On November 19, 2015, the second “Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize” of 300000 Euros was awarded to Professor Ben Feringa (University of Groningen, the Netherlands) for his work on unidirectional molecular motors. Professor Feringa has opened a new field of research which could pave the way for the development of new therapeutic and technological applications. Within the next twenty or thirty years, his research will likely lead to the introduction of nanorobots—microscopic robots which can accurately target specific molecules during therapeutic treatment. It may also enable a new generation of scientists to design artificial muscles or further optimize the storage of information on a molecular scale.
The Prize-giving Ceremony took place in Brussels, at the Palace of Academy. The award was presented by Queen Mathilde of Belgium and Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, CEO of Solvay, at the end of a stimulating afternoon in the presence of a large audience.
Following a presentation by Laure Twyffels, a young, talented biochemist who told us with enthusiasm why she is so committed to research, Ben Feringa, recognizing the contribution of his research team, spoke of his conviction that synthetic chemistry will bring solutions unimaginable today to society in the future.
The scope and applicability of Professor Feringa’s research underlines why the Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize is so important. It’s all about creativity and innovation, two things that have been embedded in the culture of Solvay for more than 150 years, and that enable us to deliver new solutions, improving life for people around the world.
It takes about nine months to designate the Solvay Prize laureate. First, a number of candidates are nominated by members of the Solvay International Institutes’ Chemistry Councils, as well as scientific academies, organizations, and selected individuals from all over the world. After a step-by-step process to whittle this long list of nominations down to a shortlist of candidates, Ben Feringa was selected as the 2015 Solvay laureate by a jury including Nobel laureates Jean-Marie Lehn and Gerhard Ertl, eminent scientists Chris Dobson (Cambridge) and Paul Chaikin (New York University), and the 2013 prize laureate, Peter Schultz. The jury was chaired by Hakan Wennerstrom (Lund University, Sweden) assisted by two Solvay secretaries, Paul Baekelmans and Patrick Maestro.
The word that comes up continually during the jury’s deliberations is excellence. The second criteria is the candidate’s contribution to the transformation of science into potential applications. Both are equally important criteria, as the growing reputation of the Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize will largely depend on the quality of the laureates.
One of the most creative chemists of our time, Professor Feringa is an eminent laureate who fulfills the ambitions of the Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize. As such, Professor Feringa has already been recognized by several scientific academies, and has won many other awards for his innovative research.
During the process of selecting the 2015 Chemistry for the Future Solvay laureate, we were accompanied by two students in chemistry from Paris who covered the selection process and Prize presentation on social media. Together with young Belgian researchers they had the opportunity to talk and exchange their views with Queen Mathilde of Belgium after the ceremony. We felt that it was very important to involve young scientists in this process and it has been amazing to see their enthusiasm for chemistry. We hope that their enthusiasm will help to inspire another generation of scientific innovators.
©2016 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston