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Bergshoeff appointed Academy Professor by Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences

27 April 2010

Prof. Eric Bergshoeff, professor Theoretical Physics at the University of Groningen has been appointed an Academy Professor by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). An Academy Professor is awarded the amount of EUR 1 million so he can devote himself entirely to innovative research and the supervision of young researchers.

The appointment is for a period of five years. During this period, Academy Professors are released by their university from administrative duties.

The KNAW appointed three other Academy Professors: Prof. Liesbeth de Vries (medical oncology (University of Groningen / UMCG), Prof. Michiel van der Klis (astronomy, University of Amsterdam) and Joep Leerssen (modern European literature, University of Amsterdam).

On Thursday 29 April, Robbert Dijkgraaf, president of the KNAW, will personally congratulate the two Groningen Academy Professors on their appointment.  


Prof. Eric Bergshoeff has made important contributions to scientific breakthroughs in the field of string theory and membranes. He is an internationally renowned scientist whose ideas have heavily influenced the field and its development. Throughout his career Bergshoeff has been an innovative researcher, and his development of brane theory has had a lasting influence on theoretical and mathematical physics.

Physics on microscopic and cosmic scale

In his inaugural lecture in 2002, Bergshoeff described the development of string theory over the previous 25 years. It has long been a thorn in the side of theoretical physicists that the laws of physics in the world of atoms and molecules cannot be reconciled with the laws that explain the development of the universe. At a microscopic scale, these laws are determined by quantum mechanics whereas at a cosmic scale Einstein’s laws of gravity play an all-encompassing role.

This would not actually be a problem were it not for the fact that just after the creation of the universe, a fraction of a moment after the big bang, the tiny and the huge were inextricably linked and quantum mechanics and gravity were therefore forced into a marriage. One possible explanation for such a marriage is string theory, based on the assumption that particles in nature, such as the electron, are not point particles but the oscillations of tiny strings. This assumption makes it possible for quantum mechanics and gravity to peacefully coexist.


In 1986, Bergshoeff and his colleagues Sezgin and Townsend challenged the basic assumptions of string theory and asked themselves: can point particles also be regarded as oscillations of membranes? Shortly after, they published a now famous article showing that it is mathematically possible to work with membranes as an alternative to strings. The membrane proposal was initially greeted with scepticism, but in the 1990s it became clear that strings and membranes describe different facets of one and the same underlying theory, known as M-theory. In the meantime, M-theory has led to many surprising applications in often unexpected research fields, such as the interface with cosmology.

Short C.V.

After gaining his PhD he worked at the Brandeis University in Boston (US), at the ICTP in Trieste (Italy) and at the CERN in Geneva (Switzerland). In 1986 he and his colleagues Sezgin and Townsend published an article that has achieved fame, in which they proposed an alternative idea on string theory. They argued that it was mathematically possible to use membranes instead of strings. Later, this idea developed into the M-theory that was applied in many unforeseen ways by different disciplines.
Bergshoeff has worked at the University of Groningen since 1991. He was awarded the Nicolaas Mulerius stipendium in 2006 and was appointed the named chair 'De Sitter'in December 2009. He has published over 135 articles and is linked to several Dutch and international organizations in the field of physics.

Last modified:31 January 2017 11.13 p.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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