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Communication scientist Patti Valkenburg and theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde, both from the University of Amsterdam (UvA), have received the NWO Spinoza Prize 2011, the highest scientific award in the Netherlands.

Communication scientist Patti Valkenburg and theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde, both from the University of Amsterdam (UvA), have received the NWO Spinoza Prize 2011, the highest scientific award in the Netherlands. This has just been announced by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Each of the winners receives 2.5 million euros to spend on research of their choice.

The NWO awards the Spinoza Prize to Dutch researchers who rank among both the Netherlands and the world's top scientists. The scientists receive the prestigious prize for their outstanding, groundbreaking and inspiring research. The winners are internationally renowned scientists and know how to inspire young researchers. Three Spinoza prizes were awarded. In addition to Valkenburg and Verlinde, astronomer Heino Falcke from Radboud University Nijmegen has also received the prize.

Prof. P.M. (Patti) Valkenburg

Patti Valkenburg (1958), professor of Youth and Media at the UvA, performs groundbreaking research into youth and the media. She has developed a unique interdisciplinary specialisation which straddles the boundaries between education, psychology and communication science. Valkenburg is the most productive and one of the most widely quoted communication scientists in Europe.

Valkenburg studies, among other things, the consequences of internet use on the social lives of children and teenagers. She also investigates how media use, genetic predisposition and family and friends influence the development of cognitive skills, ADHD and aggression. Valkenburg is also active in the public sphere. She was one of the initiators of the ‘Kijkwijzer’ (the classification system for film, programmes and video games in the Netherlands) and has written many books about young people and the media, including Vierkante Ogen and Beeldschermkinderen (Square eyes and Children's Responses to the Screen).

Valkenburg only started her academic training (in Education and Child Studies) at Leiden University when she was 30, where she graduated cum laude just 2 years later. She subsequently obtained her doctorate - also cum laude - from Leiden University in 1995. She has worked at the University of Amsterdam since 1995, and was appointed professor of Youth and Media in 1998. In the twelve years since her appointment, Valkenburg has expanded her research group from 1 person (herself) to 22 researchers, using only externally acquired funding. Her research centre CCAM - Center of Research on Children, Adolescents, and the Media - is the largest of its kind in the world. In 2011, the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences of the UvA appointed Patti Valkenburg as Distinguished Research Professor in view of her exceptional research qualities.

Prof. E.P. (Erik) Verlinde

Verlinde (1962) is a theoretical physicist at the UvA. He investigates the building blocks of the universe. He is an internationally celebrated expert on the string theory, a theory that unifies gravity and quantum mechanics. Experts describe Verlinde as creative, ingenious and ambitious.

Verlinde has four major breakthroughs to his name. As a young PhD student he achieved world fame with his Verlinde formula that is now widely used by mathematicians and physicists. Together with his twin brother Herman, Edward Witten and Robbert Dijkgraaf, Verlinde formulated the Witten-Dijkgraaf-Verlinde-Verlinde equation. This is used by string theoreticians in their calculations. In 2000, Verlinde developed the Cardy-Verlinde formula and he was recently in the spotlight with his theory to explain gravity. Verlinde proposes that gravity is not a fundamental force but rather an amalgamation of other forces. If Verlinde’s gravitational theory is correct, then that will have huge consequences for how we think about the universe and its evolution.

Erik Verlinde studied physics at the University of Utrecht. He did his PhD research in the Utrecht group of Bernard de Wit and Nobel Prize winner Gerard ‘t Hooft. After gaining his PhD in 1988, Verlinde spent several years at Princeton, the top institute in his field of study. In 1993, Verlinde accepted a tenured position at CERN and in 1996 Utrecht University appointed him professor of Physics. In 1999, he was also awarded a professorship at Princeton University. Since 2003, Verlinde has been professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Amsterdam.

The Spinoza Prize and the UvA

The NWO Spinoza Prize has been awarded since 1995. Valkenburg and Verlinde are the eighth and ninth UvA researchers to have received this prize. They were preceded by mathematical physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf, astronomer Ed van de Heuvel and linguist Joep Leerssen.

The official presentation of the Spinoza prize will take place in the autumn