The KNAW has awarded four leading scientists Academy professorships

14 April 2009

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) has awarded four leading scientists Bert Brunekreef, Rienk van Grondelle, Paul Hooykaas and Daan Kromhout Academy professorships.

The four professors will receive one million euros so that they can concentrate entirely on innovative research and supervising young researchers. As the universities involved will have to engage one young talented research leader in any event, the Academy professorship programme is contributing to the advancement of young researchers to positions of responsibility.

Bert Brunekreef

Prof. Bert Brunekreef (environmental epidemiology, Utrecht University) specialises in air pollution in relation to health and the environment. In 2005, Brunekreef founded the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences at Utrecht University, of which he is director. Prof. Brunekreef offers advice at home and abroad on health and the environment, and served on the WHO advisory committee for air pollution in Europe. He was the first to demonstrate that children living in a damp home with mildew are much more likely to develop asthma. Brunekreef is also a major influence when it comes to the outdoor environment. His name will forever be associated with the health standards for fine particle pollution. In 2008, Bert Brunekreef received the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences (USD 150,000) for his environmental epidemiology research, including his work on air pollution and health.

Rienk van Grondelle

Prof. Rienk van Grondelle (biophysics, VU University, Amsterdam) has been awarded an Academy Professorship for his outstanding contributions to the understanding of the first stage in photosynthesis. He has very successfully approached this field of research from a biophysical perspective, and has established one of the leading research groups in the world in this field. More specifically, Grondelle s unique contribution has been to carry out pioneering research at the junction of biology, physics, and chemistry. By using new laser-based technology, Rienk van Grondelle s group was the first to highlight the very rapid molecular process by which plants harvest as much sunlight as possible without suffering damage as a result. The pigment that absorbs the light appears to transfer excessive energy to another pigment, where it is converted into warmth and disappears without causing any damage.

Paul Hooykaas

Prof. Paul Hooykaas (molecular genetics, Leiden University) has long been performing leading research into understanding the interaction between the agrobacterium tumefaciens and plants. Agrobacterium tumefaciens is a bacterium that can be manipulated in such a way that it can transfer alien genes to plants. Hooykaas has discovered that the agrobacterium proteins find their way to the plant cell independently. This is also an indication that the bacterial proteins guide the DNA and not the reverse. Since the discovery of the unique transfer system of the agrobacterium, this system has been applied worldwide to fungi and yeast to produce medicines and to genetically engineer various grains and crops, such as maize and tobacco. Paul Hooykaas is a pioneer in his discipline and has published in most leading journals, including Nature and Science.

Daan Kromhout

Prof. Daan Kromhout (public health research, Wageningen University and Research Centre) has been awarded an Academy Professorship for his excellent track record in the field of nutritional epidemiology, and in particular the relationships between diet and cardiovascular diseases. Kromhout was the first to demonstrate that eating oily fish once or twice a week is sufficient to halve the risk of a heart attack. Kromhout's research also demonstrated that the traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern is associated with a low cardiovascular disease risk, as it is rich in vegetable products, unsaturated fats and fruit. The results of his research form the basis for international recommendations for a healthy diet and for prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Daan Kromhout was director of the RIVM for seventeen years and has been vice-chair of the Dutch Health Council since 2005.

On Wednesday 15 April, Robbert Dijkgraaf, President of the Academy, will personally congratulate three of the professors on the award of their Academy professorships. Dijkgraaf will be at VU University in Amsterdam at 10 a.m., at Utrecht University in de Uithof at 2.15 p.m. and in Wageningen at 5 p.m. Robbert Dijkgraaf will be visiting Leiden University at 12.30 p.m. on Friday 17 April.

Felicitatie Bert Brunekreef. Foto: Maarten HartmanBert Brunekreef Felicitatie Daan Kromhout. Foto: Bart de GouwDaan KromhoutFelicitatie Rienk van Grondelle. Foto: Peter Smith / M&C VURienk van GrondelleFelicitatie Paul Hooykaas. Foto: Marc de Haan Paul Hooykaas

For more information

Gertske Kuiper (KNAW, Communication)
+31 (0)20-551 08 63 / +31 (0)6-14191624