Royal Academy awards for Ewine van Dishoeck and Peter Hagoort

4 April 2012

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has awarded the Academy Professor Prize to Ewine van Dishoeck, Professor of Molecular Astrophysics at Leiden University, and Peter Hagoort, Professor of Cognitive Neurosciences at Radboud University Nijmegen.

Both scientists will receive a sum of one million euros in support of their research. The Academy Professor Prize is intended as a lifetime achievement award for researchers at the absolute pinnacle of their discipline. Two prizes are awarded each year, one to a researcher in the social sciences or humanities, and the other to a researcher in the natural, technical or life sciences.

Ewine van Dishoeck studies the chemistry of the universe. The space between the stars is not empty but filled with a very dilute, cold gas, such as found in the dark regions of the Orion Nebula. Van Dishoeck studies the molecules contained in these clouds. In addition to familiar hydrogen and carbon monoxide molecules, they also contain exotic compounds not normally found on earth. She is particularly interested in the way clouds collapse to form stars and how planets are formed in the circumstellar disks around young stars. She uses the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and its Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) (at 5000 metres altitude in the Chilean Andes) in her research.
She is currently using the European Space Agency’s Herschel telescope to study water in space and the role that it plays in star formation.
Van Dishoeck is an internationally famed researcher who has been instrumental in making the relatively new discipline of astrochemistry what it is today. She plays a leading role in organising international projects and partnerships and is able to convey her enthusiasm for her complex research to the general public.

Ewine van Dishoeck (born in 1955) was appointed Professor of Molecular Astrophysics at Leiden University in 1995. Since 2008, she has been an External Scientific  Member of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany. She is also the scientific director of the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA), and heads the WISH project (Water in Star-forming Regions with Herschel). Van Dishoeck studied chemistry and mathematics in Leiden and received her PhD there for her research at the interface of astronomy and chemistry. She has held positions at Harvard, Princeton and Caltech. Van Dishoeck is the most highly cited astrophysicist in the world. She has received a number of major awards, including the Spinoza Prize (2000).

Peter Hagoort studies the neurobiological foundations of human language. He observes the brain in action, and investigates how it controls language production and comprehension. Hagoort was one of the first to combine psychological theory and neuroscientific models, and his ideas have had an enormous impact on the discipline.

In the late 90s, Hagoort conducted a key study on the timing of speech. It turns out that our brain first collects grammatical information about a word before it collects information about the sound. Hagoort’s research produced the first reliable, real-time measurement of speech production in the brain.
In 1999, Hagoort founded the prestigious F.C. Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging in Nijmegen, now an affiliate of the Donders Institute for Cognition, Brain and Behaviour. The Centre’s interdisciplinary team of researchers is using a series of new and advanced techniques to find out how the brain is able to process functions such as memory, language, observation, attention, emotion and consciousness.

Hagoort is one of the most creative and productive scientists in his field. He is closely involved in the public debate about how the brain functions, and plays an important role in communicating with the general public about his discipline.

Peter Hagoort (born in 1954) is Professor of Cognitive Neurosciences at Radboud University, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, and Director of the Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. Hagoort studied biology and psychology at Utrecht University and Radboud University, where he became a professor in 1990. He has received a number of major awards, including the NWO’s Spinoza Prize (2005).

The two recipients of the Academy Professor Prize were selected by an international jury appointed by the Royal Academy. The Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation makes a contribution towards the prize.

The awards ceremony will take place on Thursday 21 June 2012 at the Trippenhuis Building, the Academy’s headquarters in Amsterdam.