During the Second World War scarcely anything happened in Dutch physics research and it consequently lost its leading international position. Things quickly changed after the liberation of the Netherlands. The need for new research institutes, which had already been felt among scientists and politicians since the 1930s, had strongly increased. That was partly due to the highly promising developments for nuclear energy and the increased awareness that other countries had acquired a stronger position in the physics arena.
Leading physicists and the government joined forces in 1946 to give fundamental physics a boost. In April of that year they established the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM). The founders chose the name 'Research on Matter' to convey their broad vision: besides (nuclear) physics they also wanted to build a bridge to materials science, chemistry and other disciplines. FOM still has this broad outlook. FOM had (and has) the aim of encouraging top physics research and training a young generation of researchers. In its first year FOM received 153,000 guilders to realise this mission.
History of the institutes
In its initial years, FOM focused mainly on nuclear physics, mass separation and analysis, and metallurgy. FOM soon opened two institutes. In 1946, together with Phillips and Amsterdam City Council, it established the Institute for Nuclear Physics Research (Dutch: Instituut voor Kernfysisch Onderzoek - IKO). In 1949 the Laboratory for Mass Spectrometry followed. These organisations were the predecessors of two current Institutes, Nikhef and AMOLF respectively. In the first decade after it was founded, FOM expanded its research activities to include solid-state physics, plasma physics and high-energy physics. In 1959, that led to the establishment of the Institute for Plasma Physics Rijnhuizen (currently Institute DIFFER).
In the Laboratory for Mass Spectroscopy, FOM researchers succeeded in November 1953, as the first in Europe, in producing 10 mg of enriched uranium. The success broke the US embargo on enriched uranium. In December 1954 the laboratory started with the development of the ultracentrifuge, a device to enable uranium enrichment on a large-scale. At the start of the 1960s FOM transferred this technology to the industrial partners. Thanks to this technology URENCO (the URanium ENrichment COmpany) grew into one of the biggest producers of enriched uranium in the world. In 1966 the name of the Laboratory for Mass Spectroscopy was changed into the Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics (AMOLF). Nowadays the institute only uses the name 'AMOLF'. Institute AMOLF currently does research into nanophotonics and biomolecular systems. In 2015 Designer Matter was added to this. In 2010 the institute published its anniversary book 'Impact', which contains the highlights of the first sixty years.
On 10 November 1949, the Institute for Nuclear Physics Research acquired a circular particle accelerator developed by Philips, a 30 MeV cyclotron. After many years of research with this device, the IKO researchers joined forces in June 1975 with colleagues from the University of Amsterdam and the VU University Amsterdam to form the National Institute of Nuclear Physics and High Energy Physics (Nikhef). You can read more about the establishment of NIKHEF in the article entitled 'Nikhef en CERN, de ontwikkeling van de Hoge Energie Fysica in Nederland' by Dr H.G. Tiecke. After its establishment NIKHEF existed as two units, the nuclear physics section and the high-energy physics section. In 1998 the particle accelerator closed and a gradual withdrawal from nuclear physics ensued. The nuclear physics and high-energy physics sections were disbanded and replaced by an integrated research programme. The official name of the institute subsequently changed into the National Institute of Subatomic Physics Nikhef. Nikhef researchers currently focus on both theoretical and experimental research into elementary particles with the help of particle accelerators and cosmic radiation. Over the years more universities joined the Nikhef partnership: Utrecht University and Radboud University. The University of Groningen entered the Nikhef partnership in 2015.
In 1959 FOM established the Institute for Plasma Physics Rijnhuizen, named after the nearby castle and estate on which the institute was located. In 2009 the institute published a book about its history: 'Vijftig jaar plasmafysica bij FOM-Rijnhuizen', Hittebarrière. Recently, in 2010, FOM transformed the institute into the Dutch Institute for Fundamental Energy Research (DIFFER). Since 2012, this institute has investigated nuclear fusion and solar fuels. In 2015 DIFFER relocated to the Science Park of Eindhoven University of Technology. The institute's ambition is to have a national coordinating role in fundamental energy research.
