NWO crowns best Dutch scientists

Astronomer Heino Falcke, communication scientist Patti Valkenburg and theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde receive the NWO Spinoza Prize 2011, the highest Dutch award in science. This has just been announced by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Each of the laureates receives 2.5 million euros to spend on research of their choice.

NWO awards the Spinoza Prize to Dutch researchers who belong to the absolute world top of science. The scientists receive the prestigious prize for their outstanding, groundbreaking and inspiring research. The laureates are internationally renowned scientists and know how to inspire young researchers. The NWO Spinoza Prize is an incentive prize for top researchers.

Prof. H.D.E. (Heino) Falcke
Heino Falcke (1966, Cologne) is professor of Radio Astronomy and Astroparticle physics at Radboud University Nijmegen. He performs groundbreaking research into one of the most mysterious phenomena of the universe, black holes. Heino Falcke works at the boundaries of his discipline and therefore at the limits of the universe. Falcke is a versatile researcher. He is a leading theoretician and carries out experimental research in the fields of astroparticle physics and astrophysics, a unique combination. In addition to this he develops research instruments.

In 2004, his group managed to make measurements close to the edge of a supermassive black hole in the centre of our galaxy. Four years previously he had already predicted that this would be possible. Over the next few years he hopes to use the same measurement technique to image the edges of the black hole.

Falcke is one of the driving forces behind LOFAR, a revolutionary radio telescope that is made up of hundreds of small antennae that together considerably expand their measurement range. Falcke is also playing a key role in the development of SKA (Square Kilometre Array), a square kilometre of telescopes planned for construction in the southern hemisphere. The radio astronomer studies the radiation emitted by planets, stars and galaxies that the radio telescopes receive. This technology reveals the architecture of objects in the universe.

Heino Falcke studied physics at the universities of Cologne and Bonn and graduated in 1992. In 1994, he gained his doctorate summa cum laude from the University of Bonn. After various scientific positions at the Max-Planck-Institut for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, the University of Maryland and the University of Arizona, he acquired his 'Habilitation' from Bonn in 2000. Since 2000 he has held a position at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn. In 2003, he was appointed as adjunct professor of Radio Astronomy and Astroparticle Physics at Radboud University Nijmegen. He also accepted a position at ASTRON Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, the founding body of the LOFAR project. In 2007, Radboud University Nijmegen appointed him as a full professor.

Prof. P.M. (Patti) Valkenburg
Communication scientist Patti Valkenburg (1958) is professor of Youth and Media at the University of Amsterdam, where she performs groundbreaking research into youth and the media. Valkenburg has developed a unique interdisciplinary research field on the boundaries of education, psychology and communication science. Valkenburg is the most productive and one of the most cited communication scientists in Europe.

Patti Valkenburg's research focuses on young people. Her work includes studying the consequences of Internet use on the social lives of children and teenagers. She also investigates how media use, genetic predisposition and family and friends influence the development of cognitive skills, ADHD and aggression. Valkenburg is also active in the public sphere. She was one of the initiators of the 'Kijkwijzer' (Dutch motion picture rating system) and has written many books about young people and the media, including Vierkante Ogen and Beeldschermkinderen [Square eyes and Computer Screen Children].

Valkenburg did not start her degree in Education and Child Studies at Leiden University until she was thirty. Yet she graduated cum laude just 2 years later. Subsequently in 1995 she gained her doctorate cum laude from Leiden University as well. Since then she has worked at the University of Amsterdam where she was appointed professor of Youth and Media in 1998.

In the twelve years since her appointment, Valkenburg has expanded her research group from 1 person (herself) to 22 researchers using just externally acquired funding. Her research centre CCAM - Center of Research on Children, Adolescents, and the Media - is the largest of its kind in the world. In 2011, the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences of the University of Amsterdam appointed Patti Valkenburg as Distinguished Research Professor in view of her exceptional research qualities.

Prof. E.P. (Erik) Verlinde

Verlinde (1962) is a theoretical physicist at the University of Amsterdam, where he investigates the building blocks of the universe. He is an internationally celebrated expert on the string theory, a theory that unifies gravity and quantum mechanics. The referees describe Verlinde as creative, ingenious and ambitious.

Verlinde has four major breakthroughs to his name. As a young PhD student he achieved world fame with his Verlinde formula that is now widely used by mathematicians and physicists. Together with his twin brother Herman, and Edward Witten and Robbert Dijkgraaf, Verlinde formulated the Witten-Dijkgraaf-Verlinde-Verlinde equations. These are used by string theoreticians in their calculations. In 2000, Verlinde developed the Cardy-Verlinde formula and recently he was in the spotlight with his theory to explain gravity. Verlinde proposes that gravity is not a fundamental force but rather an amalgamation of other forces. If Verlinde’s gravitational theory is correct, then that will have huge consequences for how we think about the universe and its evolution.

Erik Verlinde studied physics at the University of Utrecht. He did his PhD in the Utrecht group of Bernard de Wit and Nobel Prize winner Gerard 't Hooft. After gaining his PhD in 1988 Verlinde spent several years in Princeton, the top institute in his field. In 1993, Verlinde accepted a tenured position at CERN and in 1996 Utrecht University appointed him as professor of Physics. In 1999, he was also awarded a professorship at Princeton University. Since 2003, Verlinde has been professor of Physics at the University of Amsterdam.

About the Spinoza Prizes
The NWO Spinoza Prize has been awarded since 1995. The awards are made on the basis of nominations. Those allowed to make nominations are the principals of universities, and the chairs of the departments of Literature and Physics of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), the advisory councils of the KNAW, the Netherlands Academy of Technology and Innovation, the Dutch National Network of Female Professors and the NWO Divisional Boards. The official presentation of the monetary prize and Spinoza statuette will take place in the autumn.

About NWO
The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) is the independent Dutch science funding body and its mission is to facilitate excellent scientific research in the Netherlands by means of national competition. Each year NWO spends more than 700 million euros on grants for top research and top researchers, on innovative instruments and equipment, and on institutes where top research is performed. NWO funds the research of more than 5300 talented researchers at universities and institutes. Independent experts select proposals by means of a peer review system. NWO facilitates the transfer of knowledge to society.



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