On Thursday 7 July, Professor J.C. (Kees) Hummelen is awarded a Royal Decoration after nomination by the UG. During his farewell symposium, Mayor A. van der Tuuk of the Municipality of Westerkwartier has presented him with the insignia. Hummelen has been appointed Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion.
Kees Hummelen (Oostwold, 1954), Professor of Chemistry of Molecular Organic and Bio-organic Materials at the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Groningen, is one of the University’s most influential scientists who has had—and still has—a huge impact on science, in particular due to his research on plastic solar cells. The common theme in his scientific career has been shaped by his vision and creativity to do what others consider to be impossible. In addition, as an advocate of sustainable solar energy, he has managed to reach a wide audience.
Hummelen has been known as a productive, excellent, and, in particular, original researcher. During his work as a researcher in Santa Barbara (USA), he was involved in the pioneering research on the first plastic solar cells as a cheaper alternative to the current silicon-based solar cells. Back in Groningen, Hummelen realized his dream of developing the plastic solar cell into a marketable product. In particular, his unique findings in the field of C60 buckyball molecules as essential components of the plastic solar cell played a major role in this. Creative as ever, he wondered what the effect of these carbon molecules—fullerenes—could have on the skin. This led to a high-tech application for the worlds of medicine and pharmaceuticals: he developed Oxofulleram, a soluble fullerene derivative that can be used as the basis for a skin oil that protects against damage caused by, for example, ageing or the sun.
Hummelen is a scientist with a wide reach within and outside the scientific community. He is the author of over 200 scientific articles, which have been cited worldwide more than 40,000 times; this means that he was the most frequently cited chemist in Groningen for a long time. His work led to him being awarded a large number of prizes, within and outside the field of science. In 2011, for example, he received the ‘Groene Lintje’ (Green Ribbon) award from the Groningen branch of political party GroenLinks on World Environment Day for his devotion to solar energy.
As a charismatic lecturer, Hummelen has trained a new generation of technical scientists. With his boundless enthusiasm and extensive knowledge, he has managed to inspire large groups of students for this discipline. It is no coincidence that he was presented with the Lecturer of the Year Award for the degree programme in Chemistry in 2007 and 2015. Fun, freedom, and respect have been key within his research team and he has encouraged undergraduate and PhD students to think critically. Moreover, he has treated students as full members of the team, which challenges them to grow and take responsibility. They have been given the freedom to test their ideas and to follow their passion and they have always been able to come to him for advice.
Hummelen has held many governing roles during his career. For example, he was a board member of the Faculty’s Stratingh Institute for Chemistry. He was the institute’s scientific director between 2012 and 2016. On a national level, he has played a major role within the prestigious FOM Focus Group ‘Next Generation Organic Photovoltaics’: a 10-year programme that is aimed at research on organic alternatives to silicon-based solar cells. In his residence at Oostwold, he was the driving force behind and the source of inspiration for the initiation of the Zonnewal (Solar Wall): a 1.6-km-long hybrid, noise-reducing wall along the A7, covered in solar panels, to make the village self-sufficient with regard to electricity. This wall also contributes to reducing the noise pollution and to stopping harmful particulate matter.
Furthermore, he has been the president of the Universiteitskrant’s editorial committee, he founded a cooperative for the generation of sustainable energy in Oostwold, and he is the director of his own company Solenne. He has also been very committed to various cultural institutions, such as Sparklab, a foundation at the interface of art and education. Hummelen is an ambassador for science and dedicates himself tirelessly to achieving a sustainable world. People who are close to him call him a through-and-through optimist, a critical thinker, a go-getter, and a connector. He is overflowing with creative ideas, listens well, and thinks outside the box. And what should certainly also be mentioned is that he is an excellent jazz pianist.
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