Natural Sciences

Casper van der Kooi


Casper van der Kooi (1990), an evolutionary biophysicist at the University of Groningen, is the recipient of the Heineken Young Scientists Award in the Natural Sciences. The jury commends his work for its scientific excellence and significant social value. Van der Kooi studies how flowers and animals, such as butterflies, get their colours and how these colours are used to attract pollinators or mates. Thanks to his work, we now better understand communication between animals, as well as between plants and animals. 

Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken established the Heineken Young Scientists Awards in 2010 to honour young scientific talent for their outstanding achievements. Since then, the prize has been awarded every two years to four highly promising young researchers affiliated with a Dutch university or research institute and who are working in one of the following domains: Medical/Biomedical Sciences, Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences. Each laureate receives an unrestricted cash prize of €15,000 as a reward.

Plant research
Why is a daisy white and a dandelion yellow? Across the world, millions of flowers in all kinds of colours. But why do flowers have these colours, and where do they come from? This is what Casper van der Kooi studies. Plants use flowers to catch the eye of pollinators such as bees and birds, with colours playing an essential role. Van der Kooi’s research has revealed that a flower’s colour is determined not only by its pigments, but also by its internal structure. Flowers consist of several layers of cells which reflect light in different ways. The properties of these cell layers, together with the pigments, determine the flower’s appearance.

Van der Kooi also investigates how the appearance of plants evolves to make them maximally visible to their pollinators. Flowers seem to appear their colour and brightness. Accordingly, this is because not all pollinators perceive the same colours, or they see some colours more vividly than others. For instance, many insects are unable to see red. Nature, in its wisdom, has ensured that flowers that rely on insects for pollination are never red. 

Van der Kooi enjoys doing field research but is just as happy looking through the microscope at cell structures in his greenhouse in Groningen. Here, he grows plants from around the world, studying how pollinators perceive flowers and using this knowledge to discover how different flower colours are created.

Butterfly research
Lately, Van der Kooi has also been focusing on butterflies. He studies how the colours of their wings form and evolve to best attract a mate. According to Van der Kooi, what makes butterflies unique is their brilliant colours and how dynamic they are. They fly around each other, continuously reflecting light in a different way. With his team, he is investigating how butterflies’ colours combined with their behaviour determines their attractiveness to potential partners. 

Jury praises multidisciplinary research
The jury has called Van der Kooi’s research multidisciplinary approach. To enable this type of research, Van der Kooi earned two PhDs: one in computational physics and another in evolutionary biology. By combining these areas of expertise, he crosses scientific boundaries. The jury believes this makes his work unique and of high quality. He also fulfils a social role by discussing biodiversity issues as a frequent guest on radio, TV, and in newspapers. With this, he hopes to bring the abstract concept of biodiversity to life, raising awareness of its importance among a broad audience. To appeal to a younger audience, he is also working on a children’s book about plant evolution.

About Casper van der Kooi
Casper van der Kooi (1990) studied evolutionary biology at the University of Groningen. He completed his PhD in computational physics in 2015 and in evolutionary biology in 2018. Following a postdoctoral position at the University of Groningen and a Humboldt Fellowship at the University of Würzburg in Germany, he rejoined the University of Groningen as a university lecturer in evolutionary biophysics in 2023. 


Casper van der Kooi, evolutionary biophysicist

Jordi Tura i Brugués


Mathematician Jordi Tura i Brugués (1987), connected to the Lorentz Institute at Leiden University, has been awarded the Heineken Young Scientists Award 2022 in the field of Natural Sciences. The jury praised his pioneering contributions to the theory of quantum entanglement and nonlocality. He adapted Bell’s theorem, which is used to show entanglement of two particles, to fit large numbers of particles. An important step for the further development of the quantum computer and the quantum internet.

The Heineken Young Scientists Awards are awarded every two years to four highly promising young researchers working in the Netherlands. The winners are selected from four fields of science: Medical/Biomedical Sciences, Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences is responsible for the nomination and selection process. The award includes a cash prize of EUR 10,000 and a work of art. Previous laureates in the field of Natural Sciences include Freddy Rabouw (2020) and Peter K. Bijl (2018). The award was created in 2010 by Charlene L. De Carvalho-Heineken.

About the study
Tura i Brugués has pioneered the development of quantum algorithms and mathematical methods to demonstrate quantum entanglement. He devised a way to translate Bell’s inequality theorem, which measures the nonlocality of two particles, to large numbers of particles. Thanks to his theoretical work, it has become possible for the first time to demonstrate the existence of Bell correlations in half a million rubidium atoms. Such Bell correlations imply the existence of entanglement, which is one of the quantum properties that potentially makes a quantum computer so incredibly powerful. The more particles you can entangle, the more powerful the quantum computer. Tura i Brugués’ method for measuring Bell correlations can therefore be used to understand the computing power of quantum computers. Tura i Brugués is currently working on the development of quantum algorithms, which allow him to perform calculations on quantum computers. Among other things, he is developing quantum algorithms for complex optimisation problems, certification tasks, quantum machine learning, and the unravelling and prediction of the precise development of chemical reactions. He adapts these algorithms for the quantum computers that will be available in the near future.

Jury praises translation of complex mathematics into predictions
According to the jury, Tura i Brugués serves as an example for young researchers. He shows that fundamental research into the foundations of physics can be combined with pioneering work on technological applications. Quantum computers calculate in a fundamentally different way. That is why the potential is enormous, but in order to make use of that potential, it must be managed in a completely different way. Tura i Brugués has the rare ability to translate complex mathematics into predictions that can be tested in the laboratory. For example, the method he developed on the degree of Bell correlations could now be tested on the first generation of quantum computers.

