Shy Guy

In a conversation with a fellow Delft student male friend recently, the subject came up of how my boyfriend and I had met. “Simple. We met on campus.

He just came up to me one day and asked me out.”

Ok, the story was a bit more complex than that. We had been eyeballing each other for several months prior to this approach, nevertheless that’s how it happened, simple and clean. What surprised me was my friend’s reaction: he seemed very impressed by this heroic feat. “It’s good to know that there are guys out there with the balls to do that, and Delft girls who would actually say yes.” My jaw nearly dropped. I wanted to say to my friend: “Look in the mirror, you’re a handsome, tall, smart guy; you should be able to ask a girl out like that without fear of rejection!”

Then I realized whom I was speaking to. My friend was a seventh-year student; he had been in this city long enough to deduce from his experience that ‘One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor’ and ask a girl out. He was the typical Delft shy guy.

Young men generally enter Delft at a tender age, fresh from high school. Upon experiencing the difficulties with getting attention from the opposite sex, they tend to take one of two paths. The first one is to amp up their artillery, jumping at every opportunity to get laid, kissed, a date, anything, all to avoid the dreaded Panda state. This is often accompanied by lowering of standards (the ‘every hole is a goal’-philosophy.)

The second path leads in the opposite direction. Following several unsuccessful attempts to score with the local ladies, these young men realize that they are not willing to lower their standards, so they accept their Panda fate and regress into sceptical asexual mode (the ‘every girl is a bitch’-philosophy.) This boils down to approaching every target with various degrees of caution , or in extreme cases, not approaching them at all. Ever.

While necessity leads Delft guys to the two extremes, it’s important to remember the middle ground. Not all girls in Delft are witches, and not all of them are taken. Asking a girl out may sometimes lead to rejection, but not asking her out will always do that.


Simon van der Meer, who died on 4 March 2011, came to study at TU Delft immediately after the end of the Second World War, having waited two years after completing his gymnasium exams in The Hague. In Delft he studied Technical Physics and chose the then new discipline of ‘measurement and regulation technology’ as his specialisation. The post-war education was ‘of necessity somewhat limited’, he later wrote. He added that he had often missed the intensive physics training that many of his colleagues at Cern had enjoyed. On the other hand he felt that his ‘slightly amateur approach to physics, combined with much practical experience, was an asset’. 

In a recent obituary in De Volkskrant, Professor Jos Engelen, the former scientific director of Cern, said: ‘Simon was no scientist but rather an engineer in the best positive meaning of the word, someone who used his expertise and intuition to build exactly the accelerators that we physicists dreamt of.’

Van der Meer was awarded the 1984 Nobel Prize for physics together with former Cern director, Carlo Rubbia, for the their detection of W- and Z-particles. The W- and Z-particles convey the weak nuclear force, which is one of nature’s four fundamental forces, together with the strong nuclear force, electromagnetism and gravity.

The particles were supposed to be revealed during highly energetic collisions between protons and antiprotons in the 27-kilometre long, large electron-positron (LEP) collider at Cern. But that accelerator was hardly powerful enough. By the mid 1970s, Van der Meer and Rubbia had developed ingenious ways to intensify the collisions by packing and storing protons and antiprotons. This involved ‘stochastic cooling’, a process invented by Van der Meer that uses the feedback from electrical signals of particles to keep them tightly packed together in a beam, thus increasing the intensity of the collisions. 

Van der Meer married Catharia Koopman in 1967, with whom he had a daughter and a son.

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