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Spinoza and Stevin Prizes for three Leiden professors

Three Leiden professors have recently been awarded the most prestigious scientific accolade in the Netherlands: Maria Yazdanbakhsh and Marc Koper have been awarded a Spinoza Prize and Judi Mesman a Stevin Prize. They received their prizes on 13 October.

The researchers are receiving the prizes for their outstanding, groundbreaking and inspiring work. The quality of the researcher is at the forefront of both prizes. Whereas the emphasis of the Spinoza Prize is on scientific work on fundamental questions, the Stevin Prize is primarily for impact on society. The laureates will each receive 2.5 million euros to spend on research and activities on knowledge exchanged and impact. NWO has awarded a total of four Spinoza Prizes and two Stevin Prizes.

The Leiden laureates, on the photo above l-r: Judi Mesman, Marc Koper and Maria Yazdanbakhsh.

Marc Koper - Spinoza Prize

Marc Koper is Professor of Catalysis and Surface Chemistry at the Faculty of Science. He researches how you can use electrical energy to make or break chemical bonds. ‘Electrochemistry is the area of chemistry that studies the relationship between electricity and chemical reactions. These reactions take place in the battery of your mobile phone, for example, but they have a lot more applications, like storing green energy,’ Koper explains. However, more than anything Koper is a man of fundamental science. ‘I came into this field not because I want to improve the world, but because I want to understand at atomic level what happens when you transmit electricity through a chemical fluid.’ NWO is awarding Koper the Spinoza Prize for his crucial contribution to making our energy and the chemical industry more green.

‘In my field there are a lot of open challenges and gaps in our knowledge.’ 
Read the full interview with Marc Koper about his Spinoza Prize

Maria Yazdanbakhsh - Spinoza Prize

Maria Yazdanbakhsh is Professor of Cellular Immunology of Parasitic Infections and Head of the Department of Parasitology at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC). One of her most spectacular discoveries was that although parasites can make people ill, parasitic infections can make our immune system more resilient, particularly against inflammatory diseases such as allergies or diabetes type 2. Her research is making it possible to improve vaccines against parasitic infections and medicines against inflammatory diseases. Yazdanbakhsh has also played an important role in the development of potential vaccines against malaria, which comprise genetically modified malaria parasites. This is a technique where Leiden leads globally, thanks to Yazdanbakhsh’s research. NWO praises her as a scientist who transcends boundaries and who applies the outcomes of laboratory research into clinical trials and field research.

Read the full interview with Maria Yazdanbakhsh about her Spinoza Prize

Judi Mesman - Stevin Prize

Judi Mesman is Professor of the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Challenges and Dean of  Leiden University College The Hague (LUC). What influence do children’s upbringing and education have on their world view? This is the question Professor Judi Mesman is trying to answer. ‘I’m curious how children see themselves and others in terms of such things as sexuality, ethnicity and gender, and how that is shaped by the way significant adults around them treat these issues.’ The Stevin Prize is specifically for researchers who are good at knowledge utilisation. Mesman: ‘I think I’ve been awarded this prize for two reasons: on the one hand, I actively try to use my research for society. I’ve worked with educational publishers, for example, on a study on implicit stereotyping in schoolbooks. And also because in the Netherlands we’re lagging so far behind with this research subject, although it is now high on the societal agenda.’

‘It really is pioneering work, and it’s wonderful that it’s now getting the appreciation it deserves’
Read the full interview with Judi Mesman about her Stevin Prize 

Other laureates

The other two Spinoza Prizes go to José van Dijck, Professor of Media and Digital Society at Utrecht University, and Lieven Vandersypen, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Professor of Quantum Nanoscience at Delft University of Technology and Scientific Director of QuTech. Bart Jacobs, Professor Security, Privacy and Identity at Radboud University Nijmegen, is receiving a Stevin Prize.

For more information about the other laureates, see the NWO website

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