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Cucurachi, Behrens and Matthee are teacher, discoverer, and PhD candidate of 2018

Environmental scientists Stefano Cucurachi and Paul Behrens and astronomer Jorryt Matthee have received prizes during the New Year's reception of the Faculty of Science on Tuesday 8 January. In addition, Kavli Prize winner Ewine van Dishoeck announced a new award.

More than 2100 votes

In total, a staggering 2154 colleagues, students, alumni and external parties casted their votes for the C.J. Kok Public Award, the official name of the Discoverer of the Year Award. Chemist Marjolein Soethoudt finished second behind Behrens, followed by astronomer Yamila Miguel; she finished third. The C.J. Kok Award was awarded as public award for the 16th time. In the final result the size of the different institutes was taken into account. After correction, Behrens received a third of the votes.

Paul Behrens is the Discoverer of the Year 2018

Less meat is less greenhouse gasses

Behrens investigated whether national dietary guidelines are not only healthy, but also good for the environment. Food production is one of the main causes of man-caused environmental problems, such as climate change and pollution. Most nations recommend eating less meat and dairy, and more vegetables and fruits instead. Behrens’ research showed that following these guidelines has a positive effect on the environment. Especially in high-income countries this has a big impact: the emission of greenhouse gases would be reduced by a surprisingly large quantity, attenuating climate change. His research gained extensive media coverage worldwide.

2018: a great year

Behrens received the prize from Vice-Rector Magnificus Hester Bijl during the New Year’s reception. During her speech, Bijl thanked all staff and students for their efforts. She continued by looking back at 2018 for the faculty, with as highlight SRON moving to Leiden and Delft. She stated that 2018 was also a great year for the entire University, with an all-time high of 29,500 students – of which more than 5000 in The Hague.    

How do galaxies form?

Bijl also announced that astronomer Jorryt Matthee wrote the best PhD thesis in 2018. He won the C.J. Kok Jury Award ‘due to the importance of the scientific results, the breadth of his approach including both observational and theoretical avenues, and the exceptionally large amount of work’. In his thesis, Matthee addressed a key question in astrophysics: how do galaxies form and evolve? He used state-of-the-art observational data, in which he found a very bright galaxy at an astonishing 13 billion light-years away. In addition, he used massive computer simulations to investigate why multiple galaxies of a given mass are observed with such a wide variety of properties.   

Huub Rottgering received the C.J. Kok Jury Award on behalf of winner Jorryt Matthee

A dedicated teacher

Environmental scientist Stefano Cucurachi received the Faculty Award for Teaching from assessor Marleen van Dorst for the course ‘System Earth’ of the master Industrial Ecology. According to the jury ‘students appreciate Cucurachi’s efforts to facilitate a good discussion’. In addition, the jury praises the way in which Cucurachi connects his course material with recent developments in the world. Cucurachi’s dedication not only becomes apparent from the jury report, but also from his own words: ‘Sharing knowledge through teaching is one of the most exhilarating and energizing activities that an academic can engage in.’

Stefano Cucurachi (middle) receives the Faculty Award for Teaching

Starting 2019

All three faculty prize winners received 2,500 euros during the Faculty New Year’s reception. Prior to Bijl’s speech, Dean Geert de Snoo kicked off the meeting in a full lecture hall C1 by looking back at 2018. Highlights of the year included the Kavli Prize for astrophysicist Ewine van Dishoeck, Thomas Hankemeier’s lecture on metabolomics during the Dies Natalis of Leiden University, and many ERC, NWO, and other research grants. The faculty also presented itself during the Leiden Science Run and the Leiden Science Family Day, and again welcomed more new students than in previous years.

Leiden University will establish four university ‘Stimuleringsgebieden’ between 2019 and 2022, said De Snoo, for which more than twenty million euros of funding is available. The Faculty of Science participates in five of the nine research programmes in these ‘Stimuleringsgebieden’. In addition, the faculty is working on input for the sector plans, in which the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science makes forty million euros available annually for STEM. Finally, De Snoo paid attention to the faculty's new building plans; the preliminary designs for the second part of the Gorlaeus Building were completed in 2018.

Young Star Award

After the speech of De Snoo, Kavli Prize winner and astrophysicist Ewine van Dishoeck announced a scoop. At her initiative, there is a new prize starting next year: The Young Star Award for the best bachelor’s student of the faculty. Van Dishoeck will finance this student prize out of her Kavli prize money.

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