History in brief

The Lorentz Center is named after Dutch physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, who won the 1902 Nobel Prize in Physics. Lorentz was chairman of the first Solvay Conferences and brought together renowned researchers to discuss results and share ideas.

Three scientists at Leiden University decide to set up a workshop center in the Netherlands. Bert Peletier, Wim van Saarloos and Tim de Zeeuw had come to appreciate workshop centers in their respective fields: mathematics, physics and astronomy. They feel that the Dutch scientific community would benefit from a place to discuss results and ideas in an open and interactive manner.

The Lorentz Center starts in four science disciplines: astronomy, informatics mathematics and physics – aiming at a combination of visitors and workshops. Gerrit van Dijk is the first director and the first workshop is held in March 1997.

Wim van Saarloos becomes the second director of the Lorentz Center. The Lorentz Center begins to support workshop organizers with the practical issues: the first workshop coordinator starts.

The workshops are growing steadily in number and in length. The first scientific advisory boards are established. 

The Lorentz Center sets up a collaboration with NIAS – the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the humanities and social sciences. The NIAS-Lorentz Program aims to bridge the humanities and social sciences with the natural and technological sciences.

The workshop program reaches the practical, physical limit for (mostly) 5 day workshops in one venue. Lorentz Center is well known in the original research areas, with more than 2000 workshop participants from all over the world – 40% Dutch and 40% from other European countries. Plans for a second venue begin to take form. Arjen Doelman becomes the third director of the Lorentz Center.

NWO recognizes the importance of the Lorentz Center for the Dutch scientific community and extends its structural funding to all disciplines of the natural sciences, the humanities and the social sciences. 

Opening of the second workshop venue in the Snellius building, across the street from the first Lorentz Center@Oort venue. The new venue accommodates groups of half the size of the Oort workshops.

The Lorentz Center sets up special collaborations in the computational sciences, with joint annual workshops with CECAM (Centre Européen de Calcul Atomique et Moléculaire) in Lausanne and with the Netherlands e-Science Center in Amsterdam.

The scientific scope is extended with chemistry and medical sciences. At the request of the governing board of Leiden University, a major expansion is initiated in the humanities and social sciences. Now we organize workshops in all scientific disciplines. 


The Lorentz Center celebrates its 20-year anniversary with its famous boat trip on the Kager Lakes and an impressive exhibition of its workshop announcement posters in the Old University Library and in the city hall of Leiden. 

This year more than 3000 researchers from all over the world visit the Lorentz Center and the number of workshops is still growing. Plans are being made for moving to a new location where we can bring together both venues and facilitate our guests even better, maintaining our unique atmosphere.

While starting the year positively with a new, user-friendly website, it soon turned into a far from normal year due to the COVID-19 pandemic that affected the whole world. For the Lorentz Center this meant an unexpected switch from face-to-face meetings to online workshops. An intense period, but also a phase where we were able to show our flexibility and our determination to keep on bringing researchers together in the 'Lorentz Center way'.


The Lorentz Center celebrated its 25th anniversary. Despite still being tied to the COVID-19 restrictions, scientists from all over the world came together again at the Lorentz Center, virtually or in person.


September 1st, Roeland Merks becomes the fourth director of the Lorentz Center. We say goodbye to Arjen Doelman, who has been our director for 13 years.

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