’Just because something is complex doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to explain it’

’The primary challenge lies in performing the response to a query: it&rsqu
’The primary challenge lies in performing the response to a query: it’s theatre, not a lecture.’

Over the past months, PhD candidate Roy Hoitink found himself in several theaters. Not to perform in a theatrical production, but to answer science questions from fourth graders. "The curiosity present in young children is something I find really beautiful," he says.

"I have a small problem: I am extremely curious," Boy Vissers starts off his story on stage in the Orpheus theatre in Apeldoorn. He is the host of the Hoe’Zo!Show , a science theatre show for children in grade four. "I’m always filled with questions, and that can be quite challenging." Murmurs arise from the audience: It appears that the fourth grade children in attendance share the same insatiable thirst for knowledge. Fortunately, there’s a solution: six PhD candidates from various Dutch universities appear on stage. Their mission over the next hour? Answering all questions from the children in the audience."


Among these PhD candidates is Roy Hoitink, a researcher in the Soft Condensed Matter group at the Debye Institute of Utrecht University. He frequently finds himself in the lab, spending considerable time peering through a microscope, delving into the stacking of colloids-particles ranging in size from one nanometer to a few micrometers. "During social gatherings, I often struggled to articulate precisely what I do for work. Participating in the Hoe’Zo!Show has taught me how to elucidate my research to those not deeply entrenched in the scientific world."

Hoitink explains that he continually seeks variety in his work. "I like data analysis and laboratory work. However, I also wanted to explore something entirely different." Upon encountering a call for participants for the Hoe’Zo!Show, he decided to throw his hat in the ring.

The Hoe’Zo!Show

Initiated by Lennart de Groot and Barbara Braams , the Hoe’Zo!Show annually invites different PhD candidates to take the spotlight on stage. Beforehand, these young researchers undergo extensive training, honing their presentation skills and gaining insights into theater and their audience. The Hoe’Zo!Show traverses the country, visiting theaters in small and medium-sized cities to engage with as many different children as possible. Concurrently, the Hoe’Zo!Show endeavors to introduce PhD candidates to the realm of science communication. Utrecht University’s Aike Vonk , Tim van den Akker , and Janna Keulen also participated in the 2024 season.

Scientific inquiries

"The first time on stage, I was quite nervous," Hoitink admits. "My research delves into fundamental aspects, and effectively conveying that proves to be a perpetual challenge." During the first round of the show, the group of young scientists has ten minutes to tackle three questions from the audience. These queries can span a wide spectrum: why do humans have blood and why is it red? What would happen if the Earth rotated in opposite direction? Why doesn’t chewing gum digest?

Once the questions are posed, the countdown begins. As the PhD candidates don’t possess infinite knowledge, they’re permitted to use the internet. However, formulating a response is merely the beginning: "The primary challenge lies in illustrating the response to a query: it’s theater, not a lecture. We have a shelving unit full of props at our disposal, ranging from dyed water and straws to ball pit balls. Each question demands improvisation." Moreover, the researchers on stage aim to spark curiosity in the children. "Our aim is not only to disseminate information, but to encourage independent thinking and formulation of new questions."

Useful skills

"I really liked the experience of the Hoe’Zo!Show, I also gained a lot of useful skills that I wouldn’t have directly learned if I had just stayed in the lab", Hoitink emphasises. He adds that he sought to delve deeper into science communication. "I frequently see that people refrain from explaining concepts due to their perceived complexity or apparent lack of practical application. However, complexity should not serve as a reason not to explain something."

Participating in the Hoe’Zo!Show has taught me how to elucidate my research to those not deeply entrenched in the scientific world.

PhD candidate Roy Hoitink

Soft Condensed Matter & Biophysics