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KNAW appoints Prof. Liesbeth de Vries and Prof. Eric Bergshoeff Academy Professors

29 April 2010

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) has appointed Prof. Liesbeth de Vries, professor of medical oncology (RUG/UMCG) and Prof. Eric Bergshoeff, professor of theoretical physics as Academy Professors. Each Academy Professor is awarded the amount of EUR 1 million so that they can devote themselves 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.

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

Prof. Liesbeth de Vries

Prof. Liesbeth de Vries has been appointed Academy Professor owing to her pioneering research within a very wide spectrum of medical oncology. She is a prominent international researcher and develops and implements new techniques in both scientific research and patient care.
De Vries is the head of the department of Medical Oncology at the UMCG. Her research is mainly devoted to methods to enable personal, individual treatments for cancer patients. She uses interdisciplinary research to improve the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer and other conditions. She also conducts a lot of research on molecular technologies to determine the exact spot where medication is the most effective, for example in breast cancer.
In 1997 she was appointed the first female professor of Medical Oncology in the Netherlands; she was also the first woman at the time to head a department of Medical Oncology in a Dutch university hospital.

Prof. Eric Bergshoeff

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.
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.

Last modified:27 November 2019 10.28 a.m.
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