On Wednesday 23 November, Prof. B.L. Feringa, Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Groningen, received a Royal decoration from Dr M. Bussemaker, Minister of Education, Culture and Sciences. Feringa has been appointed Commander in the Order of the Netherlands Lion, an extremely rare honour. This afternoon, the ceremony took place at the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
Ben Feringa (b. Emmen, 1951), who will receive the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry in Sweden on 10 December, is one of the most influential leaders in his field and may rightfully be called the figurehead of Dutch chemistry. His top-level research and inspiring leadership have led to vitally important breakthroughs in chemistry, putting Dutch chemical research at the centre of scientific attention.
Feringa's most spectacular area of research is nanotechnology. In 1999 he succeeded in developing a molecular engine, the nanomotor, consisting of a rotating molecule driven by light. This was generally recognized as a world-class breakthrough. In 2011, the molecular nanocar followed. Last year, Feringa designed a rotating motor molecule that uses chemical energy instead of light, another world-class breakthrough that paves the way for new technological applications, for example in medical science. Ultimately, the potential applications for Feringa's research are manifold, spectacular and of great societal importance.
Feringa is not only recognized for his ground-breaking work on molecular engines, he is also a leading scientist in the areas of catalysis, molecular design, organic synthesis and self-assembly. Feringa often stresses that chemistry is a creative science that not only studies existing substances but also creates new, often functional, molecules and materials. His own functional molecules are a wonderful case in point.
Feringa is one of the most productive scientists in the world, and the quality of his work is consistently high. He has published over 800 academic articles, mostly in leading academic journals, that have been cited more than 37,000 times, and his research has led to 16 patents.
His success in attracting funding is testimony to his important role in science: He has won three TOP grants from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and is one of the drivers of the special NWO Functional Molecular Systems programme. In 2016 he was one of the very few to receive a second ERC Advanced Grant.
Feringa has also earned his spurs in promoting public-private partnerships. In 2016 he played a key role in setting up the Advanced Research Center Chemical Building Blocks Consortium (AR CBBC). The AR CBBC is a research initiative within the framework of the NWO Top Sector Chemistry, with joint investments from the NWO, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Shell, BASF, AkzoNobel, Utrecht University, the University of Groningen and Eindhoven University of Technology. Research into catalysis is its central theme. The AR CBBC will be able to work on the development of new energy carriers, functional materials and coatings for a period of ten years.
In the past eight years alone, Feringa's work received an impressive number of awards and other honours, including a professorship at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008; the Paracelsus Medal in 2008, the Chirality Medal in 2009, the RSC Organic Stereochemistry Award in 2011, the Humboldt Award in 2012, the Marie Curie Medal in 2013, and the Nagoya Gold Medal in 2013. Queen Mathilde of Belgium handed him the Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize in 2015. In 2016 the Tetrahedron Award followed. The greatest, most important recognition, however, is the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which he has been awarded together with Jean-Pierre Sauvage and Sir James Fraser Stoddart.
An inspiring researcher, teacher and supervisor, Feringa contributes to strengthening Dutch science at the highest level. His boundless enthusiasm has inspired an entire generation of future leaders in chemistry. He regards teaching, inspiring and motivating students and young academics as his primary task. He is a great teacher, who has won many teaching awards besides all his research awards, and young academics from around the globe flock to his lab to work with him. There are no fewer than nineteen nationalities present there at the moment. He has supervised well over 100 PhD students and more than 50 postdocs, many of whom were motivated to stay in science thanks to his catchy enthusiasm. Some of them are now researchers in industry, while a number of his former students went on to become professors elsewhere, forming a true 'Feringa school'.
No matter how busy he is, Feringa always finds the time to explain to his team members how he thinks things work and why their research is exciting and important. He is generous to his team, whom he calls "my Messi's", praising them and telling everyone that, without them, his successes would not have been possible. For this reason, he attends as many joint academic and social activities as possible. Feringa demonstrates the importance of collaborating in a diverse team. His own team is diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, and academic discipline, and chemists in this team work together with biologists and physicists. The number of women in science is still disappointingly low, but Feringa has always supported and encouraged women in chemistry. A number of these women now hold good positions in academic research, while others have management positions at leading pharmaceutical companies.
Besides being a top scientist, Feringa is also an extraordinarily active, experienced and passionate administrator, another reason why he is of great importance to the research community. He has held several administrative positions at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Although one might argue that administrative work is simply part of a professor's job, his interpretation of that work far exceeds this position. Many of his colleagues view him as a unifying leader.
Feringa is an avid advocate of Dutch fundamental scientific research as the indispensable breeding ground for new materials and technologies. Despite his busy schedule, he finds the time to speak at public events about his area of research and the importance and beauty of fundamental science. Last July, for instance, he gave a dazzling lecture in Barger Compascuum, his place of birth. Secondary school pupils can always count on an enthusing lecture.
Ben Feringa was appointed Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion in 2008. Today, he was promoted to Commander in the Order of the Netherlands Lion.
Carlijn van Beek has won the 2021 Golden Master Award for her Master’s research. She is Master’s student in Chemistry at the University of Groningen (UG). The award has been granted by the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society (KNCV) since 2009.
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