Six researchers awarded the highest distinction in Dutch Science

19 June 2020

Six researchers will receive the highest awards in science. Professor Nynke Dekker, professor Jan van Hest, professor Pauline Kleingeld and professor Sjaak Neefjes will be awarded the Spinoza Prize. Professor Linda Steg and professor Ton Schumacher receive the Stevin Prize. Each laureate will receive 2.5 million euros, which they can spend on scientific research and activities related to knowledge utilisation.

The researchers are receiving the prize for their outstanding, pioneering and inspiring work. 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 Prize

Professor Nynke Dekker

Nynke Dekker (1971) is Professor of Biological Physics at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience of TU Delft, and one of the pioneers in molecular biophysics. She designs, develops and uses innovative instrumentation at the nanometre scale for her pioneering research on individual DNA and RNA molecules and their interactions with enzymes and molecular motors in bacteria, viruses and eukaryotes. Amongst other things, she has clarified how chemotherapy treatments kill cancer cells at the molecular level.

Professor Jan van Hest

Jan van Hest (1968) is Professor of Bio-organic Chemistry at Eindhoven University of Technology. He designs and develops new materials and catalytic processes that combine artificially produced molecules with biological components, such as nanoreactors that can be deployed as artificial organelles in living cells to initiate reactions with enzymes. These materials are used in biocatalysis and for biomedical applications, for example transporting drugs through the human body.

Professor Pauline Kleingeld

Pauline Kleingeld (1962), Professor of Ethics and its History at the University of Groningen, is an astute and versatile researcher. A groundbreaking interpretation of Kant’s ethics and political philosophy provides new perspectives on moral universalism, autonomy, free will and cosmopolitanism. She also critically assesses Kant’s racist and sexist prejudices. Thanks to her original approach and ideas, she has become an internationally renowned Kant expert who also builds important bridges to current philosophical discussions and behavioural sciences research.

Prof. Sjaak Neefjes

Sjaak (Jacques) Neefjes (1959), Professor of Chemical Immunology (Leiden University) and head of the Department of Cellular and Chemical Biology (Leiden University Medical Center), is a multidisciplinary scientific all-rounder. He develops ingenious techniques and combines insights from chemistry, cell biology, immunology and biochemistry to study processes in individual cells. That leads to fundamental, groundbreaking discoveries about the functioning of the immune system, which are translated into clinical applications for cancer and infectious diseases as well as for autoimmune diseases such as rheumatism and multiple sclerosis.

Stevin Prize

Prof. Ton Schumacher

Ton Schumacher (1965) is an internationally renowned researcher in the field of immunotherapy against cancer. He is group leader Molecular Oncology & Immunology at The Netherlands Cancer Institute and affiliated with the Oncode Institute. He is also Professor of Immune Technology at Leiden University and Leiden University Medical Center. The immunologist has played a crucial role in the rapid development of this discipline due to his scientific discoveries as well as his ability to translate these into patient-oriented applications. Breakthroughs in the area of genetically manipulating T-cells have led to a new treatment against blood cancer. Schumacher’s publications about neo-antigens open the door to a personalised cancer vaccine.

Prof. Linda Steg

Linda Steg (1965), Professor of Environmental Psychology at the University of Groningen, is deemed to be one of the most innovative and influential pioneers in her relatively young discipline. Her research focuses on which factors stimulate environmentally friendly behaviour. An important outcome is that people’s actions are not solely based on “rational” facts and arguments or cost-benefit analyses, but that moral and environmental considerations play a role too. Mainly as a result of Steg’s efforts, this behavioural factor has gained considerable importance in international climate policy. With her groundbreaking research into the environmental behaviour of people, numerous policy-defining publications and participation in authoritative international committees, she has made a major contribution to the rapid development of her discipline.

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. 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 97 Spinoza laureates and 6 Stevin laureates.

Award ceremony in September 2020

The festive award ceremony of the Spinoza and Stevin Prizes will take place on Wednesday 30 September 2020. 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