Organisation - January 18, 2012

Wageningen’s whiz kids want to attract Nobel prizewinners

Wageningen needs to create the sort of academic climate that stimulates top research. To this end, seventeen up-and-coming researchers met at the Hof van Wageningen yesterday evening to establish the ‘Young Academy’.

The 'Young Academy' was the brainchild of the Wageningen highfliers David Lentink and Dolf Weijers. They want to create the sort of research climate you find at the best universities. Weijers: 'At universities such as California Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MIT, Oxford and Harvard, scientists of Novel prize stature come to speak every year, as do top policymakers and the editors of top journals. That creates a vibrant atmosphere in which young scientists are inspired to think big and push out the boundaries of science.'

Wageningen needs an atmosphere like that. The Young Academy wants to help this along by inviting distinguished speakers to Wageningen. People like the editors of journals such as Nature, Science and PNAS would be invited to talk about their publications and careers. Journalists from magazines such as the New Scientist of the NRC/Handelsblad would give lectures on communication. Nobel prizewinners would stimulate top level research, and enterprising professors will encourage knowledge valorization.

The Wageningen whiz kids are getting support from above. A panel of established scientists - known as a 'collegium' - will provide support and coaching. This group includes Spinoza prize winners Marcel Dicke, Willem de Vos and Marten Scheffer, Academy professors Pierre de Wit and Daan Kromhout, dean Johan van Arendonk and rector magnificus Martin Kropff.

The Young Academy is a select group itself. More than forty scientists applied to join but only seventeen survived the selection process. The criteria were motivation, publication score, and success rate in obtaining grants.

Most of the seventeen members have an ERC grant, either a Veni, a Vidi or a Vici grant, to their names. They are Gerlinde de Deyn, Maria Forlenza, Rene Geurts, Jan Willem van Groenigen, Jasper van der Gucht, Monique Heijmans, Kerstin Kaufmann, Joost Keurentjes, David Lentink, Erik Poelman, Jasper van Ruijven, Ryan Teuling, Bart Thomma, Don Weenink, Dolf Weijers, Tom Wennekes and Pieter Zuidema.