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On Wednesday, 8 January 2020 the University of Amsterdam celebrated its 388th birthday or Dies Natalis. Rector magnificus Karen Maex opened the celebration with a speech in which she argued for new and fundamental reserach in an interdisciplinary context. Benjamin van Rooij, professor of Law & Society gave a Dies speech on ‘Toxic organizations’. Honorary doctorates were awarded to neonatologist Diana Bianchi and earth scientist Johan Rockström.

How do we keep up with the world?

Rector Karen Maex asked in her opening address how science and scholarship can keep up with a rapidly changing world. ‘Major changes such as globalisation and digitisation, climate and the energy transition and the resilience and mental health of our society require new fundamental research in an interdisciplinary context,’ said Maex. ‘Of crucial importance is the positioning of science and scholarship, innovation in research methods, research-based education and intensive dialogue with society.’

Dies speech ‘The Toxic Organization’

Professor of Law and Society Benjamin van Rooij dedicated his dies natalis lecture to structural organizational misconduct. His research shows that in cases of organizational wrongdoing a toxic organizational culture plays a fundamental role. Such culture stimulates damaging and illegal behavior. Unfortunately, the common existing response to organizational misconduct, by seeking to hold the highest leader responsible, can worsen the organizational culture. 'Law should develop a better understanding of organizational behavior,' Van Rooij stated. 'The University of Amsterdam wants to play a leading role in this with the development of a new centre for law and behavior in the law school and collaboration between the faculties of economics and business, social sciences and law on behavior in large scale complex transitions.'

Honorary doctorates for Bianchi and Rockström

After the Dies speech, honorary doctorates were awarded to the American neonatologist Diana Bianchi and to the Swedish earth scientist Johan Rockström.

Diana Bianchi

Diana Bianchi is renowned for her research into microchimerism and non-invasive prenatal tests (NIPT) which use the mother's blood early in the pregnancy to accurately identify pregnancies in which the foetus has a chromosome or genetic abnormality.

This honorary doctorate is awarded to Bianchi for her crucial contributions to research into the health of mother and child before as well as during pregnancy, and especially because of her contribution to the development of the non-invasive prenatal DNA screening test.

Johan Rockström

Johan Rockström (1965) earned widespread renown for a 2009 article in Nature that was drawn up under his leadership. In the article, Rockström and his colleagues identified nine ‘planetary boundaries’ that mankind must not cross if we are to continue using the earth's resources sustainably. The boundaries relate to aspects including the fresh water supply, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and the loss of biodiversity.

Rockström received the honorary doctorate for his pioneering scientific contributions in the area of global sustainability, and for his research into planetary boundaries in particular.

Study associations pay tribute to honorary doctors

Both honorary doctors were surprised with a tribute from the UvA’s study associations. MFAS, the study association for Medicine, and the Faculty of Medicine’s student council jointly delivered a performance act in which Diana Bianchi’s work was linked to the AMC-VUmc merger and to Rembrandt’s famous painting 'The Anatomy Lesson'.

Spectrum, the study association of Future Planet Studies and of the natural sciences and social sciences, presented a story they wrote themselves based on the work of Johan Rockström. The story addressed Rockström's concerns about the quality of life of the planet and was presented during the Dies in visual form by a ‘sand magician’.