"Dutch Nobel Prize" for three researchers

January 23, 2001

The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, NWO has announced the names of the three researchers who are to receive an NWO/SPINOZA Award for 2000. Each laureate will receive the sum of NLG 3m (EUR 1.36m) in recognition of their exceptional contribution to science. The Dutch minister of Science & Education Loek Hermans will hand the awards in The Hague on january 30th 2001.

The NWO/SPINOZA Award is the highest scientific honour in the Netherlands and is increasingly being seen as the "Dutch Nobel Prize". The Award, which this year is being awarded for the sixth time, goes to researchers who have displayed internationally recognised excellence and who have inspired and recruited young researchers. This year, more than thirty candidates were nominated.

The award-winners are:

Professor E.F. (Ewine) van Dishoeck (1955), Professor of Astronomy (specialising in Molecular Astrophysics) at Leiden University.

Professor D. (Daan) Frenkel (1948), head of the department of Soft Condensed Material and director of the Computational Physics research group at the Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics (AMOLF) in Amsterdam (part of the NWO's Netherlands Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter, FOM); also Professor of Computational Macromolecular Chemistry at Amsterdam University (UvA) and Professor of Computational Physical Chemistry at Utrecht University.

Professor D.S. (Dirkje) Postma (1951), Professor of the Pathophysiology of Respiration and in particular of Obstructive Pulmonary Disorders (Netherlands Asthma Fund), at the University of Groningen and Groningen University Hospital.

Biographical details:

Ewine van Dishoeck has been involved in molecular astrophysics - a young discipline - since the early 1980s. She studies the birth and death of stars, making use of both astrophysics and chemistry. It is this combination of disciplines which makes her research unique. Both astronomers and theoretical chemists regard Professor Van Dishoeck as an eminent representative of their respective disciplines. This combination of disciplines has allowed her to gain a new understanding of the life cycle of stars.

She has already received the prestigious Marie Goeppert-Mayer Award from the American Physical Society. Professor Van Dishoeck has worked at leading research laboratories such as those at Harvard and Caltech and she is part of a close international network.

She is able to inspire young researchers and attract highly-qualified postdocs to Leiden. Professor Van Dishoek herself is now the focal point of a definite school of astronomy, one at the cutting edge of the discipline and imbued with great enthusiasm. She has published more than 125 articles in scientific journals and has an extremely high citation score.

Her research has been the impetus for the construction of new observatories. Professor Van Dishoeck is currently promoting plans for a new telescope in Chile to observe radiation at millimetre wavelengths (the ALMA project). She was one of the first researchers to recognise the major possibilities opened up by "millimetre astronomy".

In the coming years, Professor Van Dishoeck intends extending molecular astrophysical research and thus further reinforcing the leading role in this field of the Raymond and Beverley Sackler Laboratory for Astrophysics in Leiden.


Daan Frenkel uses computers to simulate chemical and physical processes. He is one of the world leaders in the field of computational physical chemistry and his calculations regarding fundamental questions have led to new separation methods in petrochemistry.

Professor Frenkel isolates the basic, essential components of complex problems and then analyses them in detail, leading to unexpected insights. His most important discovery has made clear the far-reaching role of geometry and stacking in quantum phase transitions. This approach provides a better understanding of such things as the transition from the solid to the liquid state, the phase behaviour of liquid crystals and the mechanism of protein crystallisation. An understanding of protein crystals has given us a greater understanding of virtually all the processes in the body.

However, Professor Frenkel's computer work involves more than just simulation. He himself refers to it as computational physics, a third type of research alongside simulations and experiments. Extremely powerful computers and calculation methods specially developed by his research group have for years allowed him and his team to discover a number of unexpected crystal structures which later experiments showed did actually exist.

Professor Frenkel's work transcends the boundaries of specific disciplines and his approach provides new insights into chemical and biological problems. He also has contacts with researchers in related fields such as chemistry, biology and crystallography. Professor Frenkel is currently working on biological membranes and it looks like this research, carried out in collaboration with other scientists, will also lead to important breakthroughs.

In the past six years, Professor Frenkel has produced some 100 professional papers and his articles have been cited about 1500 times. His publications and teaching are the channels through which he conveys the power and elegance of his approach to a new generation of researchers.


Dirkje Postma (1951) is an internationally recognised pathophysiologist, one of the top five or ten researchers in the world in the field of asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Even at an early stage in her scientific career, Professor Postma contributed to major advances in the treatment of asthma. Thanks to her research, doctors now distinguish between asthma and COPD.

Professor Postma defined the clinical syndromes of the two pulmonary conditions. Her description of asthma, which is based on genetic research, is seen as a breakthrough, and it was she who drew up the official guidelines for treating asthma and COPD.

Professor Postma's work has received national and international recognition in the form of awards, scientific advisory positions and invitations to address congresses. She has an impressive list of international publications. Her articles in such periodicals as the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet have given enormous prestige to the clinical research in her field.

Professor Postma holds a large number of national and international positions, including with the Netherlands Asthma Fund, the World Health Organisation and the American National Institute of Health. She is the editor of a number of international periodicals and arranges international conferences and workshops.

Professor Postma's research is expected to explore new areas, with the aim of increasing our understanding of the mechanisms which cause disorders of the airways. She aims to promote close collaboration with immunologists and pathologists.
Notes for Editors

Professor E.F. van Dishoeck
Postbus 9513
NL-2300 RA Leiden
T 31-71-527 58 14
F 31-71-527 58 19
E-mail: ewine@strw.leidenuniv.nl

Professor D. Frenkel
FOM-Instituut AMOLF
Kruislaan 407
NL-1098 SJ Amsterdam
T 31-20-608 12 34
F 31-20-668 41 06
E-mail: d.frenkel@amolf.nl

Professor D.S. Postma
Department of Pulmonary Disorders, Groningen University Hospital
Postbus 30001
NL-9700 RB Groningen
T 31-50-361 35 32
F 31-50-361 93 20
E-mail: d.s.postma@int.azg.nl

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

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