Laureates receive NWO-Spinoza Prize

14 September 2015

State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science Sander Dekker and NWO chairman Jos Engelen awarded NWO Spinoza Prizes today to four leading scientists working in the Netherlands. Organic chemist René Janssen, religious studies scholar Birgit Meyer, statistician Aad van der Vaart and human genetics professor Cisca Wijmenga were presented with the prize in the Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague.

NWO Spinoza Prize award - from left to right: Jos Engelen (NWO), René Janssen, Birgit Meyer, Aad van der Vaart, Cisca Wijmenga, Sander Dekker (OCW). Credit: Sascha SchalkwijkNWO Spinoza Prize award - from left to right: Jos Engelen (NWO), René Janssen, Birgit Meyer, Aad van der Vaart, Cisca Wijmenga, Sander Dekker (OCW). Credit: Sascha Schalkwijk

Laureates of the NWO Spinoza Prize each receive 2.5 million euros,which they can use as they see fit for research purposes. The NWO Spinoza Prize is the highest Dutch award in science. Besides being an honour, the prize is above all an incentive to conduct further research. Dekker and Engelen presented the four laureates with a bronze statuette of the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677). The statuette is the symbol of the prize.

‘In particular, Spinoza laureates embody the strong position that Dutch science occupies in the world. Indeed, they safeguard the ability to remain at the forefront and explore new avenues. I hope that the Spinoza Prize will enable you to continue performing this function,’ said NWO chairman Jos Engelen during his welcome speech.

State Secretary Dekker congratulated the new Spinoza laureates and called on them to take the lead in Open Access publishing. ‘Today we are celebrating our prominent position in the world with four leading scientists. Let us do that in the area of Open Access as well.’

Plans with the prize

During the award ceremony, the laureates explained their research and announced how they intend to use the financial part of their prize.

René Jansen, professor of molecular materials and nanosystems at the Eindhoven University of Technology, is focusing on harnessing energy from the sun. ‘I especially want to examine ways of storing energy in more detail. We are pretty good at generating energy with solar panels, but storing that energy is still difficult. I also want to study perovskite solar cells more closely, a highly promising new kind of solar panel based on lead-iodide compounds. Yields of twenty per cent have already been reported.’

Birgit Meyer, professor of religious studies at Utrecht University, wants to base her research on forms of religious expression in four two-year periods. ‘I want to looks at objects, images and buildings for two years, at food and attitudes towards eating for two years, at the body for two years, and at texts for two years. I plan to do this with four or five PhD students and four or five postdoctoral researchers.’

Aad van der Vaart, professor of stochastics at Leiden University, would like to use the Spinoza Prize, among other things, to further promote statistics as a scientific discipline in the Netherlands. ‘I would like to use the money for long-term appointments of researchers. My future plans with the prize in terms of research are a continuation of what I have already been doing: research on high-dimensional models for statistical analysis.’

Cisca Wijmenga, professor of human genetics at the University of Groningen and the University Medical Center Groningen, is going to search for the ‘hidden secrets’ of our DNA. ‘It is becoming increasingly clear that a number of genes appear to be missing from everyone’s DNA. I am interested in cases where switching off the gene leads to better health. In addition, I will be using part of the money to continue my research on celiac disease. I will be focusing on regulatory systems in the cells that play a part in this intestinal disorder, such as immune system cells and intestinal cells.'

More information

Source: NWO