Descartes-Huygens Prize for research into frangrances and evolution of living species

19 November 2020

French physicist Halima Mouhib, who studies the sense of smell, and Dutch evolutionary ecologist Rampal Etienne, who explores the relationship between evolution and plant, animal and bacterial species, have been awarded the 2020 Descartes Huygens Prize for their outstanding work and their contribution to Franco-Dutch research cooperation.

The € 23,000 prize makes it possible for them to continue their respective research collaborations. The awards ceremony will take place on 12 February 2021.

Halima Mouhib

Foto Renate Schütt

Halima Mouhib (34) is an associate professor at the Champs-sur-Marne campus of Université Gustave Eiffel, a multidisciplinary institution of higher education and research. She specialises in theoretical chemistry, multi-scale simulations and high-resolution spectroscopy. Mouhib's mission is to understand fragrances and the mechanisms underlying the human sense of smell. Her research is highly innovative and she is also skilled at explaining and making her work accessible to colleagues, students and a wider audience.
Mouhib has been collaborating with Dutch researchers for many years. In 2014, she was awarded a grant to conduct research at VU Amsterdam on how proteins pull themselves through the membrane that surrounds pathogenic Gram-negative bacteria. The Descartes-Huygens Prize will make it possible for Mouhib to cooperate with researchers at VU Amsterdam in 2021 for another six months. They will conduct simulations to explore how fragrances are absorbed from the air in a humid environment, such as that of the nose.

Rampal Etienne

Photo Heleen Etienne-Laan

Rampal Etienne (49), professor at the University of Groningen and researcher at the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences, specialises in theoretical and evolutionary community ecology. His research explores how an ecological community made up of all kinds of organisms (from fungi and bacteria to plants and animals) influences the emergence of new species and their evolution.

Etienne's involvement in Franco-Dutch research cooperation dates back to the early 2000s. Since then, he has studied how such factors as island size and distance from the mainland affect species diversification on islands. As a follow-up to this research, Etienne and his French counterparts will investigate how the traits of species forming a community influence the emergence of new species.

About the Descartes-Huygens Prize

The annual Descartes-Huygens Prize was established by the French and Dutch governments in 1995 to recognise researchers for their outstanding work and their contribution to Franco-Dutch research cooperation. The Netherlands selects the French winner and France selects the Dutch winner. The prize money (€ 23,000) is intended to cover the cost of the laureates’ research residence in the Netherlands and France respectively. The 2020 Descartes-Huygens Prize will be presented to both the Dutch and French laureates on 12 February 2021.