Dr Peter Bijl received the Heineken Young Scientists Award in the Natural Sciences 2018 for researching the relationship between atmosphere, oceans and ecosystems in the Antarctic over the past 80 million years. The jury praised Peter Bijl for his impressive list of publications but also for his ability to communicate with the general public about his wide-ranging research and inspire new generations of researchers, for example by appearing in the media, maintaining a vlog, and lecturing at secondary schools. Peter Bijl is an assistant professor in the Earth Science department at Utrecht University. He is also the director of the LPP Foundation, an advisory body that facilitates research in the fields of marine and terrestrial palynology, organic and inorganic geochemistry and limnology. Bijl studied earth sciences at Utrecht University and received his PhD there in 2011 for his study of the environmental and climatological evolution of the Southern Ocean in the Palaeogene Period (approximately 66 to 23 million years ago).
Research Peter Bijl was still a young researcher when he began combining his knowledge of fossils with chemical and physical techniques to develop a new, now widely used method to determine the age of sedimentary rocks in the Antarctic. The key to this method lies in organic fossils (‘dinoflagellates’) and molecular fossils. Using these methods, Bijl is now studying the climatological history of the Antarctic over the past 80 million years. His reconstructions show how greenhouse gases and changing patterns of circulation in the oceans during this period had a major impact on the development of the Antarctic ice sheet, the global climate, sea levels, and life on land and in the sea. In his VENI-funded research, Bijl is now integrating his models of ice sheet dynamics and ocean circulation. His work has put him at the forefront of international research on Antarctic paleoclimate research.
Dr Marie-José van Tol received the Heineken Young Scientists Award in the Social Sciences 2018 for studying the many factors that contribute to depression and other psychiatric disorders. The jury recognised Marie-José van Tol as a talented, creative and passionate researcher who not only combines many different disciplines but also makes connections in other respects. She is one of the founders of the Young Academy Groningen and its current chairperson. Dr Marie-José van Tol is assistant professor and principal investigator in the Neuropsychology faculty, part of the Department of Neuroscience at University Medical Center Groningen. Van Tol studied clinical and medical psychology at Utrecht University. She received her PhD from Leiden University in 2011 for her MRI study of patients suffering depression or anxiety disorders.
Research Marie-José van Tol is interested in unravelling the many factors that make people vulnerable to depression, anxiety, suicide, schizophrenia and other major psychiatric disorders. Her work is interdisciplinary in nature and combines knowledge and methods from clinical psychiatry, neuropsychology, cognitive psychology, neuroradiology, neuroscience and other fields. In her quest to identify the underpinnings of psychological vulnerabilities, Van Tol explores a wide range of different influences. For example, her analyses allow for the presence of other psychiatric disorders, the course of the illness, the effects of treatments, genetic risk factors, personality factors and early trauma. She also makes use of innovative neuro-imaging techniques and analytical methods.
Dr E.R. Westra is a research fellow at the Environment and Sustainability Institute and a member of the Biosciences department in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter (United Kingdom). He received the Heineken Young Scientists Award for Biochemistry and Biophysics 2016 for his cross-disciplinary study of CRISPR-Cas, a natural adaptive immune system in bacteria.
Edze Westra studied molecular life sciences at Wageningen University, where he obtained his PhD in microbiology in 2013. He has received awards for his doctoral thesis from both the Netherlands Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Netherlands Society for Medical Microbiology. Shortly after completing his PhD, he accepted a position at the University of Exeter, where a number of major grants ensured him a permanent appointment in 2015.
Westra is a rising star in the fast-growing field of CRISPR-Cas, a molecular system in bacteria that allows them to recognise and disable viral DNA. It is now also being used for precision genome editing in living organisms.
Edze Westra is studying the role of the CRISPR-Cas system in nature. His research combines structural, biochemical, biophysical, evolutionary and ecological aspects, all of which are usually pursued within separate subdisciplines.
He has published or co-published many highly cited articles in such prestigious journals as Science and Nature. In addition to an EU Marie Curie research grant, he has received major stipends from the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.
His enthusiasm is infectious and inspired the majority of his students to pursue a career in science. He is also a passionate ambassador for science with the general public.
Dr M.R. Boon is a post-doctoral researcher at the Endocrinology department of Leiden University Medical Centre. She received the Heineken Young Scientists Award for Medicine 2016 for her research on ‘brown fat’, a type of fat cell that – unlike ‘normal’ fat cells – metabolises glucose and lipids and converts them into body heat.
Mariëtte Boon studied medicine and biomedical sciences at Leiden University. She received her PhD in 2014 at the same university for her study of the role of brown fat in Dutch individuals prone to obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, especially those of South Asian (Hindustani) descent. Her research showed that they carry relatively little brown fat, respond differently to cold, and expend little energy when at rest.
In experiments involving animals, Boon discovered ways to activate brown fat, which may point the way to new treatments for obesity and associated disorders.
Despite her youth, Boon has authored/co-authored dozens of scientific publications, some appearing in high-impact journals. She has received nine awards and seven research grants. She is also one of the founders of the ‘Young Dutch Society for Endocrinology’.
Dr K.J. Fatah-Black is an assistant professor at the Institute for History, Leiden University. He received the Heineken Young Scientists Award for History 2016 for his study of Dutch formal and informal transatlantic trade in the Golden Age, especially the trade in slaves.
Karwan Fatah-Black studied history at the University of Amsterdam and received his doctorate from Leiden University in 2013. Slavery, smuggling and illegal trade are important themes in his work. For example, he helped calculate the profits gained by the Dutch from transporting and trading in African slaves. The outcomes were much higher than previously thought because he looked beyond official Dutch West India Company figures to include the extensive network of ‘informal trade’ that operated alongside it.
