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C.J. Kok Jury Award

What makes a thesis a winning one? The members of the jury make their selection based on the thesis itself and the corresponding recommendation, which is usually written by the (co)promotor of the PhD student or his or her scientific director.

Nominees for 2018

‘We are starting to understand that galaxies – even those in the very distant universe – can no longer be treated as simple dots of light, ignoring the resolved structure we see.’

Identifying the origins of galaxy formation

Cosmic mist, first-generation stars and state-of-the-art computer simulations made clear that distant galaxies are much more than just simple dots in the sky. By investigating galaxies from the past, astronomer Jorryt Matthee from Leiden Observatory hopes to answer questions about the origin of galaxies, such as our own Milky Way.

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‘The discovery of a sterile neutrino will significantly change our whole research area. I hope my research will hasten this moment.’

The search for mysterious particles

Kyrylo Bondarenko from the Leiden Institute of Physics contributes to the search for sterile neutrino’s. These mysterious particles would explain three fundamental questions in particle physics. His predictions are currently used by a large collaboration of 52 scientific institutes. ‘If a sterile neutrino is discovered, it will significantly change our whole research area.’

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‘I find it fascinating how cells, that behave as individual units, can somehow together create intricate patterns and functioning tissues.'

The maths behind our cells

Using mathematics to unravel biological processes: mathematician Lisanne Rens built a mathematical model to study the mechanisms that drive tissue shaping. Her model bridges different biological scales, from molecules to cells to entire tissues. ‘It’s fascinating how cells, that behave as individual units, can somehow together create intricate patterns and functioning tissues.’

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'Our new advancements are applicable for many real-world problems, like the vehicle routing problem where we want to minimize the costs in the delivery service or calculate the quickest route for an ambulance.'

Making problem solving more efficient

Brand new doctor Hao Wang from the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science teaches computer programmes how to solve real world problems. His goal is to make the process of problem-solving more efficient. On 1 November he obtained his doctorate with the predicate cum laude. ‘I hope to solve difficult problems we haven't been able to solve so far.’

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‘This research is the starting base for developing synthetic, sugar-based vaccines without pathogens, that bear no risk of making the vaccinated person ill.'

Sugar synthesis: the making of safer vaccines

The research of Qingju Zhang of the Leiden Institute of Chemistry is sweet. He namely studies carbohydrates and glycans, better known as sugars. Zhang made several discoveries that among others will contribute to the development of carbohydrate-based vaccines. Zhang: ‘This research is the starting point to develop safer vaccines.’

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‘I want to enhance the predictive value of lab assays for final efficiency in the patient. Ultimately, better assays contribute to bringing novel safe medicine to patients faster.’

Drug binding kinetics as predictor of for potential medicines

Faster development of efficacious medicines; that is the goal of molecular pharmacologist Maarten Doornbos of the Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research. He wants to find out which mechanisms influence the binding of drugs to a promising drug target in the body. That way, it will become easier to predict whether a potential drug will be effective or not. ‘I hope to speed up the process of drug development.’

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‘I was able to enhance the performances of Streptomyces bacteria, which produce antibiotics and valuable enzymes. My discoveries could contribute to the availability of cheaper or novel products, like antibiotics.’

Tinkering with bacterial production

Biotechnologist Boris Zacchetti enhanced the performances of Streptomyces bacteria, which are used to produce antibiotics and valuable enzymes. He discovered that certain genes are responsible for the formation of particles with highly different sizes, which has a negative impact on production performances. ‘My discoveries could contribute to the availability of cheaper or novel products for consumers.’

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‘By focusing on cheater plants, my colleagues and I gained better insights on how green plants work together with the beneficial fungi at their roots, as part of one of the most widespread mutualisms on our planet.’

Cheating belowground interactions - Diversity, ecology and distribution of cheater plants

Hearing the word ‘cheating’, people are most likely to think about human or animal behaviour. But did you know plants can cheat too? Microbiologist Sofia Fernandes Gomes studied plants that deceive the fungi with whom they live together. In the future, these plants may act as indicator species for soil and forest health.

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Main criteria for assessment are:

  • The scientific quality, such as innovative content for its field of research, other disciplines and science in general. 
  • Do the research results bear direct relevance to society? 
  • Is the thesis easily accessible and clearly written? 
  • Career prospects after being promoted are also considered in the jury’s assessment, if this information is available. 

Members of the 2018 jury are professors Carel ten Cate, Miranda van Eck, Bas Edixhoven, Mark Koper and Koen Kuijken.

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