Noticed by Wim van Saarloos

In each issue, NWO will ask a prominent figure from the research world – who is no longer an active scientist – about three striking subjects from the science news. This time Wim van Saarloos, president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Leiden University.

Wim van Saarloos


The first visible photo of a black hole. ‘This is a fantastic example of international teamwork that has already been running for 20 years. It is great that Dutch colleagues have played such a big role in this under the leadership of Heino Falcke from Radboud University in Nijmegen. The Monday after the announcement, we held a superb KNAW mini-symposium with four of the key players as speakers – an event I really enjoyed! Now that this is possible and now that we can measure gravitational waves, we can start to combine things. That will help us to understand the evolution of the universe better. What is the use of that? It will increase our knowledge about where we come from. That is no small thing. And yes, ultimately, it will almost certainly lead to new technology as well.’­­­

het zwarte gat


The unexpected fast progress in quantum computing. ‘The problem with quantum computing was always the error sensitivity. Recently, however, a new algorithm was devised with which we can suddenly make far faster progress. Now everybody is jumping on the bandwagon. I am a member of the strategic advisory council of the Quantum Technology Flagship, an initiative of the European Commission. During the last few meetings and foreign visits I realised: wow, things are suddenly moving fast. This is also because IBM and Google have become fully involved. And then there are also the initiatives for a National Agenda Quantum Technology in the Netherlands and the opening of a Microsoft Lab in Delft. We are already on the way to 56 qubits. I once thought: a quantum computer, I'll never live to see that. Now I think: I've still got a good chance of witnessing it.’­­­­­


Tracing the embryonic origin of cells using "genetic scars". ‘With the new CRISPR-Cas technology you can change genes very specifically. Alexander van Oudenaarden from the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht now uses this technique to apply markings in the DNA of a very young embryo. As a result, you can see exactly where the cells came from in an adult body. That has now led to interesting new discoveries: hey, these cells have a common origin after all.’­

The wider perspective of a book

‘I would also like to mention a few recent books because I think that books are undervalued. There is often too much emphasis on science news, whereas the broader perspective is also very important.’

economics for the common good

Economics for the Common Good - by Jean Tirole, Nobel prize winner economics

a crack in creation

A crack in creation – gene editing and the unthinkable power to control evolution – by CRISP-Cas-researcher Jennifer Doudna

the gene machine

The Gene Machine – the race to decipher the secrets of the ribosome – by Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society en Nobel prize winner chemistry

tegen terreur

Tegen de Terreur – by Stevin laureate Beatrice de Graaf

NWO magazine on science

Onderzoek is NWO's new magazine and the successor to Hypothese. NWO develops science policy in dialogue with the field and we want to show that. In this magazine we discuss the developments, wishes and other voices in the scientific field. Onderzoek is sent free of charge to researchers, policymakers, journalists and other relations of NWO.