Winners announced for five new NWO Science Awards

Beeld prijs

Between 30 November and 4 December 2020 the NWO Domain Science (ENW) announced five new Science Awards. The winners are seen by the jury as an inspiration in the fields of social impact, team science, role model, diversity and communication. The awards were created to reward researchers working in these fields, and to inspire others to do the same. The eleven winners will receive a total of €350,000 in prize money.

Team Science Award

This year two research teams will be given the first Team Science Awards: Team Minnaard and the Amsterdam Science Park Study Group. Both teams comprise researchers from a variety of disciplines and enable young talents to work alongside senior researchers. Each team will receive €10,000 towards the further strengthening of the team.

Communication Award

The Communication Award will be given to three collaborative science communication initiatives: Muurformules, IAU100, and DondersWonders. All three projects have succeeded in reaching a wider audience through innovative means. Each project will be given €10,000 to spend on science communication.

Stairway to Impact Award

The Stairway to Impact Award has been won by three researchers who have taken innovative steps in increasing impact: Dr Kateřina Staňková (MU), Dr Chris Slootweg (UvA), and Professor Theunis Piersma (RUG/NIOZ). Each researcher will receive €50,000 to spend on further steps promoting this impact and knowledge application.

Diversity Initiative Award

The Diversity Initiative Award goes to the Altair Project which introduces primary school children to astronomy and physics. The Diversity Initiative Award rewards initiatives that promote diversity in the field. Altair’s instigator, Professor Sera Markoff, receives €50,000 to spend on the project. 

Athena Award

Dr Sahar El Aidy (RUG) and Professor Arwen Deuss (UU) are this year’s recipients of the Athena Award for outstanding female researchers. They will each receive €50,000 towards their research costs.

  • Team Science Award

    This year two research teams will be given the first Team Science Awards: Team Minnaard and the Amsterdam Science Park Study Group. Both teams comprise researchers from a variety of disciplines and enable young talents to work alongside senior researchers. Each team will receive €10,000 towards the further strengthening of the team.

    Team Minnaard has been working for some time to create molecules that could help promote the human immune response to tuberculosis. The team members are Professor Adriaan J. Minnaard, Dr Jeffrey Buter, Dr Ildiko Van Rhijn and Dr Branch Moody. They are combining synthetic and analytic organic chemistry, microbiology and immunology to attain their goal. The jury was impressed by the team’s clearly formulated research aims as well as by the synergy of the team members and their expertise. It also appreciates the team’s laudable decision to make its newly synthesized lipids freely available.

    The Amsterdam Science Park Study Group is directed towards building up a community of computational biologists and bioinformaticians. The team focuses on helping to solve data analysis problems, sharing the best working methods, and developing professional skills. The jury was impressed by the diversity of the team and by its attention to talent development. The initiative offers young researchers a safe environment in which to collaborate with others. The team members are Dr Marc D. Galland, Tijs Bliek, Zsofia Koma, Dr Like Fokkens, Dr Huub Hoefsloot, Dr Joachim Goedhart, Stacy Shinneman, Dr Johannes de Groeve, Evelien Jongepier and Dr Frans van der Kloet.

  • Communication Award

    The Communication Award will be given to three collaborative science communication initiatives: Muurformules, IAU100, and DondersWonders. All three projects have succeeded in reaching a wider audience through innovative means. Each project will be given €10,000 to spend on science communication.

    Muurformules is an initiative by Dr Ivo van Vulpen and Professor Sense Jan van der Molen, in which important scientific results are painted in prominent places in Leiden, working together with the Stichting Tegenbeeld foundation. The jury praises the originality and innovation shown by the researchers, in which an existing concept – a wall painting – is used to create a new form of science communication.

    The International Astronomical Union 100 (IAU100) brings together a global range of activities and projects to promote the importance of astronomy. Over 5000 activities in 143 countries have reached an estimated 100 million people. The jury was impressed by this reach, and by the inclusivity of the initiatives. IAU100 has expressly set out to embrace diversity and to reach countries in which people have limited access to scientific knowledge. The initiative was launched by team manager Dr Pedro Russo and team members Dr Jorge Rivero González, Bethany Downer, Lina Canas and Marieke Baan.

