Prof. Eric Bergshoeff was made a Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion on Friday. Deputy mayor Ton Schoor of the Municipality of Groningen conferred the award on him during the Scanning New Horizons Symposium.
Eric Bergshoeff (Alphen aan de Rijn, 1955), Professor of Theoretical High-Energy Physics at the UG, has an international reputation as a brilliant, leading scientist in the field of theoretical physics with a career that spans more than 30 years. This field consists of the study of interactions between the very smallest particles in nature.
Within theoretical physics Bergshoeff has made groundbreaking contributions to string theory, a mathematical model for the elementary building blocks of nature. This theory aims to unify Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum physics. These theories influence our daily life in numerous ways, for instance in the field of electronics and GPS navigation. Bergshoeff has expanded the research into strings – a kind of vibrating elastic bands that are too minuscule to see – to include vibrating membranes, and has thus been responsible for a major breakthrough in the development and direction of the field. Following in the footsteps of the acclaimed Willem de Sitter, a Groningen professor from the beginning of the 20th century, he too is devoting his efforts to unifying Einstein’s theory of relativity with quantum physics. In recent years his research has mainly centred on the modification of gravity and super symmetry. Thanks to his influential reputation and captivating personality he has attracted many top international researchers to Groningen over the years.
Bergshoeff’s academic stature is also apparent from the fact that he has held the Willem de Sitter chair at the UG since 2009 and was appointed Academy Professor by the Royal National Academy of Sciences in 2010. With an impressive 213 academic publications and over 12,000 citations he is a leading name in the international academic community. At the start of his career he wrote an influential article together with two top international scientists on super membranes, which immediately earned him international recognition. Scientists all around the world base their work on his research and say that he is not just groundbreaking but incredibly reliable too. He is known for his wide range of interests and knowledge and is thus in great demand as a speaker at international conferences and symposia. Researchers who work with him praise not only his brilliant contributions to scientific research but his precision, creativity, sharp-wittedness, intellectual curiosity, sense of humour and warm personality.
Bergshoeff has always combined his academic work with great commitment on the administrative side. He has built numerous bridges between different research fields, for instance as an untiring advocate of fundamental research or as one of the founders of a new Master’s programme at the interface between mathematics, physics and astronomy: the Master of the Quantum Universe. For 15 years, he has been the director and driving force behind two research institutes: first the Centre for Theoretical Physics and then the Van Swinderen Institute for Particle Physics and Gravity. His tenacity has seen educational initiatives being launched all around the world, for example in the field of fundamental research in Greece and Thailand. In addition, he organizes numerous international, academic conferences and is closely involved in the Aegean Summer School in Greece as a speaker and one of the organizers.
Bergshoeff has always been a source of inspiration to younger generations – he has supervised no fewer than 22 PhD students. His role as mentor of young researchers has been of inestimable value to the development of a new generation of scientists. Researchers who were trained by him all conduct a characteristic form of research, resulting in what can be termed a ‘Bergshoeff school’. They study a wide range of subjects ranging from formal aspects of string theory to more cosmological applications, such as the description of the Big Bang and ways to measure this from cosmic radiation. The revolutionary nature of his research encourages others to seek the boundaries. He continues to challenge himself and others and is constantly looking for new research directions.
Bergshoeff is unparalleled in his ability to arouse public enthusiasm for his field and over the years has given many public lectures and presentations and made many public appearances. He does not stick to the catacombs of the university but invites the whole country into his lecture hall. His ability to convey a complicated story about fundamental research in such a comprehensible and fantastic way that people come away enthusiastic and inspired is unparalleled. His lecture on ‘spectral neutrino particles that travel faster than light’ is a perfect example. He is unequalled in his ability to impart abstract knowledge in a way that school pupils will understand. At Chulalongkorn University Bangkok he enjoys working on public lectures for students and school pupils. His contribution has encouraged this university to hold annual workshops for a wide public.
With his captivating personality and commitment to the world around him, Bergshoeff does not limit himself to science. He is just as driven in his private life as in his work. For years already he has organized a running team that takes part in the 4 Mijl race from Haren to Groningen and volunteers at the half marathon in Haren. He applies his motto ‘always be ready to help’ not only to his work but to everything he does.
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