Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Chemistry for the Future – Solvay Prize 2015

Solvay has announced the winner of its 2015 Chemistry of the Future prize: Professor Ben L Feringa from the University of Groningen. Professor Feringa received the award from Her Majesty Queen Mathilde of Belgium during a ceremony on 18 November, 2015 at Le Palais des Académies in central Brussels. Professor Feringa was awarded this prestigious prize principally for his work on supramolecular chemistry and nanotechnology. Read the Solvay press release here.

Ben Feringa (left) has been professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Groningen since 1988. He is widely recognised as one of the world’s most creative and productive chemists. He has achieved breakthroughs in various fields of chemistry, including organic synthesis, catalysis, supramolecular chemistry and nanotechnology.

In particular his discovery in 1999 of the ‘molecular motor’, a light-driven rotating molecule, is widely recognized as a world-class breakthrough. The potential applications of this concept are as numerous as they are spectacular. The idea that molecular motors can transport themselves through the bloodstream in order to deliver drugs to previously unreachable locations in the human body with a high degree of accuracy is particularly inspiring.

Great honour
“I am greatly honoured by the prestigious Solvay Prize which is also a superb recognition for my team of talented students whom I have had the privilege to guide beyond the frontiers of the chemical sciences. Inspired and intrigued by the machinery of life we went on a quest to control motion at the nanoscale. Our ability to govern dynamic functions, as we demonstrated with our molecular motor, is essential for the development of responsive molecular systems that will form the basis for a whole range of smart products in the future,“ said Professor Feringa, who is also Vice-Chairman of the Royal Academy of Sciences of the Netherlands.” I am convinced that the creative power of synthetic chemistry will bring unimaginable solutions to the sustainable society of the future and to the well-being of mankind.”

“The Solvay Prize rewards decisive breakthroughs in scientific research achieved today and destined to shape the chemistry of the future. The research by Professor Ben Feringa allows us to anticipate a variety of scientific developments, chiefly in healthcare, and underlines chemistry’s essential role, as a science and as an industry, in delivering solutions for society and help human progress,” commented Solvay CEO Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, who chaired the Solvay Prize ceremony.

In the video below Professor Feringa describes some aspects of his work on chemical nanorobots. (Video in Dutch with English subtitles).

Awards galore!
Professor Feringa has been awarded numerous prizes, including the 2004 Spinoza Prize, the highest Dutch prize in science, awarded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). In 2008 the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) appointed Feringa as Academy Professor, giving him the opportunity to focus exclusively on his chosen fields of innovative teaching and research for five years. In 2011 he received the Van’t Hoff medal that is awarded every ten years by the University of Amsterdam for work in the field of chemistry. In May 2013 he was awarded a TOP grant of EUR 780 000 by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to continue his research on molecular motors.

In July 2013 Professor Feringa was awarded the Lilly European Distinguished Science Award, followed in September by the Marie Curie Medal, the highest honour awarded annually by the Polish Chemical Society for a chemical scientist working outside Poland. In November 2013 he was awarded two important Japanese prizes and this was followed in September 2014 by the prestigious Cope Scholar Award of the American Chemical Society.

Solvay prize
The Solvay Chemistry of the Future prize is intended to endorse basic research and underline the essential role of chemistry, both as a science and an industry, in helping solve some of the most pressing issues the world is facing today. The Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize rewards a major scientific discovery that could shape tomorrow’s chemistry and help human progress and celebrates the strong support for scientific research given by the founder of the Solvay Group, Ernest Solvay.

The €300,000 prize is awarded every two years. In 2013, the inaugural Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize was presented to Professor Peter G. Schultz from the Scripps Research Institute in California, and director of the California Institute for Biomedical Research. He received the award for his multiple scientific contributions at the interface between chemistry and biology. In particular the exploitation of molecular diversity and the rational expansion of the genetic code of living organisms. His ground-breaking work has made an impact in many scientific fields, including biotechnology and medicine. It also has important implications for regenerative medicine, and the treatment of infectious disease, autoimmune disease and cancer.

Selection process
The selection process for the 2015 prize was two-stage process. First, independent nominators propose candidates whose achievements in the field of chemistry, including biochemistry, material sciences, soft matter, biophysics and chemical engineering, will shape the chemistry of the future. Then an international jury selects the winner from this list of candidates.

The jury for 2015 was led by Håkan Wennerström, Professor of theoretical and physical chemistry at the University of Lund, Sweden. He is a former chairman of the jury for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was joined by the first winner Professor Peter Schultz, Paul Chaikin of New York University, Professor Christopher Dobson from the University of Cambridge, Professor Gerhard Ertl from the Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-PlanckGesellschaft in Berlin, Professor Jean-Marie Lehn of l’Université de Strasbourg, Patrick Maestro, member of the Académie des Technologies in France and Scientific Director of Solvay, and Paul Baekelmans, Science Adviser to the Solvay Group and Professor emeritus at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

Find out more about the prize and its winners on the Solvay website.

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