The Spinoza Prizes are considered the Dutch version of the Nobel Prizes. The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has announced that in 2021 they will go to professors Marc Koper (Leiden), José van Dijck (Utrecht), Lieven Vandersypen (Delft) and Maria Yazdanbakhsh (Leiden).
Marc Koper specialises in electrochemistry, using electricity to make all kinds of raw materials with the ultimate aim of manufacturing products with a minimum of pollution. Lieven Vandersypen works on the development of quantum computers, which harness the strange physical properties of the tiniest particles in their chips. In theory, this should result in machines that can achieve astounding computing speeds. Maria Yazdanbakhsh studies the ways in which parasites manipulate or circumvent our immune system. Thanks to her research, new ways of understanding the immune system will enable the development of new vaccines to ward off parasitic infections.
The only winner not to come from the exact sciences this year is José van Dijck. She is one of the founders of the field of media studies, with a particular focus on the influence and ethics of digital platforms. From 2015 to 2018, she was president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. The winners will all receive 2.5 million euros to spend on their research as they see fit. These latest awards bring the total number of Spinoza laureates to 101 since the prize was introduced in 1995. By far the most winners come from Leiden University.
The Stevin Prize is also worth 2.5 million euros in research funding. It has been awarded since 2018 in recognition of the wider societal impact of scientific work. This year’s winners are Bart Jacobs (Nijmegen) and Judi Mesman (Leiden).
Bart Jacobs is a leading expert on cyber security. The Dutch Research Council describes him as highlighting issues “you may not always want to hear about but you certainly need to be aware of”. To date, he has exposed chinks in the technology behind public transport chip cards, bank cards and voting computers. Judi Mesman examines how stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination develop in relation to gender, sexuality and ethnicity. Her work encompasses the roles played by parents, schools, media and the government.
Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677) was one of the founders of the Enlightenment. His critical views on religion and his alleged atheism made him a controversial figure. He was also a champion of freedom of speech. Simon Stevin (1548-1620) was a mathematician, physicist and engineer. He is known for his ‘land yacht’, a kind of sailboat on wheels that could travel along the beach. He also enriched the Dutch language with the words for mathematics, philosophy, equator and diameter.