Bernard van Heck wins Christiaan Huygens Science Award

3 October 2016

On 3 October 2016, Bernard van Heck received the Christiaan Huygens Science Award for his PhD research at Leiden University in 2015. 'Van Heck has produced a dissertation of Einsteinian quality,' according to jury chairman Jan Zaanen.

Ms Jet Bussemaker, Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science, handing Bernard van Heck the Christiaan Huygens Science Award 2016

Majorana particles

Drawing on the principles of superconducting electronics, Van Heck designed an electrical circuit that gets Marjorana particles to braid on command. His research clears the path to building a Marjorana quantum computer, a machine that can perform calculations at exponentially higher speeds than conventional models.

The Christiaan Huygens Science Award encourages innovative research in disciplines that owe their development to Huygens’ work. This year saw 15 nominees who specialise in theoretical and applied physics competing. The award, a bronze statuette of Christiaan Huygens and a cash prize of EUR 10,000 euros, was presented by Ms Jet Bussemaker, Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science, during the Generation Discover Festival in The Hague.

Bernard van Heck

Bernard van Heck (born in Rome, Italy, in 1986) received his PhD on 6 May 2015 for his dissertation Quantum computation with Majorana modes in superconducting circuits. His supervisors were Carlo Beenakker and Anton Akhmerov.

Van Heck, who is now a postdoctoral associate at Yale University, studied physics at the Sapienza University of Rome. His research focuses on mesoscopic physics and quantum information.

Honourable mentions

  • Said Rodriquez (born in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1983), for his dissertation Coupling Light and Matter in Metallic Nanoparticle Arrays’ (Eindhoven, 2015)
  • Stefan Gadatsch (born in Hachenburg, Germany, in 1987), for his dissertation The Higgs Bosson (Amsterdam, 2015)

The jury

The jury for the Christiaan Huygens Science Award is appointed annually and consists of Academy members. The chairman was Jan Zaanen, professor of Theoretical Physics, Lorentz Institute, Leiden University. The other jury members were René Janssen, professor of Molecular Materials and Nanosystems, Eindhoven University of Technology, and Huib Bakker, director of the FOM institute AMOLF and head of its Department of Molecular Nanophysics.

About the Christiaan Huygens Science Award

The Christiaan Huygens Science Award is presented annually to a researcher whose doctoral research has made an important and socially relevant contribution to science. Each year, the award is presented in one of the disciplines – mathematics, physics and astronomy – that owe their development to the work of Dutch mathematician and scientist Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695).


In any given year, the competition and the award presentation are sponsored by an organisation that is closely involved in the discipline in which the award is being made. This year, that organisation is Shell. In addition to Shell, ESA/ESTEC and Aegon also support the work of the Christiaan Huygens Science Award Foundation.

Generation Discover, a science festival organised by Shell and various other partners, gives children a chance to get acquainted with cutting-edge technology and carry out their own research.