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University Library opens exhibition: A life full of wonder

7 September 2022
To mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of VU biologist Jan Lever (1922-2010), the University Library has put together an exhibition focusing on the wonder of nature. The exhibition consists of three parts, two in the main building and one in the O2 building. The first part pays attention to the rise of the natural sciences, and the often beautiful drawings that were made with nature as an example. The second part of the exhibition shows the still regularly recurring debate about evolution and faith, and Jan Lever's role in it. Part three revolves around Lever's most important research topic: water snails...

Nestor of the science faculty 

In 1950, the young Jan Lever (1922-2010) became a lecturer and, two years later, Professor of Zoology at the newly started biology department at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Many generations of students have become acquainted with his snail research and have attended biology camps with him. Lever became the Nestor of the science faculty and played an important role in the transformation of VU Amsterdam in the 1970s into a broad, socially engaged university in which faith was given a different role. 

Transformation VU Amsterdam in the seventies 

One of the major developments in the transformation of VU Amsterdam was the broad acceptance of the theory of evolution by the Reformed constituency. Although the theory of evolution was finally accepted by most scientists in the nineteenth century, it has always been under discussion. Initially, the discussion was mainly about the content (Can Darwin's proposed mechanism of natural selection really explain evolution?), but there was also opposition on religious grounds (Is faith in creation compatible with evolution?). Also today, evolution, and science as a whole, is under fire again (Disinformation?). Levers' reflections and efforts for a broad audience in the field of science and philosophy of life are presented in the exhibition.  

Farewell exhibition 

This exhibition marks Liselotte Neervoort's farewell as curator of academic heritage of the University Library and she will once again open all doors of the Special Collections. Be amazed by all the beautiful nature around us and by the richness of the VU collections!  

"If I look at a shell for a while, I become as religious as can be" - VU biologist Jan Lever  


VU Campus - 5 September to December 2022 and online  

  1. Emergence of the natural sciences - Art cabinets, ground floor Main Building VU 
  2. Evolution and faith - Heritage display case University Library, first floor Main Building VU  Amsterdam
  3. Water snail culture at the VU - ground floor O2 building 

Want to know more about the work and life of Jan Lever? Then come to the symposium about him on 10 November:   

Read more (in Dutch):  

  • Ab Flipse, 'Jan Lever: bioloog, bruggenbouwer en boegbeeld van de VU', uit: Verder kijken. Honderdvijfendertig jaar Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in de samenleving (2016) 
  • lemma ‘Lever, J.’ op