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Ben Feringa receives Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize

18 November 2015
Prof Ben Feringa

Ben Feringa, Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Groningen, will today (18 November) be presented with the Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize by Queen Mathilde of Belgium. He will be awarded the prize, which includes prize money of € 300,000, for his pioneering research into molecular motors.

‘I am absolutely delighted’, said Feringa. ‘This prize is awarded to people who have made a fundamental contribution to chemistry. It is obviously a huge honour to be considered one of them. But it also serves as recognition for my team and the scores of young researchers who have worked in my laboratories over the past years.’

Nobel Prizewinners in the jury

The prize is awarded by a jury of eminent scientists, including two winners of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. The head judge is Håkan Wennerström, former chair of the Swedish Nobel committee for chemistry. The jury elects a winner from nominations made by top scientists and academic societies. This year’s prize has been awarded to Feringa for his pioneering research into molecular motors.

Molecular car

In 1999, Feringa published the first, light-propelled molecular motor that could accomplish full rotation. Fifty to sixty new motors followed, and 2011 his ‘molecular car’, comprising four motor molecules, featured on the cover of the scientific journal Nature.

Various applications

Feringa is also working on various other applications. ‘There is still a lot of work to do, but we are making good progress.’ For example, a molecular switch based on the motor molecule has been built into an antibiotic in order to switch it on or off as required. In addition, Feringa’s group also produced ‘molecular turbines, which can be attached to a surface: a park of nano turbines that rotate when touched by light.

Regular breakthroughs

‘Countless groups are currently working on molecular switches and motors’, explains Feringa. But he still manages to make regular breakthroughs. In October of this year, he published an article in Nature Chemistry about the first non-symmetric molecular motor, which works in the same way as an axle with two wheels.

As well as his work on molecular motors, Feringa is also researching catalysts that induce chemical reactions in an environmentally sound manner, and developing ‘smart drugs’, such as the switchable antibiotic.

Second edition of the Solvay Prize

This is the second edition of the Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize. In 2013, the prize went to Peter G. Schultz, professor at the Scripps Research Institute in California and Director of the California Institute for Biomedical Research, for his research conducted on the cutting edge of biology and chemistry. Schultz pioneered an artificial genetic code that allows new amino acids to be built into proteins.

Long tradition

The Solvay concern and the Solvay family have a long tradition of sponsoring fundamental research. Biennial Solvay Conferences in the field of physics and chemistry have been held for more than a century. Top scientists are invited to the conference to speak on specific topics. In 2007, Feringa attended a Solvay Conference about supramolecular chemistry and molecular motors, and he will attend the next edition in 2016, when catalysis will be on the programme.

More information

More information about the Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize is available on the website: http://www.solvay.com/en/innovation/solvay-prize/index.html

Information about Ben Feringa can be found on the University of Groningen website: http://www.rug.nl/news-and-events/people-perspectives/scientists-in-focus/feringa

About Ben Feringa

Ben Feringa (1951) has been a professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Groningen since 1988. His research has generated countless publications. In 2004 he was presented with the Spinoza Prize, the highest academic prize to be awarded in the Netherlands. In 2008, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) appointed him as an ‘Academy Professor’.

Feringa's research has been rewarded with numerous accolades, including the Koerber European Science Award (2003), the Prelog Gold Medal (2005), the Norrish Award of the ACS (2007), the Paracelsus Medal (2008 ), the Chirality Medal (2009), the RSC Organic Stereochemistry Award (2011), the German Humboldt Award (2012), the Science Grand Prix 2015 of the Simone and Cino del Duca Foundation (French Academy 2012), the Marie Curie Medal (2013) and the Japanese Nagoya Gold Medal (2013).

His research field covers stereochemistry, organic synthesis, asymmetric catalysis, photopharma, molecular switches and motors, self-assembly and molecular nanosystems.

Last modified:27 November 2015 2.16 p.m.
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