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Daniela Kraft appointed professor of Experimental Physics

Daniela Kraft and her research are a familiar fixture at the Leiden Institute of Physics (LION). Both have been awarded fellowships, grants and frequent media coverage. Effective July 1, Kraft has been appointed professor of Experimental physics, particularly in soft and biological matter.

Soft matter is all around us: from fluids to bacteria to proteins. Kraft and her team investigate such objects’ self-organisation, a phenomenon where chaotic systems order themselves spontaneously. It’s a process that allows water to freeze into ice, bacteria to move together, and proteins to arrange themselves into functional structures.

Daniela Kraft

Too complex for a mathematical model

But observations in biology are often too complex to describe mathematically. 'All the working parts and interactions make it difficult to determine which processes are important for self-organisation,' says Kraft. 'All those details are hard to capture in a mathematical model.'

Uncovering fundamental physics principles

Fortunately, there’s another way. By conducting experiments with simplified model systems, Kraft and her team can still uncover the underlying physics. To do this, Kraft uses so-called colloids, microscopic particles whose shape and interactions can be precisely controlled. ‘By leaving out unnecessary details, you can learn a lot about the driving forces behind self-organisation.'

Original and creative

Kraft considers the appointment a recognition of her work and research. Jan Aarts, scientific director of LION, praises her for her originality, creativity and independence. 'We are extremely pleased with this well-deserved appointment.'

Women in science

Outside of her research and teaching, Kraft tries to engage society in science. Recently, her lab shared the wonders of micro-printing by creating the world's smallest boat and smallest Rembrandt. Furthermore, she is also committed to promoting women in science. For this, she received the Athena Prize in 2019.

In this respect, her appointment forms a step in the right direction. ‘I hope this will have an impact on our collective perception, that it’s normal to have women in science.’ The importance of this was highlighted recently at her daughter’s elementary school. ‘I was telling the children about my work to show that girls can be scientists, too. Afterwards, a boy asked: ‘can men also be scientists?’ So clearly our earliest impressions are important!’

Daniela Kraft studied Physics in Würzburg, Germany, and at the University of Texas in the United States. For her PhD research in physical chemistry at Utrecht University, she explored soft and biological systems. With a Rubicon grant from NWO she then worked as a postdoc at the Center for Soft Matter Research in New York. In 2013 she returned to the Netherlands to start her own research group in soft and biological matter in Leiden.

Text: Serafine Beugelink

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