Nuclear Physics Accelerator Institute
In 1963, the Dutch government approved the plan to build a large cyclotron in Groningen for a new research institute: the Nuclear Physics Accelerator Institute (Dutch: Kernfysisch Versneller Instituut - KVI). In 1971 the first experiments were done at the KVI. For an optimal expansion of the research, FOM substantially increased its support to the KVI. The institute had two mother organisations in that period: University of Groningen and the FOM Foundation. KVI's research focused on the experimental and theoretical study of the atomic nucleus, such as the interaction between nuclear particles and the neutron-proton ratio. In January 1996 the KVI acquired a new cyclotron, AGOR (Accélérateur Groningen ORsay). Two years later the improvement and development of the AGOR cyclotron was included in a FOM programme. In 2004, FOM decided to place less emphasis on nuclear physics research and this resulted in the end of the structural collaboration between the University of Groningen and FOM. The FOM focus group TRIµP ('Trapped Radioactive Isotopes: µicro-laboratories for fundamental Physics') at the KVI came to end in 2013. You can read more about the KVI in '40 Jaar Kernfysisch Versneller Instituut', a book that was published in 2008 to celebrate the institute's anniversary.
High Field Magnet Laboratory (HFML)
The High Field Magnet Laboratory (HFML) in Nijmegen has been an institutional collaboration between Radboud University and FOM since 2011. It is an internationally renowned research facility where each year dozens of researchers from many countries come to carry out experiments with strong magnetic fields. Due to the collaboration the number of magnet hours has been considerably expanded. Together with similar laboratories in Dresden, Grenoble and Toulouse, the HFML forms the European Magnet Field Laboratory. This EFML acquired the prestigious ESFRI Landmark status in 2016.
FOM over the years
In the 1960s FOM experienced a stagnation in the growth of the organisation. Cutbacks forced the foundation to set priorities and to adopt a strict policy for the assessment of research proposals. At about this time FOM adopted a new spearhead in its policy: industrial innovation. At the end of the 1970s the programme Applied Physics and Innovation was set up to accommodate this. In 1981 this programme served as a model for the establishment of Technology Foundation STW. For further information about this development please read the interview with Dr Kees le Pair in the FOM Yearbook 2011 (p.138). Le Pair was involved in the establishment of the programme for Applied Physics and Innovation as deputy director and later became a director of Technology Foundation STW.
In 1982, concerns about persistent cutbacks led to an investigation into the status of Dutch physics, which was carried out on behalf of the Ministry of Education and Science. That investigation revealed that Dutch physics scored above average internationally. The investigation committee therefore decided to recommend increasing support for physics research. They saw an essential role for an autonomous and well-managed FOM Foundation. To meet that requirement, FOM published its first strategic plan at the end of the 1980s in which it established a strategy for each subarea of physics for the coming years. FOM still has subareas and every five years it compiles a strategic plan.
As a result of these developments, surface physics, semiconductor physics, research into flows and heat, and materials research all received powerful boosts.
At the end the 20th century FOM formulated four spearheads: strategic/technological research, profiling and forming networks, communication and knowledge transfer, and internationalisation. The policy ensured that researchers started to collaborate increasingly more: with other disciplines, with industry and with international colleagues and institutes. New research areas such as biophysics and nanotechnology acquired a prominent place in the organisation.
1947-1952 Dr. W.J. (Wim) Beekman - from 1948 onwards assisting the treasurer
1952-1963 Dr. W.J. (Wim) Beekman - until 1955 Director of the FOM Office
1963-1984 Dr. A.A. (Lex) Boumans
1984-2009 Dr. K.H. (Hans) Chang
2009-2015 Dr.ir. W. (Wim) van Saarloos
2015-2016 Dr.ir. C.L.A. (Christa) Hooijer
FOM and NWO
In view of the need to realise a strong collaboration between FOM and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the NWO Division for Physics was introduced by NWO in 2003. Since then the Executive Board of FOM has formed a personnel union with the Divisional Board for Physics. The director of FOM is also the director of the NWO Division for Physics. This organisational structure ensures effectiveness, efficiency, good collaboration and good agreement with NWO. The NWO Division for Physics manages several individual grant instruments such as the Innovational Research Incentives Scheme (the Veni, Vidi and Vici grants). FOM is responsible for the funding and realisation of all the other physics research supported by indirect government funding. Another unique aspect is that the researchers are employed by FOM in good consultation with the universities.
