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These Science students excelled and won a KHMW Young Talent Prize

No fewer than seven Leiden FWN students received a Young Talent Award from the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences on Monday, 29 November. Mark van den Bosch and Karlijn Kruiswijk won a graduation prize, a group of young astronomers won the ET Outreach Award and the other five students each received an incentive prize for their achievements in the first year of study.

Mark van Den Bosch won the ASML Graduation Prize for Mathematics. He received the prize for his master's thesis on models for processes with delayed negative feedback. Mark explains: 'For example, think about how the concentration of white or red blood cells in your blood changes over time. The beauty of these kinds of systems is that they are almost always in equilibrium.'

Negative feedback

In a process with negative feedback, an increase in the concentration of blood cells in the blood, causes the process to be inhibited. In this case, for example, a high concentration of blood cells will send a signal to the brain to stop making additional cells.

Outdated models improved

Mark made the models more realistic by incorporating uncertainty. 'We added so-called noise,' he explains. This way, the models no longer neglect small internal and external influences to the process. That’s important because all these small influences together could well make a significant difference.’

Adding this noise did make the models quite a bit more complicated. Mark: ‘Still, with some toil and sweat, we managed to show that solutions of these more realistic models still maintain a nice equilibrium, as long as the noise does not take over. Exactly what you would also expect in real life.’

Amazing skills and a great drive

Supervisor Onno van Gaans considers the level of Mark's thesis to be exceptionally high. 'The proof Mark provides is ingenious,' he says. 'He combines a very detailed and complex analysis of this type of equation with advanced techniques from probability theory.'

'Mark has theoretical insight, literature knowledge and amazing skills, which he combines with a great drive.'

Van Gaans further praises Mark's efforts to make the thesis accessible to a broad mathematical audience, and the breadth and scope of the research. 'Mark has deep theoretical insights, great literature knowledge and amazing mathematical skills. He combines this with a practical sense of simulations and a drive to make his work really relevant to problems outside mathematics. In short, a rightful winner!'

Promoting on noise

Mark never dared to dream that he would win the graduation prize. ‘After I was called, I needed at least a day to let everything sink in,’ he says. Mark remains in Leiden for his PhD, which again has to do with the subject of noise. ‘I am investigating how you can mathematically describe moving patterns under the influence of noise. This is useful for all sorts of scientific phenomena, such as chemical reactions.’

The ASML Graduation Prize for Mathematics consists of 5,000 euros.

These Leiden first-year students won a Young Talent Incentive Award

The KHMV annually awards 56 incentive prizes for the best study results in the first year of study. The prize money is 500 euro and is sponsored by various partners.

In Leiden, the following first-year students received an award.

  • Gijs van der Velden - Biology
  • Dominique Lawson - Mathematics
  • Tobias Lewerissa - Physics
  • Lieke Vertegaal - Computer Science
  • Willemijn van der Heijden - Biopharmaceutical Sciences

Quantum versus gravity

Former physics student Karlijn Kruiswijk was also pleasantly surprised to receive her award: the second prize for the Shell Graduation Prize for Physics. Karlijn found a way to calculate faster the so-called back reaction of quantum fields on gravity. 'Gravity affects how quantum particles move, but those particles in turn also change gravity,' she explains. 'So to determine the final effect of this process, you have to constantly alternate and calculate these two influences. That requires a lot of computing power, though. I've been working on a way to be able to calculate this back reaction in a single run.'

Fundamental research, which Karlijn says helps us better understand the interaction between the quantum world and general relativity. ‘Which, in its turn, is essential to our understanding of the evolution of our universe.’

Technical talent and a sense of adventure

Karlijn is currently working on her PhD at the Université Catholique de Louvian, Belgium. Here, she is working on detecting low-energy neutrinos origination from different types of gamma-ray bursts.

'Karlijn has one of the most important qualities to become a successful researcher: a sense of adventure!'

In any case, thesis supervisor Subodh Patil is confident that she will succeed. ‘Karlijn is a highly ambitious and curious young researcher,’ he says. ‘The problem I presented to her was uncharted territory for her, but she immediately got to work. Apart from being technically very strong, this shows me that Karlijn has one of the most important qualities to become a successful researcher – a sense of adventure! Her results are sufficiently novel and important to warrant publication, an accomplishment typical of only the very best master’s students.’

The second prize for the Shell Graduation Prize for Physics consists of 2,000 euros.

Design your own alien

A group of young researchers from the Leiden Observatory won the ET Outreach Award from the De Zeeuw-van Dishoeck Fund, the prize for the best idea for public engagement. With the project Climate and Astronomy - Design Your Own Alien they got children to think about how aliens on the moon or other planets would look like. 'It gives children a new perspective on the universe and the Earth and makes them aware of how special the climate and life on Earth is,' the jury said. The project group consists of PhD students Anniek Gloudemans, Amy Louca and Martijn Wilhelm, postdoc Katharina Immer, staff members Michelle Willebrands and Sanne van Gammeren, researcher Violette Impellizzeri and master's students Frank Rensen and Sharon Diamant.


The KHMW presented the Young Talent Awards live during an online broadcast on Monday, November 29. You can find the report, including video clips, on the website:

 rReport Young Talent Prize award ceremony, 29 November 2021 | KHMW

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