Leiden University: Seven Leiden professors elected new members of KNAW

Seven Leiden professors have been elected as members of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). In total 23 new members will be inaugurated on Monday 13 September.

KNAW members are outstanding scientists from every discipline who are selected for their academic achievements. The KNAW has around 550 members. Membership is for life.

The new Academy members from Leiden are:


Thomas Bäck – Professor of Natural Computing
Thomas Bäck is standing at the cradle of evolutionary computation, a field of mathematics that is inspired by evolutionary biology and seeks the best solution to a problem. Bäck has had a major impact with his numerous publications (400 since 1990) spanning from the theory of global optimisation techniques to their application in, for example, logistics, health and industrial production.

Bäck is a real bridge-builder. He works with businesses and is a champion of education. He was director of teaching and learning on the Computer Science programme in Leiden for eight years, for instance. He leads a large research group, and in this role is preparing 20 young researchers for their future.

Bernet Elzinga – Professor of Stress-Related Psychopathology
Bernet Elzinga’s innovative work is furthering our understanding of one of the key causes of human suffering: early-life stress. She researches the effect of stressful experiences on brain development and wellbeing in young people and adults, combining neurobiological, physiological and observational data.

Elzinga has shown that stress while the brain is developing can have significant long-term effects on the mental health of not only the person who has experienced the stress but also the subsequent generations. She is the co-initiator of various family studies into stress and depression. She also aims to translate her scientific insights into effective stress-limiting interventions, for parents of adolescents with depression, for example.

Pancras Hogendoorn – Professor of Pathology
Pancras Hogendoorn is known for his groundbreaking research in molecular-genetics and clinical-psychology research into human bone and tissue tumours. His work has led to precision diagnostics and treatment for patients who previously had little in the way of therapeutic options. A recognition of his great significance to the diagnosis and classification of these rare tumours is the WHO’s invitation in 2012 to join the board that categorises tumours in bone and tissue. In this work he also ensured global improvement in classification, research and care around the world.

As well as a researcher Hogendoorn is a leading ambassador of science. He is a co-founder of the Dutch Research Agenda and a member of the Life Sciences & Health Top Team, which brings together science, industry and government, and the chair of the Biomed group at LERU, the European association of universities.

Ton Schumacher – Professor by Special Appointment of Immune Technology
Ton Schumacher has made discoveries that are of essential importance to the use of immunotherapy to treat cancer. He has contributed to knowledge on how to activate T-cells in tumours more efficiently and how, in individual patients, proteins on tumour cells contribute to successful immunotherapy.

Schumacher has earned international recognition for his technological innovations. He has a great talent for ensuring that the fundamental discoveries that ensue from these innovations end up in the clinic. The special combination of academic excellence and entrepreneurship that Schumacher embodies make him an asset to the KNAW.

Eline Slagboom – Professor of Molecular Epidemiology
Why are some 90-year-olds still happily cycling around whereas other older people already have multiple conditions at the age of 70? Eline Slagboom has devoted her academic career to studying the genetic factors that drive healthy ageing and the molecular profiles in your blood that tell your age. These profiles are linked to metabolism, inflammation and the bacterial composition of the body. Slagboom conducted much of this research within the unique Leiden Longevity Study, which she also set up.

In recent years Slagboom has broadened her approach and initiated molecular profiles in national population research (BBMRI-metabolomics) and linked them to lifestyle interventions. With her colleagues she has also revealed the long-term effects of environmental factors before birth. Slagboom has been making her unique mark on ageing research for 30 years. It is partly because she has taken new directions that she is now at the top of her game.

Ignas Snellen – Professor of Observational Astrophysics
Ignas Snellen is a pioneer in the field of exoplanets, planets that orbit around another star than the sun. Exoplanets are the subject of a young and rapidly growing field of research. With his exceptional dedication and clever techniques, Snellen has managed to detect extremely faint signals from exoplanets from the earth, something most researchers would not have thought possible.

Snellen has many firsts to his name, including the first measurement of the length of a day on an exoplanet. An exciting long-term goal of the research into exoplanets is to discover traces of life there. Perhaps this will be another first for Snellen.

Miguel John Versluys – Professor of Classical and Mediterranean Archaeology
Miguel John Versluys is a leading, innovative Dutch archaeologist. His research into the ancient history of the Mediterranean focuses on the tension between local traditions and expectations on the one hand and the cultural and economic dynamics of globalisation on the other. He combines methods from the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.

Versluys has given new impetus to his field of research with the introduction of the concept of ‘objectscape’ that should illuminate the impact of object flows with specific material and stylistic elements moving through time over greater or lesser distances. Versluys does not limit himself to the academic world but enjoys working with cultural organisations and museums.

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