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2016 Nobel Lectures: Feringa steals the show in Stockholm

Datum:08 december 2016
Auteur:Riepko Buikema
Feringa steals the show in Stockholm
Feringa steals the show in Stockholm

He flies like a Boeing across the stage. Illustrates the wings of a bird with huge arm gestures. This morning, Ben Feringa’s greatest wish seems to have been to jump off the stage and take his audience with him into the wonderful world of molecular motors. ‘I’m living my dream, you know’, he says excitedly.

He doesn’t spend a single second behind the lectern. He is constantly trying to make contact with the audience. In his enthusiasm, it’s even possible to discern the typically Groningen ‘Ja’ in the sentences he particularly wants to emphasize.

This outstanding researcher is also a born teacher. We from Groningen knew that already, of course, certainly after his impassioned performance in the wonderful surroundings of our own Martinikerk. Here in the Aula Magna of Stockholm University, the audience visibly comes to life as Feringa steps onto the stage.

He talks passionately about the future possibilities of his scientific work. About his dreams of laser-guided chemotherapy that precisely and only works on the tumour.

Feringa works his way closer and closer to the edge of the stage. Another step and he’ll be in the hall itself.

What a difference from the presentations of his fellow laureates. Of course I’m not objective – but what a difference from physicist F. Duncan M. Haldane (who looks like a friendly cartoon professor with untidy Einstein curls down his neck) who, realizing that he’d lost most of the audience during the first slide, apologized profusely at the end of his lecture.

Not Feringa. Like a true ambassador, he introduces us to Sibrandus Stratingh, Jacobus van ‘t Hoff and Hans Wijnberg, Dutch windmills and wearing clogs on his parents’ farm. He captivates his audience with moving images of ‘sugar-fuelled nano-swimmers’ and his predictions about cars with self-repairing lacquer and walls that can adapt to the atmosphere of Christmas or a children’s party.

Will it ever become reality? Feringa doesn’t know the answer, and instead quotes the American scientist Alan Kay: The best way to predict the future, is to invent it. He sends the young researchers in the hall back to their labs with the message: imagine the unimaginable.

The cherry on the cake is when the three chemistry laureates, Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Ben Feringa, take the stage together. A deafening ovation fills the beautiful Aula.

 

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