News - December 16, 2010

Cover Prize 2010: looks matter

The Cover Prize 2010 is crossing the border. To Belgium, where this year's winner, Saskia van Cruchten is living. The prize is awarded annually by Resource to the most attractively designed PhD thesis cover.

Cover prize winner
Winner Van Cruchten, who was born in Sittard, reacts with surprise and pleasure on receiving her congratulations by phone. She obtained her PhD last April and then took off. At present she is working for ReGenesys, a small, recently set-up biopharmaceutical company in the Belgian city of Leuven. But the accolade for her cover design does not come as a complete surprise. The cover was meant to be striking. 'Hence that shade of red', Van Cruchten declares. 'It's not just my favourite colour, it also stands out among other theses. I once had a meeting with a professor and he was looking for a book in his bookcase. He couldn't find it. That's when I thought: that's not going to happen to my thesis.'
Van Cruchten didn't take long to decide what would be on the cover. 'My research is about cafestol, a substance found in coffee. But just sticking a cup of coffee on the cover is too simple. Right from my first article onwards it was clear to me that it had to have something to do with mice and men.' Van Cruchten focused on the dual properties of cafestol. 'This substance has good and bad effects. The contradiction is expressed in the faces looking in opposite directions. So the image is clearly related to the content.'

The judges' task was not an easy one. The Wageningen theses display a colourful range of covers, with a variety in style and concept. Covers with a simple unedited photo are less commonplace now. Some people go in for homemade designs; others call in the help of the more or less talented members of their circle of friends, acquaintances or family. Some actually hire a professional graphic designer to do the job.
All this handicraft has led to innovative ideas. Esther Schnettler en Francisco Rossier-Miranda, for example, experimented with greatly enlarged 3D photography on their covers. The three-dimensional effect could be experienced with the aid of the 3D glasses supplied with the thesis. Tânia Vasconcelos Fernandes introduced a cover with a pull-out sheet, rather like the ones seen in children's books. Annette Kliphuis inserted a poster in the back of her thesis showing a complicated diagram of the metabolic conversions in algae. For the experts: a citric acid cycle, but even worse.
Van Cruchten stuck to a much simpler idea. But she admits to having given it a lot of thought. 'I made very careful choices. You only write one PhD thesis in a lifetime, so it's got to look as attractive as possible. I've had many comments about it. Lots of people like it. And I enjoy explaining what's behind it.'

Judges' Report: Cover Prize PhD theses 2010
Wageningen University

The panel assessed the 2010 thesis covers in terms of creativity, attractiveness and relevance to content.

The covers seen by the jury generally featured attractive designs. Among these several stood out; they will be mentioned below.
The panel of judges has chosen Saskia van Cruchten's Cafestol: A multi-faced compound. Kinetics and metabolic effects of cafestol in mice, as best cover of 2010.
The thesis cover is in a monochromatic red and has a steaming cup of coffee on it in black and white. The steam is transformed into dark shapes which evoke parallels with the genie in the bottle. Two shapes are facing left, the other right. The coffee cup carries the image of a mouse and a coffee bean. The back of the cover shows an enlarged version of two of the three black faces.
Her research deals with cafestol, a component of unfiltered coffee, and its different faces in terms of health. It had previously been demonstrated that this substance can cause a rise in cholesterol levels and therefore increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases. But cafestol also has another effect which could protect our health, as her research with mice has shown.
The judges admired the simplicity of the cover design with its primary colour palette, distinct line-work and typography which relate literally and metaphorically to the thesis' cafestol research. Cafestol is best avoided as long as we don't know its precise properties.

Honourable mentions
The panel also selected three theses with effective covers as meriting an honourable mention.
Francisco Rossier-Miranda: Colloidal-scale self assembly of microcapsules for food.
Executed with an eye to every last detail. A sharply defined electron-microscopic recording, finished with a spot varnish (to make it shine). The back of the cover shows a cluster of microcapsules with curious red and blue edging in the image. The 3D-glasses included reveal wonders!
 Walter Brand: Increasing hesperetin bioavailability by modulating intestinal metabolism and transport
An opened toolbox in a tunnel with a mechanic lying on the floor repairing the wall. The viewer will initially feel surprised. The photo, taken in Corpus, the scaled-up human body in Oegstgeest, depicts the way in which the transport of the substance hesperetine through the intestinal wall can be speeded up.
Gertrude Zeinstra: Encouraging vegetable intake in children. The role of parental strategies, cognitive development and properties of food
The cover, in primary and complementary colours, shows a miniature landscape with pumpkin, broccoli and sugar snap peas. A tiny ladder is propped up against the pumpkin. The unmistakable message: parents wanting to raise their children's vegetable intake are advised to make use of the personal and imagined worlds of their offspring.

Jac Niessen, science information officer  
Jenny van Driel, designer
Ernst Bos, researcher at LEI, and artist