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What Spinoza winners Ellemers, Sluiter and Franx will do with €2.5 million

On Monday 27 September 2010 Spinoza prize winners Naomi Ellemers, Ineke Sluiter, Marijn Franx (Leiden) and Piet Gros (Utrecht) announced their plans for their €2.5 million prize money. This was during the official ceremony in The Hague, at which the outgoing Secretary of State for Education, Culture and Science, Marja van Bijsterveldt, presented them with their prizes.

Pioneering and inspiring

Psychologist Naomi Ellemers, astronomer Marijn Franx, classicist Ineke Sluiter and chemist Piet Gros received the prize for their excellent, pioneering and inspiring research. The laureates are internationally renowned and know how to inspire young researchers.


Expensive measurement techniques

Naomi Ellemers

Ellemers summarises her plans for the prize money as follows: ‘In our studies we look at how people are influenced by the groups to which they belong. They are not always aware of this happening or do not want to admit it. Traditional measurement techniques such as interviews and questionnaires are therefore not always much use. Measuring brain activity with techniques such as EEG and fMRI makes it possible to look at the process directly. We can then see what the influence of others is before people are even aware of it themselves. These are expensive measurement techniques and money from the NWO Spinoza Prize will enable me to use them.’

Reinforcing the pyramid

Ineke Sluiter

With the Spinoza Prize Sluiter aims to reinforce the whole pyramid of the study of Classical Antiquity: a new dictionary for grammar school pupils and BA students, master classes, PhD and postdoctoral positions for the more advanced and top interdisciplinary research on the theme of language and identity. Sluiter: ‘With the aid of experts from the fields of linguistics, literary theory, social sciences and evolution theory I am looking at different cultural scenarios for the relationship between individual and group, for example religious conversion, coming-out and passing, which is assuming an identity that conventionally speaking is not your own. These are scenarios in which values such as courage or free expression of ideas play a significant role.’

Playing the language card

‘For my research I use literary sources from antiquity. I am particularly interested in times when participants in these debates "play the language card". By this I mean that they appear to be considering their position in the world on the basis of their ideas about how language works or should work.’

Old galaxy in the young universe

Marijn Franx

Franx studies distant galaxies. The light from such star systems has been travelling for so long it enables him to see how they looked at a much younger age. He and his group discovered that there are already old galaxies in the young universe, but for unknown reasons they did not form any new stars. They also proved a great deal heavier although smaller than today’s star systems. The only explanation for this is that when galaxies collided, they ‘ate each other up’, as it were. Franx is the second Leiden astronomer to receive a Spinoza Prize: Ewine van Dishoeck preceded him in 2000.

Permanent exhibition

Franx broke a new distance record in 2009 with the revised Hubble Space Telescope. He intends to use his prize money for measurements with Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope. He is staying level-headed: ‘I am continuing my research on the evolution of galaxies. We’ll see what comes out of it in five or six years’ time.’ Franx is also looking into the possibility of using his prize money to set up a permanent exhibition on the position of humans in the cosmos.

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