Prof. Bart van Wees has been appointed Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion. Groningen Mayor Den Oudsten conferred the award on him during the FET International Workshop last Thursday.
Bart van Wees (Nootdorp, 1961), Professor of Applied Physics at the University of Groningen, is a known authority in his field and considered to be one of the best physicists in the world. He is a brilliant researcher in the highly complex field of conductance in nanostructures and was a pioneer in the new field of spintronics (rotation of electrons). He was awarded the NWO Spinoza Prize in 2016 – also known as the Dutch Nobel Prize – for his groundbreaking work.
Van Wees made his mark early on in his scientific career with a revolutionary breakthrough in the research into quantizing the conductance of a point contact. It was for this work that he received the McMillan Award from the University of Illinois in 1990 and, together with two colleagues, the Shell Prize two years later . The content of his most cited article on this research, an article from 1987, now appears in all textbooks on the steps of quantized conductance.
Having transferred to the UG in 1991, he continued his pioneering work with fundamental research into superconductivity in nanostructures, a field that is now largely based on his work. This was the groundwork that led him to become the world-leading scientist he is today. His research now focuses on a completely new field: spintronics or the study of the rotation of electrons. He was the first in the world to succeed in achieving what is termed spin injection in graphene. Graphene is a new, extremely thin two-dimensional material that consists of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a h
exagonal lattice. Both the possible applications and the economic impact of this research on business are unprecedented. Furthermore, Van Wees’s work has led not only to interesting discoveries but also to breakthroughs that are relevant to society. For instance, he is looking for properties in materials that are also present at room temperature, which can be used in practice. One of his greatest skills is linking fundamental research to practical applications.
With his great passion for physics and his unique talent, Van Wees is a particularly productive scientist, who boats more than 250 outstanding scientific publications and over 18,000 citations. He ranks among the absolute top in his field and has a unique ability to apply science to society. He is also very successful in securing personal and financial support for his research from the Netherlands and Europe. He has a reputation as a hard-working person who never stops or gives up. His innovative approach and outstanding achievements have been rewarded with original results of the highest possible quality, which have helped to put Dutch physics right in the centre of the scientific map. In his career, Van Wees has already achieved more in several research fields than many scientists achieve in a lifetime. Led by passion, curiosity and a permanent drive to learn more, he never pauses in his quest for new knowledge and is inexhaustible in his development of original, often ingenious, physics experiments.
Van Wees has played a leading role in applying for and implementing the Graphene Flagship, a programme for future and upcoming technology. The European Commission launches one of these Flagships every few years in a research field of great scientific and societal importance to Europe. The fact that the Graphene Flagship has received a €1bn grant illustrates his international authority as a scientist. Under his leadership, the researchers from the Graphene Flagship have made great progress in the field of fundamental research into spintronics. The focus is now on finding practical applications .
Van Wees is an invaluable asset to the UG’s Faculty of Science and Engineering, partly because of his leading role in the management of NanoLabNL, the Dutch organization for nanotechnological research, and the new Groningen Engineering Center. In 2004, he was one of the founders of the UG Top Master Programme in Nanoscience, a Master’s programme that has been deemed exemplary on several occasions. For the last six years, it has been in the top three of all Dutch Master’s programmes in the KeuzegidsGuide to Higher Education.
Van Wees has received a large number of impressive prizes and honours for his groundbreaking work. He was made a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) in 2009 and a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2014. His most important prize is of course the NWO Spinoza Prize, which he received in 2016 for his outstanding research and his ability to inspire younger researchers.
Van Wees believes one of his core tasks is to inspire and motivate students and young researchers. He has always actively supported women in physics by acting as a mentor. He is an excellent lecturer who manages to convey complex material in his own calm way, and is always full of new, creative ideas that inspire others to come up with original theories. Despite his full diary, he can always make time for his students and researchers. He gives them space and responsibility, and challenges them to surpass themselves. His group is a breeding ground for talent. Under his wing, students, PhD students and postdocs become critical, independent thinkers, who like him are averse to fake news in science and are highly motivated to seek scientific truth. Many of them now work as researchers in industry or have become professors. This breeding ground for talent that has managed to create has evolved into a veritable ‘Van Wees School’.
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