The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences is awarding this year's Academy Professor Prize to religious studies scholar and anthropologist Birgit Meyer (Utrecht University) and biophysicist Cees Dekker (Delft University of Technology). Both researchers will receive the sum of EUR 1 million, which they can use at their discretion to fund scholarly or scientific research.
About the Academy Professor Prize
Each year, two researchers are awarded the Academy Professor Prize, one in the humanities or social sciences and the other in the natural, technical or life sciences. The Prize is a lifetime achievement award for researchers between 54 and 59 years of age who are regarded as world-class in their field. An international jury appointed by the Royal Academy selects the two recipients. The awards ceremony will take place on 25 June 2015 at the Academy’s Trippenhuis Building in Amsterdam.
About Birgit Meyer
Birgit Meyer (55) is professor of religious studies at Utrecht University. She studies religion from a socio-cultural, global, and material perspective. Her research typically combines religious studies and cultural anthropology. In her work, she shows that a thorough knowledge of religion can improve our understanding of the world. She is helping to give religious studies new substance and direction at a time of secularisation on the one hand and the revival of religious convictions on the other.
Much of Meyers’ work concerns Africa. For example, her research showed that the dominant role of ‘Satan’ in many African Christian sects can be traced back to the activities of nineteenth-century missionaries, who viewed local spirits and gods as demons working at the behest of the Christian devil. She demonstrated that emerging religious movements, such as Pentecostalism in Africa, promote individualism and dilute traditionally strong family relationships. Meyer advocates the ‘material’ approach to religion, focusing on the body, objects and images, and old and new media.
She has acquired an extensive international network during her career, which has allowed her to participate in a series of international projects with fellow researchers in Europe, Africa and North America. She is currently participating in three international research alliances with fellow researchers in Belgium, Germany, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
Meyer’s oeuvre consists of a vast number of articles in prestigious international journals and chapters in books by prominent publishers. Her publications cover not only religious studies but also, for example, African studies, media studies, visual culture and anthropology. Her work is frequently cited by peers in these fields.
Meyer has been a member of the Royal Academy since 2007. She is the vice-chair of the International African Institute in London and in 2012 received the prestigious Anneliese Maier Forschungspreis from the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung in Germany. From April to June 2015, she will be a Fellow at the Centre for Advanced Study in Oslo.
About Cees Dekker
Cees Dekker (56) is professor of molecular biophysics at Delft University of Technology and the director of the prestigious Kavli Institute of Nanoscience Delft. He gained international recognition in the 1990s for his pioneering research into the characteristics and applications of carbon nanotubes. He used the nanotubes to create transistors out of only one molecule, and his work long served as an icon of nanotechnology, i.e. technology on a scale of a millionth of millimetre.
Starting in 2000, Dekker – then a physicist – became increasingly fascinated by biology. Today, he and the dozens of researchers employed at his laboratory in Delft still explore the machinery of living cells on the same miniscule scale.
His work has taught us how individual DNA and protein molecules work together, for example to repair damage to the genetic code. He developed ‘nanopores’ holes, so small that individual DNA molecules can be pulled through them, making it possible to read the genetic code. His most recent enthusiasm is the area where nanotechnology and synthetic biology overlap – an area that will take us much closer to answering the fundamental questions of life (‘Can we build a cell out of its separate components?’). Dekker will use the Academy Professor prize money to study synthetic cells.
Dekker has been an Academy member since 2003, the year in which he also won the Spinoza Prize. He has received many accolades for his work, including the 2001 Agilent Europhysics Prize and the 2012 Nanoscience Prize by the International Society for Nanoscale Science, Computation and Engineering. He has also twice received an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council. Delft University of Technology has appointed Dekker a distinguished professor.