Outgoing Academy President Robbert Dijkgraaf knighted

5 June 2012

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands has made outgoing Academy President Robbert Dijkgraaf a Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte made the announcement today during a special annual meeting of the Academy. In his address, the prime minister also praised the quality of Dutch science and scholarship. Research Director Emmo Meijer of FrieslandCampina was awarded the 2012 Academy Medal, and Hans Clevers was installed as the new Academy president.

Prime minister’s address

Mr Rutte described Robbert Dijkgraaf’s accomplishments in his address and went on to explain his vision of the Dutch research system. “I am proud that the most prestigious academic post in the world will be occupied by a Dutch researcher,” he said. “In doing so, Robbert is proving a point, as it were, namely that Dutch science is exceptionally successful, by both absolute and relative standards – a message that he has been at pains to communicate as president of the Academy.”

Robbert Dijkgraaf’s annual address

In his final annual address as Academy president, Robbert Dijkgraaf turned his attention to the nature and charms of scientific pursuit, which he summarised by quoting Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek: 'think, play, repeat'. The pursuit of science requires freedom. Robbert Dijkgraaf called himself a champion of “useless research” precisely because such research led to the most important breakthroughs. “In 1939, 44 million people attended the New York World’s Fair,” he said. “The theme of the fair was ‘the world of tomorrow’. What visitors did not see at the fair were the two inventions that would have the biggest impact on the near future: nuclear energy and the computer. But the foundations for those revolutionary developments were already being  laid down just a short distance from the site of the Fair.”

The outgoing Academy president ended his address by stressing the need to recognise the importance of fundamental research for welfare and prosperity. “When we see how countries that have set such inspiring examples of innovation policy – Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Germany in particular – not only emerged stronger than ever from the 2008 financial crisis but are also doing better than the rest in the present euro crisis, it is hard not to feel bitter. All I can say is: how much more evidence do our politicians need?”

New Academy President Hans Clevers

His successor addressed the same sensitive issue. While Hans Clevers sees the value of the outgoing Government’s innovation policy, he believes that that value is short term in nature. “Applied research builds on discoveries made in fundamental research.  Without fundamental research, the pipeline will quickly run dry. There is a lot that we don’t know yet. In fact, we’re not even conscious of not knowing most of what we don’t know. It’s impossible to predict what we’re going to discover, and when.”  Clevers said that he would follow his predecessor’s example in making the value and role of science and research more visible to the general public. He also wanted to boost the position of research in national government and ensure that science had more input into national government policy.

2012 Academy Medal

Robbert Dijkgraaf presented Emmo Meijer, Director of Corporate R&D at FrieslandCampina, with the Academy Medal, awarded every other year for outstanding effort in the advancement of science and scholarship. The award was made in recognition of Meijer’s skill at building a bridge between research, the business community and politics. “As a key representative of industry, where applied research dominates, Emmo Meijer has always argued tirelessly in favour of fundamental research,” said jury chairman Ben Feringa.

For more information

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s *address
Robbert Dijkgraaf’s *annual address
Hans Clevers’ *inaugural address
Information on Hans Clevers
Text of *laudatory address for Emmo Meijer

* documents are in Dutch