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Leiden Honorary Doctorates for Melissa Little and Robbert Dijkgraaf

Australian cell biologist Melissa Little and Dutch physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf will each be awarded an Honorary doctorate at the Dies Natalis of Leiden University in February 2019. They are receiving these awards for their services to science.

Each year, two faculties nominate an individual who has made substantial contribution to the development of one of the faculty's areas of research. These two scientists each receive an Honorary Doctorate at the University's Dies Natalis on 8 February. For 2019, the faculties of Medicine and Science have made the nominations.

Cell biologist Melissa Little

Melissa Little is being awarded this Honorary Doctorate in recognition of her exceptional research into potential regenerative therapies for chronic kidney diseases, in the field of systems biology of kidney development. Melissa Little's research includes both the characterisation of adult stem cells in the kidney and the analysis of embryonic stem cell populations. With her knowledge of kidney cell development, she is now exploring the possibilities of growing a new kidney from stem cells. She is currently focusing on generating mini-kidneys from patient stem cells for use in drug screening and disease modelling.

Little has received many awards for her work. She was awarded a Royal Society Endeavour Fellowship at the Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh, Scotland, as well as the Australian Academy of Sciences Gottschalk Medal in Medical Sciences. In 2015 she held the Boerhaave Chair in Leiden.

Little is currently affiliated to the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, an Australian institute for paediatric medical research, based in Melbourne. She is theme director of Cell Biology and heads the kidney research laboratory. She is also a professor at Melbourne University's Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences and leader of Australia's stem cell programme. She founded NephroGenex, a company focused on drug development for kidney disease and combating kidney damage caused by diabetes. She herself spent some time as a board member of the company.

Physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf

Dijkgraaf's scientific work is concentrated at the interface between mathematics and physics. He is particularly inspired by the natural laws of quantum mechanics. His specialism is the application of topological concepts from mathematics to quantum field theories from physics. This has led to the Dijkgraaf-Witten classification of topological quantum field theories, named after Dijkgraaf and his colleague Ed Witten of Princeton University. Originally, Dijkgraaf designed his theory for application in high-energy physics, another  Leiden research field. With the recent discovery of topological isolators, Dijkgraaf's topological concepts have also penetrated solid-state physics, also a Leiden specialism.

Although Dijkgraaf is being awarded this Honorary Doctorate for his scientific merits, the infectious way in which he presents science to a broad public cannot be left out of the picture; he is a shining example of this. It was for this reason that Leiden University invited Dijkgraaf in 2015 to reveal the first wall formula - the beta variant of the wall poem.

Dijkgraaf is currently director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and also professor at the University of Amsterdam. In 2003 he was awarded the Spinoza Prize.

Text: Corine Hendriks

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