Spinoza Prizes for physicist Michel Orrit and psychologist Eveline Crone
Of this year’s four NWO Spinoza Prizes, two have been awarded to Leiden researchers. NWO announced the awards on 16 June. Spinoza is the highest award in the Netherlands and it carries an award of 2.5 million euros.
Leiden leader in Spinoza Prizes
The Spinoza Prize is an honour and, even more importantly, an impetus for further research. The Leiden winners were both delighted with the award. In an interview, Orrit and Crone set out their plans for the future. The two other winners are from the University of Utrecht: chemist Albert Heck and biophysicist Alexander van Oudenaarden. NWO announced the winners at the Bessensap science event in Amsterdam. The prizes will be presented to the winners on 12 September in the Koninklijke Schouwburg in The Hague. The Spinoza Prize was first awarded in 1995 and Leiden University heads the ranking with 21 winners.
Pionneer in spectroscopy
French-born physicist Michel Orrit is a pioneer in the field of spectroscopy. It is in part due to his work that it is now possible to study individual molecules. This is highly useful for carrying out forensic analyses or determining whether a person is a carrier of a particular disease. The Spinoza Prize will allow Orrit to carry out innovative research in the coming years, for example on the role of nano-antennae. These antennae amplify the signal from a molecule, which makes it easier to observe them. According to NWO (the Netherlands Organisation for Academic Research), Orrit has always been a pioneer in his field, but he combines this with the modest role of lecturer and PhD superviser. In NWO’s words, this makes him an ‘invisible’ giant in the world of spectroscopy.
New insights into the adolescent brain
Eveline Crone, Professor of Neurocognitive Development Psychology, made her name with her research on the brain and adolescent behaviour. She was one of the first psychologists to study how different processes in the brain develop in relation to one another. She discovered that those parts of the brain that experience a reward or a pleasurable event are very sensitive during puberty, while the part of the brain involved in impulse control is still developing. According to NWO, Crone has contributed to a ‘reassessment’ of puberty. Together with her team, she has been following the brain development of almost 300 young people over a period of five years. The research shows that the adolescent brain is very receptive to learning socially desirable behaviour. Crone will use the Spinoza Prize to pursue a different line of research on the impact of social media and the way that young people make choices that have consequences for their future lives.
NWO awards the Spinoza Prizes every year to a maximum of four researchers working in the Netherlands who are among the world leaders in their field. The researchers are nominated for the prize by the board of their institution, in Leiden’s case by Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker. An international and interdisciplinary committee selects a shortlist of a maximum of eight candidates from among the nominees. The committee members then consult with diverse international experts about each candidate, and on the basis of these discussions, they select four researchers for the Prize. The internationally recognised quality of their scientific research is the most important criterion in the decision-making.