Facilitating innovative, fundamental physics research in the Netherlands continues to be the most important motive for FOM. In addition, FOM is increasingly focusing on use-inspired fundamental research in collaboration with industry. Since 2004 there has been special attention for this via a separate funding instrument: the Industrial Partnership Programmes (IPPs). Four years after the establishment of the IPPs, FOM laid out its new policy in a Valorisation memorandum.
Advanced Research Center for Nanolithography (ARCNL)
In 2014 the Advanced Research Center for Nanolithography (ARCNL) opened, a public-private partnership between FOM, University of Amsterdam, VU University Amsterdam and ASML, the producer of lithography machines for the chip industry. ARCNL, at the Science Park in Amsterdam, carries out fundamental research in the area of nanolithography, especially for applications in the semiconductor industry.
FOM & top talent
FOM has always been an employer. The organisation had and has two important considerations in this respect: coherency of policy and management, and short lines to its researchers. As a result of this FOM has been able to develop an efficient personnel policy. On average, its PhD researchers complete their research sooner than university colleagues, partly due to the good supervision of their workgroup leaders; FOM can make direct agreements with them about the supervision. Through an extensive package of training courses FOM can provide the PhD researchers with optimal guidance towards their career after their PhD graduation.
Over the years three FOM researchers have won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Nicolaas Bloembergen (Nobel Prize 1981) was employed by FOM immediately after World War Two to complete his PhD thesis. Martinus Veltman was employed by FOM in Utrecht at the start of the 1960s. He was a supervisor of Gerard 't Hooft; together they won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1999. In 2010 the prize went to Konstantin Novoselov, who was a PhD researcher employed by FOM in Nijmegen. He won it together with Andre Geim.
Via the awarding of four prizes FOM also encourages high-quality physics research.
Each year FOM awards:
1) The FOM Valorisation Prize to a Dutch researcher (or group of researchers) in physics who has successfully managed to make the results of his/her own research useful for society.
2) The FOM Physics Thesis Prize is awarded to the best physics thesis.
3) With the FOM Valorisation Chapter Prize FOM encourages PhD researchers to dedicate a separate chapter in their thesis to the valorisation aspects of their doctoral research.
4) The Minerva Prize is awarded once every two years to the best physics publication written by a woman. The aim of the prize is to draw attention to the research of female physicists.
In its Strategic Plan 2015-2019, 'Top physics in the middle of a changing world', FOM continues to strongly focus on facilitating high-quality physics research and knowledge utilisation. In December 2012, FOM changed its mission and statutes so that the transfer of knowledge and expertise to society are explicitly included as an objective. The change made it possible for FOM to participate in and to provide loans to startups.
To make a strong contribution to innovative energy research, FOM transformed the Institute for Plasma Physics Rijnhuizen from 2010 onwards into an institute for fundamental energy research DIFFER. In addition, between 2010 and 2013 FOM awarded five YES! fellowships to talented young researchers with innovative ideas in the area of energy generation, storage and transport (the Young Energy Scientists).
Other new points for attention for FOM are increasing the percentage of women in physics and the collaboration with large international research facilities. FOM also continues to focus on collaboration with other disciplines and with industry.
For further information about the current FOM Foundation please see 'FOM in een notendop'. Further information about the current councils, boards and committees can be found on the FOM website. Each year FOM gives account for the policy it has realised and he activities it has carried out in publications such as the year book, financial annual report and social annual report.