Ten things you didn't know were invented in Leuven


Sure, we may have brewed what is arguably the best beer in the world. But imagine being abroad and having some extra success stories to back your beer-bragging and spark that hometown pride; like housing the world leader in nanoelectronics, the creative masterminds that made the Belgian Red Devils as popular as they are now or the world's largest collection of bananas. The future looks bright, as Leuven MindGate keeps on writing tomorrow's success stories.

Injury-Avoiding & Olympic Medal-Winning Software

© topsportslab.com

At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, the Red Lions (Belgium's Male Hockey Team) succeeded in winning a silver medal. Back in 2010, this was set up as the Red Lions' big goal and TopSportsLab, a spin-off from the KU Leuven (University of Leuven), was going to help them achieve that goal. TopSportsLab made a physical development plan where it monitored the athletes' progress through wearable technology.

The plan is durable and tailor-made for every athlete. It contains a tracking mechanism to prepare each athlete physically while preventing injury, allowing the athletes to train with more efficiency. Next to the Belgian Red Lions, football teams such as Olympique de Marseille, AZ Alkmaar and the UEFA Referees trusted on Leuven-based TopSportsLab to achieve their goals.

Doctors' Favourite In The Fight Against Hiv

© amfar

About two decades ago, researchers at the Rega Institute for Medical Research discovered the inhibitory effect of tenofovir on HIV. This attracted the attention of the pharmaceutical industry and not long after, a cooperation programme was set up with the pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, in order to investigate Tenofovir as a potential medicine for the treatment of HIV.

In this form, the medicine was sold without profit in over 68 countries, making it the world's most frequently used HIV inhibitor. Recently it was discovered that Tenofovir is also effective in healing herpes as well.

The Agency That Made The Belgian Red Devils Hot Again

© boondoggle.eu

After ten dark years for the Belgian Red Devils (Belgium's national football team), Boondoggle, a Leuven based full-service agency, was hired by the Belgian Football Federation to close the gap between the team and the fans during the qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup. The WC 2014 was to be the first big tournament where Belgium's 'Golden Generation' would finally take the stage.

The agency came up with the Duiveluitdagingen (Devil's challenges) in which the players gave assignments to the fans, such as painting the whole country red or turning backyards into miniature stadiums. If fulfilled, the players promised a counterpart. The campaign sparked a new wave of pride, selling out every home game and bringing the popularity of the Red Devils to unseen heights.

The New 'Sweet'heart Among Apple Farmers And Customers

© kanziapple.com

In the early 90's Better3Fruit, a KU Leuven spin-off based in Aarschot, created a high-quality apple with a distinctive shine, taste and shelf-life; the Kanzi. Its high productivity, even in cold temperatures, makes Kanzi the perfect alternative to the Jonagold's declining popularity.

Farmers loved the great return on investment because of the growing capacity and retailers saw the success Kanzi had in supermarkets because of its great looks and taste. In fact, this Leuvenite was so popular across the globe that it wasn't available year-round until 2013, about 10 years after it was first marketed. About half of all Kanzi's are grown in Belgium, where some farmers were saved from bankruptcy thanks to its profitable return.

The Invention That Might Just Save Playing Cards

© imec

A totally new game experience for playing cards has been developed by imec, Cartamundi and Holst Centre. Putting an NFC (Near Field Communication) chip in playing cards allows them to communicate with one another and with smart devices such as tablets and smartphones. Imec and Holst Centre then developed ultrathin electronics in plastic foil. Because of this, the technology became cheaper and bendable, allowing playing cards to keep one of their most fundamental characteristics instead of turning them into credit card-lookalikes.

Last year, the product won the 'Best Product' award at Printed Electronics Europe. The jury recognized the potential of this technology to become a gamechanger for the gaming industry, as well as for many other printed electronics in the Internet-of-Things domain.

A Collection Of Bananas That Makes You Go Bananas

© KU Leuven

KU Leuven's Laboratoy for Tropical Crop Improvement houses about 1 500 species of banana. Maintaining the genetic diversity of all species makes them less vulnerable to diseases. That is why KU Leuven are securing the long-term conservation of the entire banana genepool. Since bananas are a staple crop for one in three humans, this preservation is crucial for current and future generations. 

The laboratory also carries out research to benefit farming communities around the world, such as finding ways to cultivate banana varieties high in vitamin A in eastern Africa. Here, every year half a million children go blind due to vitamin A deficiency. The lab also explores new ways to process bananas, of which the best example must be Musa Lova, Leuven's very own banana gin and liquor!

A Dance Floor That Really Makes Your Dance Moves Electrifying

© UC Leuven-Limburg

"I've got the power!" If UC Leuven-Limburg's (UCLL) power-generating dancefloor had its own soundtrack, that would be it. Pukkelpop, one of Belgium's biggest music festivals, is known for its many stages and dance floors where 180 000 visitors see their favourite artists and discover a whole lot more.

In 2015, one of these stages was literally "Powered by UCLL" in a unique project where it combined research and education to create a dancefloor which turned the energy of dancing feet in to electricty. The dancefloor was part of a Smart Energy Grid also consisting of 150 solar panels, two windmills and eight battery packs, making it the first self sustainable festival stage. 

The Company That Got Belgium Out Of Its Couch And Behind The Stove

© Hotel Hungaria

'When there's nothing else on TV but cooking shows, what do you do? You create a cooking show.' However, Leuven-based production company Hotel Hungaria replaced the chef in his white apron with the guy next door, literally! Leuven born-and-bred chef Jeroen Meus was put in a kitchen anyone can literally walk past, bringing the action closer than ever before. The recipe caught on. In 2012, Dagelijkse Kost won the Flemish award for best TV-show, broke all cookery book records and aired in Spain and Portugal. 

To celebrate the 1000th episode, viewers had to choose their classic Flemish dish. The winner turned out to be Stoofvlees Friet (beef stew with fries). Chef Jeroen encouraged the viewers to prepare the dish on March 1, National Stoofvlees Friet day. Viewers were free to use his recipe or your own, since Jeroen is well aware that everyone claims his or her recipe is the best. This perfectly emphasizes Dagelijkse Kost's succesful recipe: simple dishes, classics with a twist, a good vibe ... and some extra butter. 

The First Strawberry Picking Robot In The World

Robots have been helping mankind for quite some time now. However, a robot capable of a seemingly easy task like picking strawberries isn't all that easy to create. Leuven-based company Octinionaccepted the challenge and started conducting research with Flanders Make, a strategic research center across town. For the creation of the gripper, Octinion went next door, literally. Their neigbours Materialise, 3D Printing pioneers, printed several gripper designs until the perfect specimen was found. 

What makes the strawberry picker unique is the fact that it only picks if the action won't bruise strawberries. Picking quality, speed and sorting quality are comparable to the ideal human picker but with advanced quality monitoring to allow sorting, crop monitoring and precision farming. These days, Octinion is working the arm's speed and strength in order to finish the prototype and meet with the rising demand overseas.

Super Strong & Best Selling Samsonite™ Suitcase

© Octinion

A few years ago, Samsonite, the world leader in travel luggage, teamed up with KU Leuven's Professor Ignaas Verpoest (Department of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering) to search for improvements that could be made to the materials of which Samsonite's CosmoLite range exists. After the research conducted at the university, several newly designed layers were produced and added to protect against scratches and increase impact resistance. 

In 2009, the new CosmoLite was released. Up to now, it has been Samsonite's best selling range by far; the 500 000th CosmoLite suitcase was recently sold. Samsonite is still expanding the production as we speak.

A Dutch version of this article can be read in LVN Magazine.