Not one but two Marina van Damme grants

Kavitha Varathan and Chantal Tax both received Marina van Damme grants today at TU/e. That’s exceptional, because normally only one grant is awarded each year. After a lot of careful consideration, the jury’s first choice was Varathan. But Marina van Damme herself then decided to present an extra grant to Chantal Tax.

The jury found Varathan’s plan the best of those presented by the three female TU/e engineers who made their pitches yesterday in the university’s Auditorium. Varathan intends to use the grant to map out the community of partners of expats in our region.

The three finalists were preselected from thirteen applications. That was no easy task, according to the jury report, because of “the exceptionally high quality of the entries”.

This is underlined by the decision, taken by Marina van Damme herself, to award a second grant to Chantal Tax, who completed her TU/e program in Biomedical Engineering in 2012. Van Damme normally leaves the choice of the winner to the jury, but said she was excited both by Tax’s plan and by the personal invitation that the TU/e alumna received from a professor at Harvard Medical School. “I would find it a pity if she couldn’t accept an offer like that.

Tax intends to use the grant to do a six-month internship at Harvard Medical School to work on mathematical models of the structure of the links in the brain. Recent research shows that this is structured in ordered layers, while it was earlier believed to be much less neatly arranged. A better understanding of how this works will make a big contribution to knowledge of the brain and brain diseases.

Kavitha Varathan intends to start an organization that helps partners of expats to make the maximum possible use of their professional talents. The background to this idea is that partners of expats who come to the Netherlands are often unable to build up careers. This not only makes the partners unhappy, but it can also cause expats to return to their home countries. Varathan graduated in 2011 in the Built Environment department at TU/e, and wants to help prevent this problem.

This award was established by Marina van Damme (1930), who often found during her education and her working life as an engineer that she was the only woman in a world dominated by men. She started the grant to give female engineers some extra support in their careers. The Marina van Damme grant is presented each year to a young female engineer at each of the three universities of technology in the Netherlands. Two awards have been presented on only one earlier occasion, at Delft University of Technology.