Historical story

Spinoza winners 2010 announced

The winners of the Spinoza Prizes for 2010 have been announced. The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) awards the 'Dutch Nobel Prizes' annually for top Dutch research.

The winners are psychologist Naomi Ellemers, astronomer Marijn Franx, chemist Piet Gros and classicist Ineke Sluiter. Each researcher receives a grant of 2.5 million euros to spend on a research project of his or her choice. This is the highest premium that NWO pays out. The scientists receive the prestigious award for their “excellent, groundbreaking and inspiring research”.

The new glass ceiling

Professor Naomi Ellemers graduated in 1987 from the University of Groningen. She is now professor of social psychology at Leiden University. One of 'her' areas of research is sexism. For example, last year she contributed to the book The glass ceiling in the 21st century. In that contribution, she states that many people today think that sexism hardly occurs anymore. That does not appear to be the case, but it has taken on a different form than before. Feminine unfriendliness has given way to a kind of benevolent sexism, in which, for example, women are offered help in the workplace (under the assumption that they cannot handle a certain task) while colleagues let men do the job themselves. It's hard to protest this kind of sexism, Ellemers found, because it seems like someone is just being nice. But in the meantime, a certain degree of inequality between the sexes is maintained, and women do not feel comfortable with it.

But Ellemer's research is not limited to gender inequality. She is also interested in how people behave within an organization. For example, she recently published a paper on the effects of affirmative action and last year wondered what it feels like to run the risk of losing status. She also showed that people are especially committed if they can identify themselves morally with their group or organization. And not if they can earn more or have better career prospects.

The life of a galaxy

Professor Marijn Franx is a space archaeologist. Using ground-based telescopes and the famous Hubble Deep Field recordings, he searches for the farthest galaxies. These galaxies originated when the universe was still very young. He established record after record with his observations:he discovered galaxies that are more than 12 billion years old.

During his research, Franx discovered that the most distant and oldest galaxies in our universe look very different from modern galaxies. They are sometimes ten times heavier than our Milky Way, and much more compact. In addition, there were many more bright, short-lived stars in the early Universe than there are today. Franx's research lifts a corner of what the universe looked like just after the Big Bang. That knowledge helps us understand how the life of a galaxy works.

Marijn Franx obtained her PhD at Leiden University. After a period as a researcher at Harvard University and a professorship at the University of Groningen, he returned to Leiden in 1998. He is currently working there as a professor of astronomy. Franx is also a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences.

A giant protein crystal

Professor Piet Gros, Professor of Biomacromolecular Crystallography at Utrecht University, has devoted his professional life to elucidating protein structures, especially those involved in the immune system. Gros receives the Spinoza Prize for elucidating the structure of the protein C3. C3 is a central part of the innate immune system.

To determine the structure of a protein, it must first be crystallized. For decades, it has not been possible to capture the C3 protein in its crystal form, because the protein is very large. And once the crystal has been formed, it must be irradiated, after which a complicated calculation follows. Gros' team finally managed to elucidate the structure of the C3 protein in 2005. The result was a three-dimensional "map" showing the exact location of each atom in the 1,641 residue protein.

C3 plays an important role in several autoimmune diseases. Gros' work therefore lays the foundation for drug development in the field of rheumatism, lupus, sepsis and kidney and cardiovascular diseases. Gros was also elected a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in May 2010.

Homer and freedom of speech

As professor of Greek Language and Literature at Leiden University, Professor Ineke Sluiter investigates the relevance of classical texts in our modern society. Her focus is on the right to freedom of expression. The Iliad has been one of her sources of inspiration for this:according to Sluiter, it describes a democracy that considers freedom of expression to be the right of rights. But at the same time, no one is allowed to participate.

In addition to freedom of expression, Sluiter also investigates other ways in which classical texts influenced society in Antiquity. She identified the influence of Homer and other classical writers on education, the differences between city and country and the way in which masculinity and courage were discussed. Another topic of her study is the Bible:how Christian education influences text comprehension and book interpretation.

Sluiter studied Greek and Latin Language and Culture at the Free University in Amsterdam, where she also obtained her PhD in 1990. Since 2000, she has been scientific director of the national research school for classicists, OIKOS. Since 2007, Sluiter has been a member of the Humanities Divisional Board, appointed by NWO.


It is the sixteenth year that the Spinoza Prizes have been awarded. The first time was in 1995. Although the announcement took place during the Bessensap event in the Museon in The Hague, the official award ceremony is still a while away. The four winners will receive the money and the Spinoza statue in the autumn.

Next Post