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C.J. Kok Public Award

The Faculty of Science grants two C.J. Kok awards each year: the C.J. Kok Public Award, also known as the award for the ‘Discoverer of the Year’, and the C.J. Kok Jury Award, the award for the best PhD thesis from the past year. All institutes within the faculty are given the opportunity to nominate candidates for both awards.

Nominees 2018

'Jupiter hides its secrets very well. In the upcoming years, we hope to lift the veil a bit.'

The deep storms that rage on Jupiter

It is the biggest planet in our solar system, and you can easily see it with a small telescope from your backyard. Still we don’t know much about Jupiter’s inner composition and dynamics. Yamila Miguel used data of NASA’s Juno spacecraft to take a deeper look than ever into the gas giant. She discovered that the winds on Jupiter extend to a depth of about 3000 kilometres, defying some previous theories about the planet.

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‘When we started working on the new research field of nanomaterials, I could hardly explain it to my students. But I thought it would be interesting. And I was not disappointed'

Programming mechanical metamaterials

Folding a map or a package insert can be difficult. The order in which you make the folds matters. Martin van Hecke designed a rubber object which does not have that problem. When you push on the sides, it elegantly folds itself step-by-step into a small, neat package. This self-folding object is one of the clever metamaterials Van Hecke designed.

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‘The plant hormone auxin does not show itself easily. We are like Sherlock Holmes; trying to track it down using models and targeted measurements.’

Interdisciplinary research on mathematical models for biological systems

The effectiveness of antibiotics and the transport of the plant hormone auxin: both can be described using mathematical models. Sander Hille is a mathematician who works at the cutting edge of biology and mathematics. His interdisciplinary research is both fundamental and applied. When working on fundamental mathematics such as stochastics or measures, Hille always has long-term applications in mind.

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‘What we want is some kind of certificate that shows consumers, companies and governments alike: this software will do exactly what it is supposed to do.’

Preventing errors in critical systems

When you are driving a car, you expect the software hidden under the dashboard to function properly. If a bug in the software suddenly causes the brakes to malfunction, you are in big trouble. Alfons Laarman studies how we can efficiently guarantee that software is free from errors, an issue that requires specific attention when lives depend on it.

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‘The research tools we identified to understand how cannabis-like synthetic drugs work will improve preclinical trials and reduce the need for animal experiments.’

Order in attempts to develop cannabis-like medicines

Cannabis-like synthetic drugs may inhibit pain and inflammation, but their development is hampered by insufficient knowledge about the cellular receptor in the human body that such drugs should activate. Marjolein Soethoudt focused her PhD research on this receptor. She developed better molecular tools to investigate it, and published a high-impact paper in Nature Communications. She graduated in April this year.

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‘Now that we better understand what happens to drug-delivering nanoparticles after injection, it is possible to design better methods to apply them and to increase their potential.’

Improving the design of drug-delivering nanoparticles

Within minutes after administration, most nanoparticles that were intended to deliver drugs to specific tissues will have disappeared from the blood. Jeroen Bussmann showed that they are destroyed by specialised scavenger cells in liver blood vessel walls, and found a way to prevent this. His publication in ACS Nano in February 2018 was elected that month’s best paper in the journals of the American Chemical Society.

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‘Our model is a promising start in unravelling the interplay between the gut microbe community and the immune state of the host.’

A start in overhearing the communication between our gut bacteria

In recent years, medical research has revealed how important the microbes in our gut are to our health. It would therefore be interesting to thoroughly unravel the interplay between microbes and body cells. Bjørn Koch made a good start by developing a versatile model to study that interplay. In Nature Communications he described how the gut microbe community affects the immune state of the host.

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‘A change in food choice is feasible, and could be realised much faster than technological solutions to environmental problems.’

We can reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by cutting down meat consumption

By adopting national dietary guidelines, people would improve not only their personal health status but, in most countries, also planetary health, as Paul Behrens and colleagues show. Their PNAS publication happened to appear around New Year’s Eve last year, when people were making new resolutions. ‘That may have been one of the reasons for the extensive media coverage of our paper’, Behrens says.

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