KU Leuven: Patron Saint’s Day 2022: KU Leuven announces six new honorary doctors

On the occasion of its Patron Saint’s Day, KU Leuven annually awards people with special achievements in the field of science, society or culture. On Wednesday 2 February 2022, the university will award an honorary doctorate to Jean-Laurent Casanova, Yvonne Farrell & Shelley McNamara, Philippe Grandjean, Nancy Kanwisher and Juan Maldacena. The honorary doctors of 2021 will also be honored that day because the celebration could not take place earlier this year due to the corona pandemic.

Jean-Laurent Casanova(°1963) is a French pediatrician and immunologist who studies congenital disorders in the human immune system. If we want to explain why some children become seriously ill from an infection and others don’t, we should not focus on the infectious germ, but we should also look at the host, says Casanova. He discovered that a variant in one gene can lead to a life-threatening infection with a particular pathogen. Furthermore, these patients are not more susceptible to infections with other groups of pathogenic germs. His lab found genetic errors for more than 20 infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and COVID-19. In 2020, he founded the COVID Human Genetic Effort, a global consortium that succeeded in explaining 20 percent of severe COVID cases genetically or immunologically.

The Irish architects Yvonne Farrell (°1951) and Shelley McNamara (°1952) form the pivot of Grafton Architects, which they founded. The Dublin-based architecture firm has built up a rock-solid reputation in recent decades, thanks in part to visionary designs for educational, government and cultural buildings. They can be found in their home country of Ireland, but also in cities such as Paris, Lima and Milan. Professor Farrell and Professor McNamara have taught at universities and educational institutions in many countries, and are currently associated with the Accademia di Architetturain Mendrisio, Switzerland. Architects do not so much create objects as they create spaces, they believe. They know how to integrate each project in its own unique context. “Their buildings are ‘good neighbours’ who want to contribute beyond the boundaries of the building and make a city function better,” said the jury of the Pritzker Prize, widely regarded as the highest award for architects, awarded Farrell and McNamara received in 2020.

Supervisor: Martine De Maeseneer

Yvonne Farrell (left) and Shelley McNamara | Photo: © Alice Clancy

Philippe Grandjean (°1950) is a physician and environmental epidemiologist specializing in the health effects of exposure to environmental chemicals. His birth cohort studies in the Faroe Islands inspired the UN to create the Minamata Convention on Mercury Pollution. Today, Professor Grandjean’s research focuses on the association between exposure to certain chemicals during development and neurobehavioral development, immune system function and metabolic abnormalities. He focuses in particular on perfluorinated alkylates (PFAS). His research formed the basis of new exposure standards within the EU. Professor Grandjean teaches at the Syddansk Universitet in Denmark, at theEcole des hautes études en santé publique (EHESP) in Paris and at Harvard University (US).

On the recommendation of the KU Leuven Student Council

Photo: © Jacob Rosenvinge

Nancy Kanwisher(°1958) is an American cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist. She was one of the first in her field to realize the possibilities of measuring brain activity for understanding the human mind. Kanwisher discovered small regions in the brain that are exceptionally important for specific mental functions. The first brain region she identified – the most well-known – is the ‘fusiform face area’, a region that becomes active during facial recognition. Kanwisher is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) in the US, where she runs her own lab at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. The importance of her research is underlined by the many prizes she has received, including the well-known Heineken Prize from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAB).

Promoters: Hans Op de Beeck, Rufin Vogels and Céline Gillebert

Photo: © Jussi Puikkonen

The Argentine theoretical physicist Juan Maldacena (°1968) is based at the renowned Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Maldacena is known worldwide for his discovery of the ‘holographic duality’, which describes a physical system in two – mathematically related – ways. The ‘hologram’ model provides an answer to the biggest question in physics: the missing link between general relativity and quantum mechanics. Maldacena has received several awards for his work, including the MacArthur Fellowship, the Milner Foundation Fundamental Physics Prize, the Lorentz Medal and the Einstein Medal.

Promoters: Thomas Hertog and Nikolay Bobev

Photo: © Andrea Kane, Institute for Advanced Study

KU Leuven was forced to adjust the celebration of its Patron Saint’s Day at the beginning of this year. Due to the corona pandemic, the awarding of the honorary doctorates and the traditional procession of togati could not take place. That is why honorary doctors from 2021 have also been invited to the celebration of 2 February 2022. Zhenan Bao, Hans Clevers, Bruno Latour, Kate Raworth and Jimmy Volmink will then officially receive their honorary doctorates.

KU Leuven hopes that the celebration of Patron Saint’s Day 2022 can take place live, but the university will of course take into account the circumstances and measures in force at that time.

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