their development process and well-being. 

Within iH2LS, we also host junior lectures from the recently started Mechanical Engineering BSc program, an English-language joint-degree with the University of Twente and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. This program follows the innovative Twente Educational Model, where semester-long projects merge knowledge from parallel content courses, delivering a meaningful and practical learning experience. Emphasizing skill development, each project includes an integrated academic-skills learning line, ensuring students acquire the necessary competencies at the right time.

Research into teaching and learning

Our research at iH2LS explores innovative methods and didactics in STEM education. We actively seek new teaching concepts and innovative learning approaches, with a key focus on active learning. The three research lines covering a spectrum of diverse projects, are:

  • Nature of Science
  • Educational tools
  • Teacher development

When developing novel heuristics for implementing innovative teaching approaches, we keep practicality in mind to ensure they are both feasible and effective. Our students benefit from our continuous efforts to integrate the findings of our educational research into daily teaching practices to enhance student engagement and learning outcomes. Beyond stimulating insightful discussions, we at iH2LS are committed to driving broader changes across the faculty's study programs. An example is the Pharmaceutical Sciences program, which has already adopted various educational innovations in areas such as academic skills, research and lab skills, and active learning. By embedding these learning areas within the interesting context of drug discovery—a field filled with intriguing aspects and numerous unanswered questions—we ignite the enthusiasm and curiosity of science students.

Medicinal chemistry research

The medicinal chemistry research lines at iH2LS focus on elucidating molecular drug targets and the interactions thereof with small molecules. For example, through biophysical methods like surface plasmon resonance (SPR). We employ SPR biosensors and isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) to analyze protein-ligand interactions and the thermodynamics of ligand binding which help us derive structure-kinetics relationships (SKRs). Coupled with X-ray crystallography, these techniques assist in understanding the molecular intricacies of target binding. But also in other disciplines, like Computer Aided Drug Discovery (CADD), bioinformatics, cheminformatics, receptor biochemistry and drug safety we strive to improve our understanding of the biological targets and their molecular interactions with small molecules.

Another core research area is understanding knowledge transfer processes within the realm of drug discovery. Under the ONCORNET 2.0 project, we are geared up to examine the status of GPCR cancer drug commercialization, by studying the intertwined perspectives of biomolecular sciences, innovation management, and organizational sciences. We study the knowledge base, clinical trials, and patents with the goal of contributing to GPCR cancer research in relation to innovation in pharmaceutical science management.

Innovating STEM Education and Research

Innovating STEM Education and Research

We blend educational theories with STEM, driving innovation in research and teaching. Exploring novel teaching methods enriches our Faculty of Science programs. With a dual focus on STEM education and research, we stimulate innovation through interdisciplinary collaboration, pushing our research forward.

  • Interview Danny Scholten

    Dr. Danny Scholten is a lecturer and researcher at the Department of Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences, division Innovations in Human Health & Life Sciences. Besides teaching courses in the Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and the master Drug Discovery and Safety, Scholten is very involved in the implementation of educational innovations in both studies. Furthermore, Scholten is secretary of the Examination Board, internship coordinator for both the bachelor and the master, and a discussion partner for educational innovation at both the faculty and central level.

    In 2002, Scholten started with the bachelor Pharmaceutical Sciences. He chose this study because he considered it the best option at the time. He liked the bachelor's degree and therefore made the choice to do the following master in Drug Discovery and Safety. After his master, Danny Scholten chose to do PhD research in the medicinal chemistry group at the VU. According to Scholten, doing a PhD is primarily a choice you make for your skill development and deepening of your subject-specific knowledge. During your PhD, you will learn how to conduct research both independently and in collaboration and how to communicate about this. Despite the fact that Scholten no longer conducts pharmaceutical research, he still benefits from all the substantive and practical skills he acquired during his PhD. At the end of his PhD research, Scholten noticed that he really enjoyed working with students. It was, therefore, a logical choice for him to continue in education.

    Education and, more specifically, innovating education is the passion of Danny Scholten. He is part of the Innovation in Human Health & Life Sciences division of the Department of Chemistry & Pharmaceutical Sciences. This group is involved in implementing educational innovation within the Pharmaceutical Sciences and Drug Discovery & Safety programs and research into this at the VU. For example, this group functioned as a source of information for the faculty during the corona crisis, a time when education was mainly provided online. Scholten is also part of the VU teaching and learning expert group. This group is concerned with all tools that are used VU-wide within the learning platform Canvas.

    Scholten and his colleagues' research focuses mainly on the role of feedback and activating blended learning in education and how software tools such as FeedbackFruits can support this. Blended learning is a method in which students, in addition to receiving traditional lectures, also receive knowledge clips and assignments where they can actively work with the teaching material. As a result, there is less focus on basic knowledge during contact hours, making it possible to go deeper into the teaching material. Research by Scholten and his colleagues shows that activating blended education has a positive effect on student performance. The results of this study are described in the article Practical Guidelines to Redesign Introductory Chemistry Courses Using a Flexible and Adaptive Blended Format (Scholten et al., 2021). This research also describes guidelines for fellow teachers on how they can practically implement this method in their own education. In addition, Scholten led the pilot for the use of FeedbackFruits, a platform where students can actively give and receive feedback, and helped make this tool available to all lecturers at the VU.

    Scholten is doing what he can to improve education at the VU, so there are certainly a number of things he wants to change. For example, he wants a clear learning line in skills such as writing and communication throughout the curriculum of the bachelor and master degree programs. Students will benefit from these skills in the future. Scholten's commitment shows that he cares not only about the quality of the study but also about the students. Scholten will continue to look for opportunities to innovate the study so that students can get the best learning experience and thus be well prepared for their careers.

Our Team

Do you want to know more?

Feel free to contact us.

Prof. Dr. Jacqueline van Muijlwijk -

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Department of Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences
De Boelelaan 1108
1081 HZ Amsterdam