Academy Professor Prize awarded to Dorret Boomsma and Bert Meijer

24 April 2014

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has awarded this year’s Academy Professor Prize to Dorret Boomsma, Professor of Biological Psychology at VU University Amsterdam, and Bert Meijer, Professor of Organic Chemistry at Eindhoven University of Technology. Both researchers will receive the sum of EUR 1 million, which they can use at their discretion to fund scientific research.

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 26 June 2014 at the Academy’s Trippenhuis Building in Amsterdam.

About Dorret Boomsma

Dorret Boomsma (56) is Professor of Biological Psychology at VU University Amsterdam. She owes her reputation to her work setting up The Netherlands Twin Register, an internationally renowned database of tens of thousands of twins. Twins allow us to study the influence of genetics and the environment in which children grow up. Identical twins have an identical genetic background; by comparing them to fraternal twins and ‘regular’ brothers and sisters, researchers can explore the extent to which DNA determines a particular characteristic.

Dorret Boomsma set up The Netherlands Twin Register in 1987; today, it has contains data on more than 70,000 twins and more than 70,000 family members. Many of them have also donated DNA, blood or urine samples, making it not only the largest but also the most important twin register in the world.

Boomsma now has more than fifty researchers in her group. Initially, the group was interested in behavioural characteristics and stress, but gradually it widened its focus to include mental and physical health and the life habits and characteristics that play a role in both. Boomsma tests twins at multiple points in their life cycle. For example, she has shown that the influence of genetics varies over time. Attention deficit disorder and ADHD are examples of genetically determined mental problems that mainly affect very young children. As these children grow older, however, the influence of their environment and their parents becomes increasingly important. The opposite is true for intelligence: DNA is a more important factor in older children’s academic performance.

Boomsma has been a member of the Royal Academy since 2001. In that same year, she received the Spinoza Prize from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). In 2008, Boomsma was awarded an Advanced Grant by the European Research Council for research on the genetics of mental illness. She has also received the International Twin Society’s James Shield Award, the Dr. Hendrik Muller Prize for Behavioural and Social Sciences, and the Academy Merian Prize. She is the author or co-author of many highly cited articles, for example in Science and Nature.

About Bert Meijer

Meijer-Bert-5917Bert Meijer (59) is Professor of Organic Chemistry at Eindhoven University of Technology. He is among the world leaders in the field of supramolecular polymers – new biological materials with special properties.

Traditional polymers, such as nylon, consist of small molecules that are held together by strong chemical bonds. They are suitable for making high-strength fibres, for example. Bert Meijer developed a very different type of polymer, consisting of large molecules held together by relatively weak bonds. These are new materials that can be used in innovative ways.

Meijer began his career as a researcher with Philips and DSM. He joined the faculty at Eindhoven University of Technology in 1991. Initially, he was interested in dendrimers, branched molecules that go into making sponge-like bioplastics typically used in medical implants. More recently, Meijer has worked on supramolecular self-assembling polymers. As the name indicates, these polymers consist of large molecules that group together spontaneously in even larger structures, much the same way as in living organisms. This results in biologically-inspired materials with new and special properties, such as the ability to self-repair after being damaged. In addition, Meijer’s work for Eindhoven University’s Institute for Complex Molecular Systems (ICMS) concentrates on molecular self-assembly, a relatively new field of research that draws inspiration from nature itself.

Meijer’s original and innovative investigations are making a significant contribution to basic research. His background in industry also drives his passion for developing practical applications. His work has led to innovative start-ups and major investments by multinational companies.

Meijer publishes regularly in Science and Nature as well as in other world-class journals. His work has been cited tens of thousands of times. He has been a member of the Royal Academy since 2003. He is an honorary member of the Chemical Research Society of India, and an extraordinary member of the German Academy of Science and Engineering.

In 2001, Meijer was awarded the Spinoza Prize by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), and in 2010 he received an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council. He has also received other awards, including the Wheland Award from the University of Chicago and the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society.