One big Feringa party

Nobel Prize winner Ben Feringa was the centre of attention on Wednesday afternoon. During his festive Nobel Prize Lecture in a packed Martini church, the celebrated chemist was named Honorary Citizen of the city of Groningen. The municipality also revealed a life-size version of the nano-car that made Feringa famous.
By Peter Keizer and Sjef Weller / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

The RUG came up with the lecture as a tribute to the laureate. ‘We would like to put him in the spotlight because he deserves it’, said RUG spokesperson Gernant Deekens beforehand. ‘We want to show people who he is and what makes him so special. And who better to do that than the man himself?’

The dozen RUG employees who helped to organise the lecture witnessed how the Martini church filled up with spectators around 4 p.m. The audience mainly consisted of invited guests, such as the University Board, faculty managers, and the mayor.

Passion

The ceremony was entirely in English, and Feringa described his research once more. He talked about his nano-car and the miniature submarine that travels through the veins like a tiny repair kit. And he talked about the Wright brothers who managed to fly a plane made out of wood and string. Who could have known back then that a century later we would be taking to the skies in droves? According to Feringa, that is how we should view his nano-car.

Just as he did on the day that his Nobel Prize win was announced in early October, the chemist stressed the importance of fundamental research during his lecture in the church. ‘Without that kind of research, we wouldn’t have iPhones’, according to Feringa. He then snatched the iPhone out of the hands of his interviewer, science journalist Marcel van Calmthout.

It is a spiel that Feringa has repeated many times over the past two months in front of spectators, television cameras and radio microphones. But he has become no less passionate about it. ‘This also serves as a dress rehearsal for Feringa for the lecture he’ll be delivering in Uppsala’, Deekens said earlier this week. It is tradition for every Nobel Prize winner to deliver a lecture in the week before the award ceremony, which takes place every year on 10 December.

Honorary citizen

During the festivities, Ben Feringa was named Honorary Citizen of Groningen by its mayor Peter den Oudsten. The mayor called Feringa ‘a brilliant, inspiring, and passionate scientist’ and ‘a fantastic ambassador for science and the city of Groningen’.

The Honorary Citizenship of the city of Groningen is awarded for ‘extraordinary selfless service to the city and its inhabitants over the span of many years’. Feringa can count King Willem-Alexander, Hans Alders, Jacques Wallage, and Max van den Berg among his predecessors.

Den Oudsten also awarded Feringa’s research group the Badge of Honour. The Badge of Honour of the city of Groningen is awarded for ‘excellent services to Groningen society’.

‘By bestowing the Honorary Citizenship and the Badge of Honour, the municipal board expresses its appreciation for the exceptional services Ben Feringa and his research group have provided to both the RUG and the city’, the mayor said.

Super nano-auto

As a tribute to Feringa, the municipality also put a life-size nano-car at the Grote Markt. In reality, the nano-car is only one millionth of a millimetre in length: a nanometre. The large model at the Grote Markt measures 4 metres by 6.5 metres.

The nano-car will remain at the Grote Markt until Friday, after which it will be moved to the square in front of the Academy building. Finally, it will be taken to its permanent residence at the Zernike campus.

Feringa was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in early October. He shares it with a Frenchman and a Briton. The professor built the first molecular motor in 1999, and in 2011 he built the first nano-car.

The Nobel Prize Lecture by the organic chemistry professor was broadcast live on the RUG and UK websites. You can watch the complete video at the top of this page.

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