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Review 2016-2017: from the Nobel Prize to the origins of life

01 August 2017

The summer holidays have begun and although research continues as usual the Science LinX news page will be quieter in the coming weeks. This gives us the opportunity to look back at the past academic year (and to take a brief look at the one ahead).

The highlight of the last ten months is obvious. On 5 October the Nobel Prize Committee announced that University of Groningen chemist Ben Feringa was one of three winners of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Chemistry . Winning the greatest academic prize in the world sparked a veritable frenzy of activity, with an impromptu international press conference, films, lectures and the prize ceremony itself in Stockholm in early December.

Feringa was awarded the prize for his research into molecular motors. He made a rotor [MO1] , a kind of ‘windmill’, and combined four motors to create a mini-car, a mega version of which now stands on the Zernikelaan. Among the many tributes to Feringa following the announcement (including being made an honorary citizen of the City of Groningen) is the name of the new Physics and Chemistry building: it will be called the Feringa Building.

Spinoza Prize

Although the Nobel Prize was the most important prize, it definitely wasn’t the only one this academic year. In September Professor of Physics of Nanodevices Bart van Wees was awarded the Spinoza Prize (also known as ‘the Dutch Nobel Prize’). The prize money of EUR 2.5 million is three times that for a Nobel Prize (and that may need to be shared too). Van Wees was awarded the prize for his research into new materials in which new physics occur that invest the material with special properties.


[MO1] Een draaiende rotor’. I’ve just put rotor because the word implies that it rotates. Another thought is that this should be ‘een draaiende motor’ instead of rotor.

revolving motor/rotating motor

Zpannend Zernike | Photo Science LinX
Zpannend Zernike | Photo Science LinX

Alongside these two highlights were numerous fascinating papers by Faculty researchers (incidentally, the Faculty’s name recently changed from the Faculty of Mathematics and Science to the Faculty of Science and Engineering) in leading journals. Scroll through the news overview to read about subjects ranging from evolution to astronomy, from spintronics to carbon nanotubes and much more.

Activities

For Science LinX it was another year packed full of activities. Once again our programme at the annual ‘Zpannend Zernike’ in Bernoulliborg attracted a record number of visitors . And there was the exhibition in Kiel in the autumn to mark the completion of the European IRRESISTIBLE project . This project stimulated informal learning and paired up researchers with schoolteachers.

In addition, Science LinX attended Eurosonic Noorderslag , the Blaauw Observatory welcomed a record number of visitors during the National Stargazing Days, we again held the regional round of the FameLab science communication competition, and the Jan Kommandeur Prize was awarded for the best profile assignment in a Nature profile. School classes visited us, a veritable ‘ Bèta battle’ was fought and a new temporary exhibition was staged: Imaginary, which revealed the beauty of mathematics.

Simulation of the movement of stars for the GAIA results | Helmi lab
Simulation of the movement of stars for the GAIA results | Helmi lab

We also heard from various research institutes and groups in the Faculty. A book was published about the research of the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES): Leren van de natuur . The new Groningen Engineering Center launched with a symposium (with Bart van Wees as keynote speaker). The Origins Center , which many University researchers are involved in, had its origins in the National Science Agenda. And the University’s Department of Polymer Chemistry was not new but 50 years young. It also held a symposium.

A few more highlights that we’d like to put the spotlight on: a film on enzyme engineering won a prize at the Rotterdam Film Festival, astronomers went berserk when the first data from the GAIA satellite came in and Sijbren Otto was awarded an ERC Advanced Grant for his research into how life originates through chemical evolution. And we have new neighbours: the energy neutral Energy Academy Building opened this autumn.

Still from the De Balts (Courtship display) performance at Evolve
Still from the De Balts (Courtship display) performance at Evolve

Noorderzon

That was last year, but what can we expect in the coming season? On 31 August and 1 September the Origins Center will hold the conference Fundamentals of Life in the Universe , with numerous lectures on the origins of life on earth and in the universe. In November (19-22) a special conference will be held about the Nobel Prize for Chemistry 2016, with honorary guests Ben Feringa, Jean Pierre Sauvage and Sir Fraser Stoddart. And Science LinX will again keep you updated on the latest science news from the Faculty!

Science LinX won’t really be ‘hibernating’ this summer: we’ll be at Noorderzon between 20 and 24 August to present ‘ Evolve’ , an interactive exhibition to mark the conference for European evolutionary biologists that will be held at the same time in Groningen. This is just the first of many activities in the new season. See our agenda for more on what Science LinX has to offer in academic year 2017-2018!

Last modified:18 September 2018 11.52 a.m.
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