Object 4

object 4 afbeeldingThe story that tells the truth is story number 2. These are Lever's seashells.

With thanks to Gert Jan Bokdam.

1. Buttons from teetotallers
These blue and yellow buttons date back from the 1950s to the 1970s. They were sent to the home addresses of all prospective VU students prior to the start of the first academic year. In many cases, students' mothers would sew the buttons onto their clothing. Students could then be assigned to different student groups, discreetly separating the drinkers from the teetotallers. The idea proved rather ineffective in practice, however. Students did not take long to catch on to the buttons' real purpose and quickly lent them a new meaning.
Male and female students enthusiastically traded the buttons. The expression 'counting your buttons' has since become a popular way of referring to your number of sexual partners among Dutch Protestant students.

2. Lever's seashells
Prof. Jan Lever was the first to receive the Royal Shell Award in the early nineteen sixties. The prize was awarded in recognition of his proposal for a study on the sorting mechanism that determines where seashells wash up on the beach. Lever discovered that the left and right valves of beached molluscs did not wash up on shore randomly. As he found, tidal patterns sort the valves in such a way that the left valves predominantly end up in one location, while right valves end up elsewhere. This phenomenon is also assumed to have affected the shell fossils that washed up on beaches many millions of years ago and are currently deep underground. The analysis of shells in soil samples could thus yield useful information on tidal currents in bygone times, leading to useful applications in terms of exploratory oil drilling. Lever used the prize money from the Royal Shell Award to have tens of thousands of brightly coloured artificial shells manufactured. He then saw to it that these artificial shells were strewn into different parts of the sea near the Dutch island of Schiermonnikoog. Many consecutive batches of new students spent summer camps on the island testing Lever's hypothesis. The artificial shells kept washing up on the beach for many years.

3. Physics and Mathematics art project
The Physics and Mathematics building was finally opened in 1966 after a six-year construction period. After the hospital, it was the first building to arise on the VU campus in Buitenveldert. All science faculty departments were accommodated in the new building. A portion of funding for the new VU building was also allocated to the arts as a part of the 1963 Percent for Art Principle . Although the regulation was officially intended for buildings maintained by the Government Buildings Agency, the privately funded VU decided to adhere to its guidelines (as it often did in the case of national legislation).
Both the mosaic at the rear of the building and the figurines depicted here can be traced back to the arts scheme. These features were part of an artwork presented at the official opening. The artist threaded pieces of plastic with chains in order to emphasise the length of the hallways. Unfortunately, the work did not prove resistant to the growing number of students in the 1970s and many of the original elements have since disappeared.