Spinoza and Stevin Prizes shape pioneering research

2 October 2019

Six top researchers will receive the NWO Spinoza Prize and NWO Stevin Prize today from the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Ingrid van Engelshoven, in the Koninklijke Schouwburg (Royal Theatre) in The Hague. The prizes are the highest distinction in Dutch science.

From left to right: Ronald Hanson, Bas van Bavel, Yvette van Kooyk, Amina Helmi, Andrea Evers en Jack Pronk (credits: Bram Saeys)From left to right: Ronald Hanson, Bas van Bavel, Yvette van Kooyk, Amina Helmi, Andrea Evers en Jack Pronk (credits: Bram Saeys)

During the festive award ceremony, historian Bas van Bavel, health psychologist Andrea Evers, medical biologist Yvette van Kooyk, quantum physicist Ronald Hanson, astronomer Amina Helmi and microbiologist Jack Pronk will describe their plans for using the research prize worth 2.5 million euros per person.

Pioneering research

Thanks to the NWO prizes, the laureates can carry out pioneering research. Ronald Hanson confirms that the prize offers many opportunities: ‘Quantum technology is developing rapidly, and this funding is an enormous help and stimulus to play a major role in the international arena.’ Medical biologist Yvette van Kooyk also predicts groundbreaking steps in her research: ‘By studying sugars we have found a new way of inhibiting or activating the immune system. With a correct saccharification of allergens, we can launch a vaccine against allergy that inhibits the immune system, and for cancer therapy a vaccine that stimulates the immune system. Furthermore, analysis of sugar patterns in tumour biopsies will contribute to a better diagnosis for cancer.’ Jack Pronk confirms the rapid developments taking place within science: ‘In recent years, the toolkit for molecular genetics has developed so rapidly that there are now numerous new possibilities for groundbreaking research on yeast and other microorganisms. Experiments that we would not even have started five years ago are now possible due to CRISPR-Cas, for example.’

Responding to current issues

In her research, health psychologist Andrea Evers combines behavioural sciences and medicine to realise a positive impact on people’s health. She will use the Stevin Prize for this: ‘I want to encourage interdisciplinary research in which I will continue to press for clinical applications. I am also convinced that we can mainly generate impact by collaborating with other parties outside of science.’ Historian Bas van Bavel wants to use his prize to further investigate the development of prosperity and to place this in the context of the current society: ‘I want to investigate the institutional pillars of welfare and examine which coordination systems were used by societies in the past, how those developed and how they contributed to the realisation of a "good society" that provided widespread prosperity. I hope this will provide us with inspiration to tackle the challenges that the current society faces.’ Amina Helmi is responding to two topical questions in astronomy: how did the Milky Way evolve and what is dark matter? ‘ESA’s Gaia mission has unveiled mysterious ruptures in the starry strings of engulfed galaxies around the Milky Way, which are possibly caused by clumps of dark matter. New models and data are desperately needed for the correct interpretation of these exciting observations and to determine the character of the dark matter.’

Directly to Spinoza laureates 2019

Directly to Stevin laureates 2019

Spinoza laureates

Credits: Bram SaeysCredits: Bram Saeys

Bas van Bavel

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.

Credits: Bram SaeysCredits: Bram Saeys

Yvette van Kooyk

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.

Credits: Bram SaeysCredits: Bram Saeys

Ronald Hanson

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.

Credits: Bram SaeysCredits: Bram Saeys

Amina Helmi

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. Helmi’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

Credits: Bram SaeysCredits: Bram Saeys

Andrea Evers

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.

Credits: Bram SaeysCredits: Bram Saeys

Jack Pronk

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.

Source: NWO