About Jordi Tura i Brugués
Jordi Tura i Brugués (Girona, 1987) studied mathematics and telecommunications engineering at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona. In 2015, he obtained his PhD with honours from the Quantum Optics Theory group of the Institut de Ciències Fotòniques (ICFO), also in Barcelona. He remained at the ICFO for another year as a postdoctoral researcher. In 2016, he moved to the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Munich for a second postdoctoral position. Since 2020, he has been a lecturer at the Lorentz Institute at Leiden University, where he is a leader of the Applied Quantum Algorithms research group. In addition to the Heineken Young Scientists Award, he has received a Google Research Scholar Award (2021) and an ERC Starting Grant (2021).

Freddy Rabouw


The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has awarded the Heineken Young Scientists Award in the Natural Sciences 2020 to Freddy Rabouw, a physicist/chemist at Utrecht University. Rabouw is receiving the prize for his research on new materials to generate light, for example for solar cells or display screens.

The jury describes Freddy Rabouw as a highly productive researcher who is already an inter­nationally respected authority in his field. He is an inspiration for the master’s degree and PhD students in his group and a gifted instructor, who has already received a prize from his students for his teaching.

Research on materials for light
Rabouw investigates new materials to generate light, for example for solar cells or display screens. The materials he studies are mainly nanocrystals of only a few thousand atoms in size. What he is attempting to understand is how such a nanocrystal can efficiently convert one colour of light into another. This is fundamental research, but with various applications. For example, semiconductor nanocrystals, also known as “quantum dots”, are used in the latest generation of televisions. The challenge, for example, is to narrow down the colour spectrum of the light that is emitted so that the television can display more highly saturated colours, which then appear clearer and brighter. It is difficult, however, to narrow down the colour spectrum if the various nanocrystals are only very slightly different and therefore all emit a slightly different colour light. Dr Rabouw is attempting to identify such differences in properties between nano­crystals, and thus understand what causes these differences.
His work may also have applications in the search for sustainable energy solutions. A certain type of nanocrystal is based, for example, on rare-earth metals, making possible highly exceptional colour conversions. Some can absorb infrared light and then emit visible light. This is exceptional, because infrared light contains less energy per photon than visible light. This property is very useful in the case of solar cells because sunlight contains a large amount of infrared light, which solar cells cannot use to generate electricity. By first using nanocrystals to convert the infrared light into visible light, the solar cell can generate more electricity.

About the laureate
Freddy Rabouw studied chemistry at Utrecht University, receiving his master’s degree (on Nanomaterials: Chemistry & Physics) cum laude. He also gained his PhD in Utrecht cum laude for his research on nanomaterials, after which he spent two years at ETH Zurich with the aid of a Rubicon grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO). He returned to Utrecht University as an assistant professor in 2017.
Rabouw has received a number of awards and grants for his work, for example a VENI grant from NWO in 2017 and in 2019 an NWO “KLEIN” fundamental research grant (ENW-KLEIN).


Freddy Rabouw

Peter K. Bijl


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).

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.


Video interview with Peter Bijl

Wouter Halfwerk


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.


Video interview with Wouter Halfwerk

Rob Middag


Dr R. Middag is a lecturer in Chemical Oceanography for the Department of Chemistry at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. He received the Heineken Young Scientists Award for Environmental Sciences 2014 for his highly productive research into trace metals in the world’s oceans.
Biologist Rob Middag obtained his PhD at the University of Groningen in 2010 for his research into the impact of two trace elements (aluminium and manganese) on oceanic algae growth. He carried out his research at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) at Den Hoorn (Netherlands).
Middag subsequently worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California before moving to a world-class oceanography institute in New Zealand. His field expeditions have quadrupled the global body of data on oceanic trace elements in just a few years.

‘My ultimate dream is to analyse the entire composition of ocean water, including substances that are present only in very minute concentrations, and then be able to unravel the interactions between all these components.’

Tjisse van der Heide


Tjisse van der Heide received the Heineken Young Scientists Award for Environmental Sciences 2012 for his research on the role of sea grasses and similar “ecosystem engineers” in the marine inter-tidal area.
Ecosystem engineers such as sea grasses and mussel banks are organisms that not only respond to environmental conditions but also greatly influence them themselves, thus creating suitable living conditions for themselves and for other species. Human action is putting ecosystem engineers under great pressure. Dr Van der Heide’s research is a major contribution to conservation biology. He made a positive impression on the jury as coordinator for the Wadden Sea Keys Project (Waddensleutels), a complex, large-scale research project concerning the ecological recovery of the Wadden Sea. The jury also sees Tjisse van der Heide as a role model for young researchers because of the quality of his work, his outreach activities, and his multidisciplinary approach.

Appy Sluijs


Appy Sluijs received the Heineken Young Scientists Award for Environmental Sciences 2010 for his research into the changes that arose in the earth’s ecosystems millions of years ago.
He reconstructs sudden climate changes caused by natural processes in the past. His research helps us understand the variability of ecosystems, the climate and natural processes on both human and geological timescales. Sluijs focuses in particular on climate changes in the past that resemble those in the present, making it possible to consider the influence of humankind (for example CO2 emissions) in a geological context. Appy Sluijs works at the University of Utrecht and is a member of the Royal Academy’s Young Academy.

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