RUG awarded two Spinoza prizes

The RUG is the winner of not one but two Spinoza prizes this year. Philosopher Lodi Nauta and technical physicist Bart van Wees win the ‘Dutch Nobel Prize’: 2.5 million euros to spend as they wish.

After chemist Ben Feringa received a Spinoza in 2014, the following ten years were full of disappointment for the RUG, as the RUG researchers were continually overlooked. However, in 2014 the tides changed when migratory bird professor Theunis Piersma was selected for the prize. Last year, genetics professor Cisca Wijmenga got to walk on stage to accept hers. On Friday afternoon at the annual NWO conference Bessensap it was made known that this year, two RUG researchers were being given the prize.

Professor of the history of philosophy – best known for his research on 15th century humanism – Lodi Nauta was ‘proud and grateful’ when he heard the news. He considers the prize an accomplishment for the humanities, which have had to fight to prove their worth in the last few years. What is he going to do with it? ‘Appoint new people and begin a new group which can continue to map the history of philosophy’, he says.


His colleague Bart van Wees specialises in the behaviour of electrons in new materials. ‘What do electrons do and how do they behave in new materials? That is what I am trying to find out by doing original experiments’, he says. Early in his career he found evidence for ‘quantified conductivity’, the phenomenon that the conductivity in very thin wires gradually decreases as the wire becomes thinner – textbook knowledge nowadays.

Currently, he is keeping himself busy with spintronics: the study of the quantum mechanical ‘spin’ of electrons, which sees them behave like small compass needles.

Infectious enthusiasm

Rector Magnificus Elmer Sterken is overjoyed with the prizes for the RUG. ‘These are researchers who know how to inspire and encourage their colleagues; open researchers who have an infectious enthusiasm and lead the way for young people.’ He sees the prizes as proof that the RUG is on the right track when it comes to talent development. ‘We are not going to quietly enjoy it. We are going to make well known in any way we can.’

Check out our interviews with this year’s Spinoza prize winners Lodi Nauta and with Bart van Wees.