The University of Amsterdam (UvA) will award honorary doctorates to astrophysicist Chryssa Kouveliotou and heritage expert Charlotte van Rappard-Boon. Kouveliotou is receiving the honorary doctorate for her crucial and leading role in unravelling the nature and origins of sources of gamma radiation in the universe. Van Rappard-Boon is being recognised for her distinguished role in the development of Dutch heritage policy with respect to looted art and illegal art-trading. The honorary doctorates will be presented during the celebration of the UvA Dies Natalis on Thursday, 8 January 2015.
Kouveliotou (1953) is senior technologist for high-energy astrophysics at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in the United States. She is one of the most influential and renowned high-energy astrophysicists in the world. Her work centres around detecting sources of gamma radiation in the universe and interpreting these sightings. In the process, she has focused primarily on gamma-ray bursts (extremely bright, brief explosions) and Soft Gamma Repeaters (SGRs), eruptions of slightly less energetic gamma radiation. Although these phenomena were observed as early as the 1970s, the nature of their origins was one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in astrophysics for decades. Kouveliotou played a leading and crucial role in the research teams that changed this in the 1990s. She went on to play a prominent role again in the discovery that gamma-ray bursts originate from extremely remote galaxies billions of light years away, making them the most high-energy explosions in the universe. This involved close cooperation with UvA professor Jan van Paradijs († 1999). In the late 1990s, Kouveliotou made a crucial discovery that revealed the nature of SGRs. She discovered that these are neutron stars; a special type to be precise. SGRs have a magnetic field that is 100 to 1,000 times stronger than that of ordinary neutron stars (whose magnetic field is some trillion times stronger than the earth's). It was also determined that their bursts are caused by the massively concentrated magnetic energy contained in this field. This is why they are also referred to as ‘magnetars’.
Prof. Ralph Wijers, Professor of High-Energy Astrophysics, has been designated honorary supervisor.
Van Rappard-Boon (1944) is the former director of the Herkomst Gezocht agency and the former chief inspector for the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science's Inspectorate of Cultural Heritage. She made an extremely valuable contribution to shaping the overall heritage policy and heritage inspectorate in the Netherlands as well as to the implementation of international heritage treaties, particularly in the field of looted art and illegal art-trading. Consequently, Van Rappard-Boon has likewise made a significant impact on the study of cultural heritage in the Netherlands and abroad. She was one of the initiators responsible for the creation of the Cultural Heritage Protection Act and the Herkomst Gezocht agency. This included being involved in the initial efforts to return art stolen from Jewish owners by the Nazis, including the Goudstikker collection. Van Rappard-Boon began her career at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam as a curator of Japanese prints. In this capacity, she made a name for herself as one of the most knowledgeable Dutch experts on Japanese printing and 19th century European Japonisme. Van Rappard-Boon's catalogues for exhibitions hosted by museums including the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum set what is now a widely adopted standard for scientific descriptions. Moreover, she established an international and scientific standard for the Dutch Cultural Heritage Inspectorate.
Prof. Pim den Boer, Professor of European Cultural History, and Prof. Rob van der Laarse, Research Director at the UvA's Amsterdam School for Heritage and Memory Studies and Professor of War & Conflict Heritage at the VU University Amsterdam, have been designated honorary supervisors.