    The DondersWonders blog is an initiative by a diverse group of young researchers linked to the Donders Institute. The jury was impressed by the reach and effect of the articles the bloggers write; for instance, many of their blog posts are reproduced as news articles in a variety of magazines. This has enabled the researchers to reach a new audience and to make an active contribution to societal discussions. The way the blog is organized is also inspirational, in the jury’s view. Its planning is clear and rigorous, focusing on topical themes and with professional support through personal social media channels. The initiative was launched by Eva Klimars, Dr Rebecca Calcott, Marisha Manahova, Jeroen Uleman, Monica Wagner, Felix Klaassen, Christina Isakoglou, João Guimarães, Christienne Damatac, Francie Manhardt, Floortje Bouwkamp, Julija Vaitonyte, Kim Beneyton, Jill Naaijen and Martina Arenella.

  • Stairway to Impact Award

    The Stairway to Impact Award has been won by three researchers who have taken innovative steps in increasing impact: Dr Kateřina Staňková (MU), Dr Chris Slootweg (UvA), and Professor Theunis Piersma (RUG/NIOZ). Each researcher will receive €50,000 to spend on further steps promoting this impact and knowledge application.

    Kateřina Staňková has applied her research results in mathematics and dynamic game theory to improving cancer treatment, and the initial results have shown that patients have benefited from therapy based on the models she developed. The jury was impressed by the impact, passion, and originality of her approach. Her inventive approach has enabled her to challenge paradigms, and the interdisciplinary collaboration with doctors, oncologists and biologists has resulted in rapid progress. She has clear goals, and her driven unorthodox approach has made her a role model for other researchers.

    Chris Slootweg has applied the results of his research into circular chemistry to reducing the problem of waste-stream phosphates. The chemist developed a process enabling phosphates to be recovered from waste streams and usefully re-employed. He is seeking to collaborate with market partners to this end, with an ambitious aim: to develop the process in order to address the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The jury was impressed by the way he has translated theory into practice, thereby becoming an inspiration to other researchers.

    Theunis Piersma creatively combined his life sciences research with computer sciences in order to study the behaviour and movement of migrating birds, by using satellites. He employs an interdisciplinary approach, working with researchers from the life, earth and computer sciences. The location of these birds yields important information with which to study and counteract global problems such as climate change and biodiversity loss. He has a clear vision of the future and is strongly committed to policy changes aimed at averting species extinction and slowing climate change. Piersma has studied migrating birds his whole life, and strives to raise awareness and protect these birds; this has made him a source of inspiration to others.

  • Diversity Initiative Award

    The Diversity Initiative Award goes to the Altair Project which introduces primary school children to astronomy and physics. The Diversity Initiative Award rewards initiatives that promote diversity in the field. Altair’s instigator, Professor Sera Markoff, receives €50,000 to spend on the project. The jury was impressed by the way her project has brought attention to the hard sciences within a variety of communities. Children from different ethnic backgrounds are given lessons by researchers from UvA, and their parents are also brought into a variety of activities at the university campus. The project reaches 140 children per year. The jury considers it noteworthy that Sera Markoff launched this initiative alongside her regular research work.

  • Athena Award

    Dr Sahar El Aidy (RUG) and Professor Arwen Deuss (UU) are this year’s recipients of the Athena Award for outstanding female researchers. They will each receive €50,000 towards their research costs.

    Sahar El Aidy researches into microbiomes, in particular the activity and role of gut metabolites on mental and neurological function in humans. The jury considers Sahar El Aidy to be an excellent role model: she is a young and talented researcher, she has set up a unique and successful research group, and she has produced ground-breaking publications. She is a high-profile researcher who is very good at communicating about her research. She always succeeds in conveying her three core messages: ‘let your food be your medicine’, ‘your gut microbes can influence the efficacy of your medication’, and ‘fundamental research into health and illness is important’.

    The seismologist Arwen Deuss researches into the earth’s central core. She wins the Athena Award because the jury considers her to be a role model: she does top-flight research, she is an inspiring mentor, and she is also involved in outreach activities. The jury praises her work to bring about an academic environment that welcomes career women. Arwen Deuss made waves early on in her scientific career: as a doctoral student she successfully demonstrated that the earth’s core was solid rather than liquid. She has since won numerous scientific grants and prizes, and has been a notable contributor to a variety of television programmes.