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Gerard van Westen wins KNCV Gold Medal

Gerard van Westen has received the KNCV Gold Medal, the most important Dutch award for chemists under 40. 'It's a huge honour,' says the professor of AI and medicinal chemistry. 'I am now part of the group of people I was always impressed by.'

Van Westen receives the award for his years of research on artificial intelligence (AI) in drug development. He develops and applies various forms of AI to find new drug candidates and research them further.

He never expected to win the prestigious KNCV Gold Medal with his work. 'I am happy that the field is receiving confirmation with this award. It shows that our AI research has become more mainstream.' Winning the Gold Medal doesn’t come with a money prize, but it’s a big honour and it might facilitate contact for future collaborations. 'The recognition might bring new opportunities in the future.'

AI for chemists

At the moment, it is mainly chemical computer scientists who use AI in their research, Van Westen explains. Eventually, he wants to make this technique also available to chemists at the lab table. 'One of the focuses within my group is to create a user interface for chemists. I often say that AI will not replace the scientist but that scientists who do not use AI, will be replaced by those who do.'

‘A fantastic scientist and a great ambassador’

The jury report describes Van Westen as an inspiring mentor and an active educator. 'He is also a strong communicator and is very active in reaching the general public' , the KNCV website states. ‘Gerard has been interviewed in the media many times and is active at societal events and events for primary school pupils. All-in-all, Gerard is a fantastic scientist and a great ambassador for Dutch chemistry. Congratulations to Gerard van Westen on his well-deserved recognition as this year’s winner of the KNCV Gold Medal!'

Word of appreciation

Without the support and supervision of others, Van Westen would not have won the award, according to the professor. Therefore, he would like to thank them. ‘A special thanks to my PhD supervisors Ad IJzerman and Herman van Vlijmen and co-supervisor Andreas Bender, because they gave me freedom to do my research. Of course also to all my colleagues (PhD students, postdocs, students, and technicians) over the years who made the work possible. And finally, Hubertus Irth for the nomination.’

The KNCV Gold Medal is the most important award in the Netherlands for researchers who have done groundbreaking work in the chemistry profession in the broadest sense of the word. The prize is awarded to researchers aged younger than 40, not only to honour their accomplishments but also to predict future chemical triumphs. The KNCV has awarded the Gold Medal to top talents in chemistry in the Netherlands since 1965.

Pictures: Gerrit Vermeulen

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