He dreamed of faraway voyages of discovery. When this article appears, Jente Broeckx (28) will hopefully already be well established in Indian Bangalore. Jente is ready for this challenge, his enthusiasm is contagious. “I’ve always dreamed of this. Getting to know and understand the world better, doing fieldwork and believing that I can make a positive start with it.”

We met him at the second floor of the building in which VITO’s Remote Sensing experts unite. Not that Jente has a long VITO history. His journey is quite unique. Jente is a real Kempen citizen, sent to KU Leuven to study geography. “Physical geography, the earth, nature, landscape … I have always been fascinated by it. Purely out of interest I started studying geography."

As a bachelor’s thesis, Jente studied sediment export in Africa. In his master study, Jente continued along this path. “I was going to locate and quantify the landslides caused by earthquakes. Actually a bit too ambitious, a number of PhD students at other universities were investigating the same thing”, he laughs. It was almost just a word. Jente was going to do a PhD. His doctorate led him a long way around the world: Romania (“so interesting”), Uganda (“so fantastic”), Italy (“so fascinating”), Sweden … “Did you know”, Jente concludes, “that, just by landslides, 100 gigatonnes of sediment is mobilized every year?” No we did not know.

Jente graduated in April 2019 as a Doctor of Science/Geography. But what did he want to do with all that knowledge? “Research interests me immensely, but so does the commercial part. Through a friend, I was told that the Prince Albert Fund offers promising young employees a grant to carry out a business development project for a Belgian company outside the EU”. The ideal transition to a business environment.

The jury could appreciate his no-nonsense approach and drive. He was – by the way – the first geographer in more than 30 years – chosen from a few hundred candidates. “During the selection interview, I made my motivation clear: I want a project with a positive impact on people and the environment.”

Jente then contacted his colleague Karolien Vermeiren. One phone call later, he was already sitting across other VITO colleagues. “I went to VITO with South America in mind, because Karolien told me about a Chilean project, but I left with a completely different option: India. Just like China and the Middle East, this is one of the core regions for VITO’s international expansion, but without a local office. India with its rich history and culture, diverse nature and enormous population fascinates me. Only the daily life in Delhi left me with some questions. The air is literally breathtaking, the pollution is enormous.

In another conversation with Stijn Janssen, Jente expressed his concern. “I asked for a summer period of reflection, but the subject interests me immensely. Everything VITO unit Spatial Environmental Aspects is working on is so interesting: air quality, water, climate impact, land use … Everything you examine has an impact.”

We came to a nice compromise: it would be Bangalore, more to the south, less polluted but particularly interesting because Enzen Group, a consultancy and engineering company in the environmental sector, is located there. Earlier this year, VITO and Enzen signed a cooperation agreement. Among other things, VITO will provide tools that can help in monitoring water and air quality. It is therefore the ideal place to market the tools of ATMOSYS and other VITO products.

Jente will stay in Bangalore for a year. He will return to Belgium in October 2020. His expectations are actually blank. “I am very much looking forward to getting to know the country, the people and nature, to understand them better and to be able to have an impact on both VITO and India. Searching for solutions for air, water and energy policy. Fantastic, isn’t it?"