The son of primary school principal Gerrit Berkhoff (1868–1959) and Martha Severs (1872–1949), Berkhoff studied chemistry at Leiden University where he obtained, in 1929, a doctor's degree with his PhD dissertation "Osmose van ternaire vloeistoffen" ("Osmosis of ternary fluids"). As a student, he worked for four years as a laboratory assistant for inorganic chemistry.
In 1929, Berkhoff started his career as a research chemist at DSM (Dutch State Mines). During the 1930s, he supervised the development of fertilizers for the Nitrogen Fixation Plant (Stikstofbindings Bedrijf (SBB)). His publications on the crystallisation of ammonium nitrate date from this period. His visionary and social talents led to a change from incremental research (responding to the competition) to innovative research (taking the initiative). This resulted in 1940 in the foundation of the Central Laboratory (Centraal Laboratorium (CL)), of which he became director. His journeys to the US immediately after the Second World War, to look at diversification options, enabled DSM to start the production of caprolactam, the raw material needed for the enkalon or nylon 6 textile fibre of the AKU, now part of AkzoNobel. Until his departure in 1961, he was CEO of all DSM's research and development divisions, which under his supervision became highly successful.
University of Twente
In 1961, Berkhoff was entrusted by the minister for eEducation to start preparations for the third technological university college in The Netherlands in Twente, now the University of Twente. Two years later, he was appointed as the first rector magnificus. Under his supervision, the university became innovative in various areas, including student campus-accommodation (previously unknown in The Netherlands), the integration of engineering and the social sciences (now called: high tech, human touch) and the launching of a bachelor's degree. The purpose of the bachelor's degree was to encourage Dutch industry to employ young bachelor graduates instead of older master graduates. The concept was not viable. His speech held on the occasion of the festive opening in 1964 by Queen Juliana and Prince Bernard ended by using the words William of Orange spoke in 1574 on the occasion of the opening of the first Dutch University in Leiden: "That this University College may grow into a lasting fundament and support of freedom, is our sincerest wish". In 1967, he left the University. In his honour the Berkhoff Chair was installed in 1999 and in 2010 the Berkhoff Hall was opened for academic ceremonies.
- (in Dutch) Homburg, Ernst and A. van Rooij, Growth through fertilizers DSM Agro 1929-2004 (Groeien door kunstmest DSM Agro 1929-2004) (Hilversum 2004)
- (in English) A. van Rooij, The company that changed itself. R&D and the transformations of DSM (Amsterdam 2007)
- (in Dutch) J. de Boer, A small and vulnerable institution. A history of the University of Twente, 1961-2011 (Een kleine en kwetsbare instelling. Een geschiedenis van de Universiteit Twente, 1961-2011) (Enschede 2011)
- The current Dutch bachelor-master system was introduced with the Bologna Process of 1999.
- In (old) Dutch: `tot een vast stuensel ende onderhoudt der vryheit´. (in Dutch) `William of Orange to the Provincial States of Holland and Zeeland, d.d. 28 December 1574 (Willem van Oranje aan de Staten van Holland en Zeeland, d.d. 28 December 1574)´, in: P.C. Molhuysen, Sources on the history of Leiden University I (Bronnen tot de geschiedenis der Leidsche universiteit I) (Den Haag 1913), Appendix 1
- Prof. Dr. G. Berkhoff (1964). "Tot een vast stuensel ende onderhoudt der vryheit. Redevoering bij de opening van de Technische Hogeschool Twente, d.d. 14 September 1964)" [Into a lasting fundament and support of freedom. Speech delivered on the opening of the Technological University College of Twente, 14 September 1964]. Nieuws in en om THT (in Dutch) (37): 18-20.