Utrecht University: 2021 Student Awards winners announced

Best Master’s Thesis 2021
The award for Best Master’s Thesis 2021 goes to Robin Verstraten for his thesis entitled ‘The fractional Langevin equation’. New analytical techniques have led to the discovery of a new state of matter: the Time Glass. This will allow us to ‘build bridges’ between the fields of fractional calculus, glass and non-stationary quantum dynamics and can help us describe other new materials The discovery may also help us to solve ‘open’ problems, such as the liquid-to-glass transition during the production of glass. According to the jury: ‘Robin’s fascinating research shows that we can apply this complex formalism of fractional calculus to unify and describe many different states of matter, such as liquid, glass, marginal glass and even the recently discovered Time Glass, through a single equation.’

Jury’s opinion
According to the jury, Robin has managed to summarise an incredibly complex subject in an accessible way. ‘Despite being highly specialised, the thesis is well written and carries the reader along through the use of clever examples.’ The jury also deemed the results to be extremely impressive from a mathematical perspective.

Despite being highly specialised, the thesis is well written and carries the reader along through the use of clever examples.

Nobel Prize winner and originator of the Time Crystal concept, Professor of Physics Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was also impressed. Wilczek lauded Robin’s work as ‘truly fascinating’. Remarkably, Robin has already been invited to speak at a conference in which no students have ever participated. The outcomes of Robin’s thesis were published external linkin the form of a Letter in Physical Review B this May. Robin is currently working as a PhD student at Utrecht University’s Institute for Theoretical Physics, under the supervision of Prof. Cristiane de Morais Smith external link.

A difficult path after diagnosis
Robin’s academic career has certainly been no easy ride. ‘To be honest, my school career seemed more like an obstacle course at times’, he explains. Robin was initially diagnosed with autism, although this conclusion has since been partially refuted. The winner: ‘Most people didn’t really see a place for me anywhere. I hope this goes to show that you can achieve a lot if you focus on your talents rather than your limitations. It’s great to be able to focus on problems that almost no one un-derstands. I’m also really glad that Utrecht University now has a Studying Without Limitations external linkplatform, where students with a disability can find help and support.’

Rubik’s cube champion
Robin is not just a passionate and talented researcher. He has also won the national Rubik’s cube championship. ‘I’m really looking forward to the speedcubing competitions. It’s always a lot of fun, so I hope we can get back to that again soon.’

Exceptional Extracurricular Achievements 2021
This year, two winners instead of one will receive the award for exceptional extracurricular achievements: Daan Roovers and the ‘The CO2 Assistant’. ‘An exceptional decision in exceptional times’, the jury emphasised.

‘Both nominations are of an exceptionally high quality and are so dissimilar that it was difficult to compare them,’ the laudation notes. This marks the very first presentation of a joint award, a historical event that reflects our current times according to the jury.

Both nominations are of an exceptionally high quality and are so dissimilar that it was difficult to compare them.

Daan Roovers has made great efforts to improve student housing policies. The CO2 Assistant’ group successfully advocated a greater focus on climate change and sustainability in the medical curriculum. Both issues relate to urgent and imminent problems with a great impact on society and the lives of every student. The jury notes that both initiatives are of very high quality, started out as small-scale projects and have already shown the potential to expand.

The jury was particularly impressed by the fact that both Daan Roovers and the ‘The CO2 Assistant” group remained driven to continue their work during these challenging times. More than enough reasons, in other words, to name both initiatives winners of the Exceptional Extracurricular Achievements Award 2021.

Improving student housing policies
Soon-to-be-graduated Molecular & Cellular Life Sciences Master’s student and future PhD candidate Daan Roovers effectively and strategically united various parties at the local and national level in an effort to raise awareness of the need for better housing policies for students and other societal groups.

A greater focus on climate and sustainability in the Medicine curriculum
‘The CO2 Assistant’, a group of medicine students, has been making effective and structural efforts to raise awareness of another urgent issue: ‘climate and sustainability’. As a result of their efforts, ‘climate and sustainability’ has become a structural part of the medicine curriculum. In addition to Utrecht, the students also convinced other medicine programmes in the Netherlands and abroad to include these topics in their curriculum in the near future.

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