1917 – 1934; connecting science and industry

Science becomes significantly more valuable when it has practical applications. In his inauguration lecture, Prof. Nicolaas L. Söhngen led the way in acknowledging the importance of this, not only making a strong casefor exchanging research results with industry through scientific dialogue, but even exchanging research materials for advice. Söhngen benefitted from having a dedicated research facility, designed in the characteristic Amsterdam Style, which was opened in 1922.


Stimulated by the discovery of bacterial viruses, Nicolaas Söhngen initiated research on so-called bacteriophages. He discovered in 1923, with his first Wageningen Microbiology PhD student, Arnoldus Grijns, that bacteriophages are present in the clover of plant nodules. Subsequent research showed that the bacteriophage infects some, but not all, Bacillus radicicola strains. A century later, bacterial defence systems have become the subject of extensive study in Wageningen and the research has delivered insight into a range of bacterial immune systems, including CRISPR-CAS.

Laboratory of Microbiology, 1922
Laboratory of Microbiology, 1922

Lasting legacy

Nicolaas Söhngen also supervised the PhD project of Caspar Coolhaas, who went on to become Professor of Tropical Agriculture, founding the practice of training future scientific leaders that continues to this day. Coolhaas’ thesis dealt not only with methane production but also with anaerobic and thermophilic microbes involved in starch and cellulose degradation; conversions that are highly important today in the development of second- generation feed stocks.