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Dirk Bouwmeester and Corinne Hofman receive NWO Spinoza Prize

On 9 September, in the presence of King Willem Alexander, Secretary of State Sander Dekker presented the Spinoza Prize to four researchers, including two researchers from Leiden: archaeologist Corinne Hofman and physicist Dirk Bouwmeester. In the Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague, they unveiled their plans for the future.

Highest scientific distinction

Sander Dekker, Theunis Piersma, Mark van Loosdrecht, King Willem-Alexander, Corinne Hofman and Dirk Bouwmeester

The NWO Spinoza Prize is the highest scientific distinction in the Netherlands and amounts to 2.5 million euros. Besides the Leiden prizes, two other two Spinoza Prizes were awarded to Professor of Environmental Biotechnology Mark van Loosdrecht (Delft University of Technology) and Professor of Migratory Bird Ecology Theunis Piersma (University of Groningen).

Bouwmeester: extending boundaries with a nano mirror

In addition to his Leiden appointment, Bouwmeester also holds a chair at the University of California in Santa Barbara. In Leiden he works with temperatures just above absolute zero; in Santa Barbara he oversees the manufacture of nano structures. His experiments are designed to investigate whether there is a real boundary between quantum mechanics and the ‘classical’ world. One of his experiments involves the development of a nano mirror which can literally be simultaneously in two positions.

Quantum revolution

Bouwmeester intends to investigate how quantum mechanics can be related to the theory of relativity.

In addition, Bouwmeester collaborates with the LUMC on a new DNA detection technique. He will also be using his Spinoza Prize to work in conjunction with the LUMC group to develop a therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a hereditary disease. Bouwmeester will also use the Spinoza Prize money to investigate how quantum mechanics can be related to the theory of relativity. Developments in his field are now taking place at a tremendous speed, he says. ‘In a thousand years' time, people will say of our time: that was right in the middle of the quantum revolution.’

Hofman: Re-writing Caribbean history

Hofman investigates the colonisation of the Caribbean area from the perspective of the Caribbean-Indian population. In her speech she emphasised the importance of this research: ‘At school children are often taught about the history of the former coloniser. Due to the lack of Indian written sources and the biased nature of the European narrative, the impact of the colonisation processes on the Indian island inhabitants is still largely unknown.’ Hofman is one of the driving forces behind the international NEXUS 1492 project, which aims to rewrite Caribbean history using archaeological research.

Fragile soil archive

Corinne Hofman: ‘According to the textbooks, the history of the Dominican Republic begins in 1492.'

Hofmann pointed out the vulnerabilities of the Caribbean ‘soil archive’: natural disasters, such as earthquakes, and misguided human intervention result in the destruction of the heritage. This is why proper heritage management is crucial – in legislation and education, as well as in collaboration with the local population. She wants to use the Spinoza Prize to consolidate Leiden Caribbean research and to make the research data accessible to a wide public. In the Caribbean region, but also in the Netherlands, emphasises Hofman, ‘there is also too little attention being paid to the original history of the Caribbean area of our Kingdom.’

The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) awards the NWO Spinoza Prize every year to researchers working in the Netherlands who by international standards belong to the absolute top of their field, who inspire young researchers, and whose research has a clear impact on society. An NWO Spinoza Prize is both a personal tribute and a considerable financial impetus for further research.

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