Six researchers awarded the highest distinction in Dutch Science

21 June 2019

Today, NWO chair Stan Gielen announced that professor Bas van Bavel, professor Yvette van Kooyk, professor Ronald Hanson and professor Amina Helmi have received the NWO Spinoza Prize, and professor Andrea Evers and professor Jack Pronk the NWO Stevin Prize. The Spinoza and Stevin Prizes are the highest awards in Dutch science. Each laureate will receive 2.5 million euros, which they can spend on scientific research and activities related to knowledge utilisation.

(photo: Melvin Tas)Photo: Melvin Tas

The researchers are receiving the prize for their outstanding, pioneering and inspiring work. This year outstanding researchers will be awarded the Spinoza Prize and the Stevin Prize for the 25th time. The key focus of both prizes is the quality of the researcher: whereas the Spinoza Prize emphasises the scientific work and fundamental questions, the Stevin Prize primarily honours the societal impact.

Internationally renowned leading scientists

Spinoza laureates

Historian Bas van Bavel is one of the world's greatest experts in the area of socioeconomic history. His much-discussed book "The Invisible Hand? How Market Economies have Emerged and Declined since AD 500" offers an entirely new vision on the role of the market economy in our society. As Professor Transitions of Economy and Society at Utrecht University, he does groundbreaking research into the key factors underlying a resilient society.

Medical biologist Yvette van Kooyk unravelled how the immune system becomes deregulated during the development of cancer, autoimmune diseases and infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS. She discovered that certain sugar molecules, called glycans, can stimulate or inhibit the communication between cells of the immune system. Now she is the world expert in this field called glycoimmunology. Van Kooyk uses her knowledge to develop nano-medicines that support the immune system in its fight against cancer and other diseases. She is Professor and Head of Department Molecular Cell Biology at Amsterdam AMC, location VUmc.

Ronald Hanson, Professor of Quantum Physics at TU Delft and scientific director of QuTech, is a world leader in the area of quantum networks. In several sensational experiments, he managed to link separate particles in such a way that they behaved as a single particle, even when they were separated by a distance of more than one kilometre. This phenomenon called quantum entanglement is an important condition for the functioning of future quantum networks that cannot be hacked or eavesdropped.

Amina Helmi is Professor of Dynamics, Structure and Formation of the Milky Way at the Kapteyn Institute of the University of Groningen. With her theories, models and experiments, she has considerably expanded our knowledge about the shape, structure and history of the Milky Way and the nearby galaxies. Helmiā€™s vision and leadership were crucial for the realisation of the European space telescope Gaia, which since 2013 has studied the movement and composition of more than one billion individual stars.

Stevin laureates

Health psychologist Andrea Evers leads an innovative, groundbreaking research programme into the influence of psychological factors on physical symptoms and disorders. She achieved world fame with her research into placebo effects and their counterparts, nocebo effects. Her research has far-reaching consequences for the work of health practitioners. She also develops E-health applications and self-help tools for patients. Evers is an outstanding, passionate researcher and born communicator, who shares her knowledge through numerous publications, lectures and frequent appearances in the media.

Jack Pronk is Professor of Industrial Microbiology at TU Delft. He is a connector who translates fundamental scientific knowledge about the functioning of yeast and fungi into a wide range of commercial applications with a considerable impact on society. For example, his work has led to baker's yeast now being used for the large-scale production of ethanol from non-edible plant waste. He is a frequently invited speaker, and a passionate and highly acclaimed lecturer who inspires new generations of researchers.

Selection of the laureates

NWO invites a limited number of people who, by virtue of their positions, nominate candidates for a Spinoza Prize or a Stevin Prize. This year, NWO received approximately 25 nominations for each prize. The Spinoza and Steven committees consist of twelve members, originating from different countries and fields of science, and in the case of the Stevin committee also from the business sector. Based on the nominations, the Spinoza committee compiles a shortlist of no more than eight candidates and the Stevin committee selects six candidates. The committee members subsequently talk to several foreign experts about each candidate. Based in part on these discussions, the committees recommended that NWO award four Spinoza Prizes and two Stevin Prizes this year. Including the new laureates, the Netherlands now has 93 Spinoza laureates and 4 Stevin laureates.

Award ceremony in October 2019

The festive award ceremony of the Spinoza and Stevin Prizes will take place on Wednesday 2 October 2019 in the Koninklijke Schouwburg in The Hague. During the ceremony, the Spinoza and Stevin laureates will explain their research to the audience and state how they intend to use the financial part of their prize.

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Source: NWO