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C.J. Kok Jury Award for Thesis of the Year

Isotopes on exoplanets, a more efficient memory for data centres or new molecules that work against the Zika virus and HIV. Which PhD candidate has written the most impressive dissertation of 2023? The jury of the C.J. Kok Jury Award faces the challenging task of deciding that. Meet the nominees of the award for the Thesis of the Year 2023.

Shubhamoy Nandan

Mathematical Institute

Microorganisms that temporarily ‘go to sleep’ play an important role in the evolution and survival of a population. Mathematician Shubhamoy Nandan conducted research on the effect of this characteristic called ‘dormancy’ in a novel mathematical model.

‘This model enables us to determine which of the genetic types will survive in the long term.’

Read more about Nandan's research.


Bregje Brinkman

Leiden Institute of Environmental Sciences

How safe are the nanoparticles in transparent sunscreen, anti-odour socks and bacteria-resistant plasters? Although microbes are present on all organisms, the tools that estimate the safety of nanomaterials still hardly take them into account. Bregje Brinkmann explored the role of these microbes. Can they protect us?

‘We expect that microbes can protect organisms from the inflammatory effects of these nanoparticles.’

Read more about Brinkman’s research.


Anne Dirkson

Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Sciences

Patients on patient forums share all sorts of things about their illness: from side effects and advice to messages of support. Anne Dirkson uses artificial intelligence (AI) to retrieve this information.

‘Ninety per cent of the side effects weren’t officially registered.’

Read more about Dirkson's research.


Yapeng Zhang

Leiden Observatory

Planets existing in other solar systems contain invaluable information about the origin of planets and life. Yapeng Zhang has studied their atmospheres by looking at their smallest parts: isotopes. With her research she hopes to discover what makes our own solar system unique.

‘The eight planets in our own solar system merely show a glimpse of the universe's possibilities.’

Read more about Zhang’s research.


Remko Fermin

Leiden Institute of Physics

Listening to music on Spotify or watching Netflix or YouTube: few of us realise that CO2 is released in the process. This is because online services are stored on servers in data centres, and they guzzle energy. Physicist Remko Fermin researched methods to make the memory in data centres more energy efficient.

‘As a proof of concept we made a one bit superconducting memory element.’

Read more about Fermins research.


Niek van Hilten

Leiden Institute of Chemistry

A single tiny molecule that can destroy flu, corona, HIV and Zika viruses? Yes, it really does exist. An algorithm that mimics evolution has produced protein molecules that work against Zika and HIV in the laboratory. Biophysicist Niek van Hilten, contributed to this discovery.

‘Finding out some of our proteins proved effective against Zika and HIV was the best moment of my PhD.’

Read more about Van Hilten's research.


Inge van der Knaap

Institute of Biology Leiden

She narrowly defied bureaucracy and spent days angling for cod. In the North Sea, marine biologist Inge van der Knaap discovered that noise significantly disturbs fish behaviour. ‘There is now a lot of attention for underwater noise.’

‘We almost only see fish on our plates, we can’t empathise with them very well. I want to make sure we know how they are doing under the conditions we as humans create.’

Read more about Van der Knaaps research.


Bert Beerkens

Leiden Academic Cenre for Drug Research

Before researchers can develop targeted drugs, they need to know exactly how a disease works. Biochemist Bert Beerkens created molecules that allow them to find out exactly that. He used caffeine as the basis for new molecules that enable research into certain receptor proteins on cells.

‘Click chemistry turned out to be the solution. It works just like Lego.’

Read more about Beerkens’s research.

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