Themes 2002-2005

In the strategy memorandum 2002-2005, NWO states several themes that will receive particular attention in research programmes during this period. The main underlying principles are: encouraging multidisciplinary research, attracting a flow of top researchers and encouraging talent.

Cultural heritage

Research in the area of cultural heritage investigates the function, perception and forms of expression of art and culture: archaeology, history, art, language and literature, music and theatre.

Ethical and social aspects of research and innovation

Scientific and technological developments are giving rise to various ethical and public discussions about issues such as the health risks associated with crop breeding and respect for animals. In addition, digitisation is leading to questions about the boundaries of individual privacy.

Shifts in governance

The tried and tested ways of governing society, public authorities and the economy are changing, which in turn is causing problems with respect to manageability, accountability and legitimacy. Various scientific disciplines are contributing to research into the effects and consequences of these shifts.

Cognition and behaviour

Research within this theme is primarily seeking an answer to questions about how knowledge is acquired and used in personal, social, cultural and digital contexts. Highly promising additional perspectives are behaviour and evolution, language acquisition, animal behaviour, knowledge accessibility, and disorders in cognitive processes.

Fundamentals of life processes

Recent scientific breakthroughs have spectacularly increased knowledge about the fundamentals of life. The DNA sequence of human genetic material (the genome) is known. This has opened up the way for research into processes that lie at the basis of how living systems function. For example, biophysicists want to gain an understanding of the communication between cells and organs, an insight that could form the basis for a new generation of medicines against cancer. The influence of environmental factors on our genes, for example in ageing, will also be investigated.

System Earth

According to current climate model scenarios, not only the sea will level rise but also the amount of precipitation falling on the Netherlands. Policy makers can base their decisions on these future scenarios. However, the exact influence of humans on the climate, for example in the form of air pollution, is still largely unknown.

Digitalisation and information technology

Our society is increasingly dependent on information. Being able to acquire and use information and knowledge from large quantities of data is a critical success factor for welfare and well-being. The availability, reliability, manageability and accessibility of digital systems form the focus of this theme.


The nanosciences make applications possible at the scale of individual atoms and molecules. Not only do the nanosciences make an important contribution to the early detection of diseases (such as cancer) but also to the development of sustainable technology such as permanent glucose monitoring in diabetes patients.

Emerging technologies

New technologies emerge at the boundaries between scientific disciplines. The medical and engineering sciences form such a crossroad. Knowledge and expertise from these two disciplines yield applications such as non-invasive surgery thanks to three-dimensional images of the internal body. Other crossroads are quantum technology, photonics, biomimetics, sensor technology, miniaturisation and self-learning systems, and systems for data analysis, modelling and simulation.