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Leiden University's nominees New Scientist science talent

Mathematician Stéphanie van der Pas and psychologist Sandy Overgaauw have been nominated for the New Scientist science talent competition, a prize for the most talented scientist in the Netherlands and Flanders.

New Scientist is organising the competition this year for the 5th time. The winner is chosen by an expert jury (50%) and by public votes (50%). The winner will be anounced on Friday 31 May 2019.

Stéphanie van der Pas

How  can you find needles in haystacks, a similar process to identifying genes that cause diseases? How can you refer patients taking part in medical research for a particular treatment so that as few participants as possible are needed to generate reliable results? These are the kinds of problems Van der Pas examines based on her own theoretical-mathematical background to arrive at new methods and guidelines that can be readily applied in practice.

Van der Pas has improved a statistical method for finding needles in haystacks. Her improvements make it possible to zoom in more precisely on the genes that may cause a particular disease, and can also give a good indication of the likelihood of these genes being the cause.  She has made the software available for free so that other researchers can have access to the results. 

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Sandy Overgaauw

How can empathy be used as a protective factor for young people suffering from anxiety, trauma or antisocial behaviour? This is the question Overgaauw wants to answer with her research. She examines not only the behaviour of young people but also what is going on in the brain. 

Cognitive empathy (understanding another person's emotions) can be used both positively and negatively. Overgaauw discovered, for example, a positive link between cognitive empathy and the quality of friendships and a negative link between cognitive behaviour and bullying. But if young people have to share money in an experiment, cognitive empathy can help them gauge how far they can go.  

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