On 10 June, the CEES research institute organized a reception for the man who is now definitely its most prominent researcher, migratory bird ecologist Theunis Piersma, who was awarded a Spinoza Prize a few days ago. This prize is the largest and most prestigious research prize in the Netherlands.
It was not very crowded, but the drinks party in the Linnaeusborg was mainly intended for Piersma and his University colleagues; later this week there will be a similar ceremony at the NIOZ (Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research) on Texel, where Piersma is also employed.
Peter van Haastert addressed Piersma on behalf of the Faculty Board. ‘I am incredibly proud’, said Van Haastert with audible enthusiasm. This is not only because Piersma is virtually his neighbour in the Linnaeusborg, or because the prize is good for the Faculty, but because he shares Piersma’s passion for the Wadden mudflats. ‘I’m a mudflat walk guide and enjoy the beautiful landscape enormously. When I’m guiding a group, I tell them about your research on the birds there, which you talk about with such passion.’
CEES Director Han Olff said that he was ‘as proud as a peacock’ of the Spinoza laureate. ‘You also publish more than twenty articles a year, that is one every two weeks. You have an enormous impact not only on researchers, but also on society as a whole.’ Olff also mentioned Piersma’s influence on international nature conservation.
Olff also referred to the tricky situation in which Piersma worked for years due to his double appointment at the University and the NIOZ. That often resulted in clashes and diametrically opposed expectations. Piersma’s position as professor by special appointment has enabled him to focus completely on research.
Piersma gave a brief thank you speech, in which he first thanked his mentor Rudi Drenth. He then moved on to those people who took some of the pressure off him, for example by taking over some of his teaching duties, and his immediate colleagues in the research group and CEES.
Piersma also said that the impact of the prize is huge. He had just received a mail from South America. ‘As far away as Tierra del Fuego, people are being encouraged by this prize, it is recognition of the work that we are doing together.’ Rector Magnificus Elmer Sterken arrived just as the speeches ended, and added the congratulations of the Board of the University for Piersma’s achievement.
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