On Friday 21 April 2017, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry Ria Braam has been presented with a Royal Decoration by Mr M.J.F.J. Thijsen, Mayor of the municipality of Tynaarlo. She has been appointed Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion.
The ceremony has taken place in the Academy Building in Groningen, where a farewell symposium has been organized to mark her retirement.
As professor of Theoretical Chemistry, Ria Braam (Marum, 1951) studies the electron structure and associated properties of molecules. She has played a leading role in her field since 1985, acquiring considerable international recognition and respect along the way. She has also made major inroads on a wider scale: deploying her talents to realize hugely successful teaching and research programmes at European level, spending years developing the national and international computer infrastructure for the benefit of academic practice in the Netherlands, and helping to improve the position of women in academia. With her amiable personality, clear and unprejudiced analyses, humour and dedication, she naturally inspires the people around her to work towards a common goal.
Right from the start, Braam had a unique approach to complex chemical theory: she shunned the dubious strategies needed to secure quick publications, choosing instead to stick to her chosen fundamental quantum mechanical principles. She was convinced that the development of increasingly powerful computer facilities would eventually make this possible. The advanced computing methods and programmes required were designed and implemented by her own research group, and still are.
Braam played a leading role at both Dutch and international level in the modernization of large-scale computing facilities. Powerful computing and data processing facilities are a must ; not only in theoretical natural sciences, but in every branch of science and technology. Some applications demand the most powerful machines with the biggest memories available, widely known as super-computers. Realizing and providing these facilities requires cooperation and the pooling of resources at both national and international level. Braam was the first, and until now the only, woman to be appointed to various positions in this traditionally male enclave on the strength of her knowledge and experience. She never lost sight of the wider context and common interests, operating way beyond the boundaries of her personal interests as a researcher.
An important part of Braam’s work is her research into magnetic interactions in molecules. Together with her European colleagues, she set up a dedicated European research network of prominent researchers from France, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. Recent major developments in nanomaterials and nanotechnology are making this work increasingly relevant, and interest in the topic continues to grow.
Braam has an impressive list of high-quality publications relating to her field. Her book entitled Magnetic Interactions in Molecules and Solids, a textbook aimed specifically at students, has become a standard work in her field.
She also played an exceptional role in arranging education grants so that large numbers of talented international students would have an opportunity to follow a programme or continue their studies in the Netherlands. Her pioneering role, often as the only female researcher in this field, has been widely recognized, as is evident from her election as a member of the prestigious International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science (IAQMS).
In collaboration with a number of European sister organizations in theoretical and computational chemistry, Braam played a prominent role in establishing a European Master’s degree programme. The task was far from simple; it initially involved over 40 teaching groups. In her own inimitable way, a modest but determined Braam played a decisive part in realizing this unique project. The programme was selected as an Erasmus Mundus Master’s programme, so substantial funding became available for selecting talented young people from outside Europe, who would otherwise have little chance of taking a university programme due to their poor social-economic position. She is well-known for focusing a lot of attention on both the study progress and the welfare of these students.
Braam never tires of working to improve women’s chances of building an academic career. She is always equally determined, whether she does this in her formal capacity as a member of the selection committee for Rosalind Franklin Fellows or as a mentor, or on her own initiative. She also serves as a role model. Thanks to financial and professional support from the Dutch Network of Women Professors (LNVH), she instigated a peer-review system for women professors. Her most recent activity in this respect was to organize FemEx-Nederland 2017 (22-25 June). One of the main ambitions of this special international academic conference is to give female academics working in the field of theoretical and computational chemistry an opportunity to meet and swap experiences.
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