Data science increasingly important part of Wageningen research and education

Autonomous greenhouses, virtual farms and digital tomatoes: Wageningen University & Research has invested heavily in Digital Twins in recent years. In addition, themes such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Data Science have become a regular part of Wageningen education and research. On December 13 and 14, there will be plenty of attention to the world of data science during the Digital Twins @WUR conference.

Since 2019, WUR has been investing heavily in data science. In 2020, three additional professors, six part-time experts and a research coordinator were hired for data science and AI research. Moreover, data science and AI are now an integral part of Wageningen education. Students from various programs can take more than 20 courses on machine learning, big data and programming, among other subjects. These subjects are in high demand among students.

All kinds of applications of data science can help make more efficient, healthy and sustainable choices. ‘AI models can use data to learn how crops grow. With that, we can reduce nitrogen use in agriculture,’ illustrates Ioannis Athanasiadis, one of the new data science professors. WUR also uses artificial intelligence in animal husbandry to monitor animal welfare, and in food chains to reduce food waste. “WUR plays an important role in these areas because we have both the AI and domain expertise,” Athanasiadis said.

Digital Twins

WUR has also made great strides in the field of Digital Twins. Digital twins are virtual versions of organisms such as cells, plants and humans, and of objects such as food chains. They can be used to analyze reality, but also to predict the future of the objects in question. In January 2020, WUR launched three flagship projects that developed digital twins of a tomato growing in a greenhouse, the nitrogen flows on a farm and of consumers’ metabolism based on their diet.

Researchers at WUR have launched projects to start developing Digital Twins in other fields. The seed has been planted

Dick de Ridder

Professor of bioinformatics Dick de Ridder explains why digital cows and tomatoes could be so valuable: ‘Digital Twins were originally developed in the engineering sciences, as digital copies of aircraft and buildings, for example. These involve models that are powered live by data and therefore go a lot further than generic models. Digital Twins of living systems have hardly been developed so far. In WUR’s research fields, these can be very important, because they help us make better predictions.’ So we are going to hear a lot about this in the near future, says De Ridder: ‘The theme is taking off both nationally and internationally.’

At WUR, Digital Twins, and data science in a broader sense, have meanwhile become commonplace. Wageningen scientists have learned much from developing the three flagship projects, including about combining models and their socioeconomic aspects. De Ridder: ‘There are already plans for follow-up projects, and researchers from WUR have started projects to develop Digital Twins in other fields. The seed has been planted.

Digital Twins @WUR

On December 13 and 14, 2022, WUR is hosting the conference “Digital Twins @WUR: Bringing Digital Twins to Life. During this event, we will look back at new insights and breakthroughs, and take a look at the future of Digital Twins in the life sciences.

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