Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
Part of University of Groningen
Science LinXScience Linx News

Ben Feringa at the World Economic Forum: invest in the long term

25 January 2018

During the World Economic Forum, the annual meeting of the top echelons of the business and political worlds, UG chemist Ben Feringa was given the word. In an interview broadcast live via internet, he emphasized the importance of fundamental research: ‘If you ask the right questions, you can change the future.’

Interview with Ben Feringa | Image WEF
Interview with Ben Feringa | Image WEF

In Davos, Feringa is one of the European Research Council (ERC) delegation, the organization that shares out European research funding. Feringa has twice received an ‘Advanced Grant’ from the ERC. ‘The funding is for five years, which is very important’, according to Feringa. ‘You need money for long-term investments and to build up a team.’

Innovations

Fundamental research must be a bit like a ‘playground’, says Feringa. There has to be room to make errors, because you learn from them. Chance also plays a role. His light-driven nanomotor was actually a nanoswitch that continued to rotate. ‘We were working on light-operated molecular switches that were eventually intended for use in a computer that worked on light.’ But developing that first motor was a question of stamina and hard work.

Feringa pointed out that building his iconic nanocar took no less than seven years. ‘We wanted to learn how we could get a nanomachine to move.’ That was a stiff challenge, but one that led to innovations. There aren’t any applications yet, but perhaps in thirty or fifty years there will be medical nanorobots that will travel through our bodies to destroy cancer cells or repair defects.

Ben Feringa | Image WEF
Ben Feringa | Image WEF

Revolution

Feringa is a strong advocate of fundamental research. Many of the most important breakthroughs started there. It took decades before LCD technology left the labs and made its way into our living rooms, and then subsequently become an unmissable part of our smartphones. ‘If you ask the right questions, you can change the future.’ He’s absolutely convinced of that. He noticed that during the World Economic Forum people were talking about the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. ‘But scientists are already busy with the fifth and sixth revolutions!’ This is why it is so important that young people are given the space to develop in research labs: ‘They must ask these questions and spend the next twenty or thirty years working on the answers.’

In addition to stressing the importance of fundamental research, Feringa is also very aware of possible applications. After gaining his PhD, he spent some years working for Shell. ‘That was a fantastic time, it was a very stimulating environment.’ It was also an introduction to the ‘real world’, where it’s all about products. ‘We also need entrepreneurs, who just like the people at Apple convert technology into a product like the iPhone. That has changed the world in just ten years’ time.’

You can see the interview in full on thet WEF website.
The interview with CBS News can be watched at the website of CBS.

Last modified:29 January 2018 3.49 p.m.
printView this page in: Nederlands

More news

  • 11 July 2019

    Major companies’ annual reports too vague about climate impact

    Many major Dutch companies publish extensive information about climate impact in their annual reports. However, very few companies provide concrete, detailed information about their own CO2 emissions, the impact of climate change on their business...

  • 08 July 2019

    UG permanently closes Yantai project

    The University of Groningen (UG) has permanently closed the project aimed at creating a branch campus in Yantai. Discussions were held with China Agricultural University, the city of Yantai and the Province of Shandong.

  • 03 July 2019

    Cheap train tickets boost public transport use but reduce customer satisfaction

    Offers of cheap single train tickets through retailers such as Kruidvat or Etos have a positive impact on the number of kilometres travelled by rail. This impact is much bigger than that of more general TV, newspaper or magazine advertising. However,...