Fatah-Black is regarded as an expert on the history of slavery. He was awarded an NWO VENI grant to explore agency and empowerment among Surinamese slave families who cleared a path through slavery to freedom. He was also one of the founders of the Leiden Slavery Studies Association, which supports research on the role of slavery in general.
Karwan Fatah-Black is eager to engage in public discussion of the history of slavery. For example, he gives public lectures, makes media appearances, and is a quiz master at the Kwaku Festival in Amsterdam’s Bijlmer district and the Keti Koti (‘broken chains’) Festival, an annual celebration of the abolition of slavery in Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles.
Dr W. Halfwerk is an assistant professor with the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences at VU University Amsterdam. He received the Heineken Young Scientists Award for Environmental Sciences 2016 for his creative research on how humans alter communication between animals in nature.
Wouter Halfwerk studied biology at Utrecht University and received his PhD in 2012 at Leiden University for his research on the evolution and ecology of birdsong. He was especially interested in the influence of human noise pollution on communication between great tits.
He spent the next three years working outside the Netherlands and grew interested in other senses and species. For example, while he was stationed at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, he used robotic frogs to study calling male túngara frogs and how predatory bats and parasitic midges perceive the associated cues and signals. A male frog that makes more sound and also generates more ripples on the surface of the water not only attracts more females but also more enemies.
Halfwerk is currently studying whether the sexual signals of male túngara frogs in urban settings differ from those of their counterparts in the jungle.
Wouter Halfwerk has published in such prestigious journals as Science. He has received an NWO VENI grant, an EU Marie Curie research grant, and a Smithsonian Fellowship. He is also actively involved in popularising science, for example by giving lectures and cooperating on television documentaries.
Dr J. Poort is a post-doctoral researcher at The Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for neural circuits and behaviour at the Faculty of Life Sciences, University College London. He received the Heineken Young Scientists Award for Cognitive Science 2016 for his research on how our brains take rapid decisions by concentrating on the most important information available. Jasper Poort studied psychology at Leiden University and cognitive neurosciences at Radboud University Nijmegen. He completed his PhD in 2012 at VU University Amsterdam for research that he had conducted at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, an Academy institute. Poort’s work concerns a question that intrigues many cognitive scientists: how do our brains manage to process vast amounts of sensory input at lightning speed when deciding on a course of action? How is it that we can move safely from A to B through crowded streets full of buildings, billboards, traffic signs and other people and vehicles? How does the brain manage to focus on the most crucial input and ignore the rest? How do nerve cells and regions of the brain cope with the unending flood of information all around them? Jasper Poort has published in such prestigious journals as Neuron and is the recipient of both an NWO VENI grant, an EU Marie Curie research grant and a UCL Excellence Fellowship grant. He is eager to discuss his work with non-scientists as well. For example, he has cooperated on the Dutch ‘Canon of Science’ and gives public lectures on brain research.
Dr C.R. Berkers is a research group leader at Utrecht University’s Bijvoet Center for Biomolecular Research. She received the Heineken Young Scientists Award for Biochemistry and Biophysics 2014 for her research into the workings of the proteasome, a structure that breaks down proteins in biological cells. Chemist Celia Berkers did research at Harvard Medical School in Boston and the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam before obtaining her PhD in 2010 at Leiden University. Since 2013, Berkers has headed a group at the Bijvoet Center for Biomolecular Research that studies interactions between medicines and the ‘metabolome’, i.e. all the small molecules in the cell and their interactions. Her work may help us develop new drugs against various diseases. Berkers received a Rubicon Fellowship from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) in 2011. In 2013, that same organisation awarded her a Veni Grant.
QUOTE ‘Even as a child I wanted to find “a cure for cancer”, and that desire has stayed with me. I want to understand what goes wrong in sick cells at the molecular level, and why some medicines work while others don’t.’
Dr A.P.J. Vlaar is a postdoctoral researcher for the Laboratory of Experimental Intensive Care and Anaesthesiology at the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam. He received the Heineken Young Scientists Award for Medicine 2014 for his research into acute lung injury as a serious side effect of blood transfusions in IC patients. Alexander Vlaar, a practising physician, received his PhD from the University of Amsterdam in 2010 for his research into acute lung injury, a potentially fatal side effect of blood transfusions given to intensive care patients. He confirmed that the risk of acute lung injury is increased by the presence of donor antibodies in transfusion products. Vlaar’s work has helped lower the risk for IC patients. The jury has praised Vlaar’s ability to combine hospital practice and outstanding research. In 2013, he was awarded a Veni Grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).
QUOTE ‘I want to improve patient care. Sometimes that means introducing new medical treatments. But sometimes it also means abandoning widely used treatments that the latest research has shown to be ineffective.’
Dr I. van Renswoude is a postdoctoral researcher at the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands in The Hague. She received the Heineken Young Scientists Award for History 2014 for her study of the classical tradition of free speech and the processes of transformation by which it was transmitted to the Middle Ages. Irene van Renswoude studied free speech in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages at the Research Institute for History and Culture at Utrecht University. Her 2011 thesis dispelled theories that such ideals as rhetoric, honesty and criticism of the ruling class had disappeared at the end of Roman civilisation. She showed that the Middle Ages had dissidents as well. They were not philosophers, as in the latter days of Rome, but rather religious luminaries who cared just as little for wealth and power. Today, Van Renswoude studies public debate in the Middle Ages at the Huygens ING Institute. In 2012, she won a prize from the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation.
QUOTE ‘It’s very important to venture outside the boundaries of your own discipline. We can learn a lot by opening ourselves up to ideas in other disciplines. There’s nothing as enriching as dialogue.’