VUB hosts lecture by Nobel Prize winner Ben Feringa

VUB hosts lecture by Nobel Prize winner Ben Feringa

The Art of Building Small

On Tuesday 5 March, Nobel Prize winner Ben Feringa visited the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, on the ​ initiative of the Swedish Nobel Prize Outreach organisation. He gave a lecture in English called The Art of Building Small, which introduced students to his research on molecular nanotechnology and molecular motors. This research opens the doors for revolutionary applications in various sectors, including medicine and pharmaceuticals. Ben Feringa is a renowned Dutch chemist affiliated with the University of Groningen. In 2016, he, Jean-Pierre Sauvage and Fraser Stoddart received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their research into molecular nanomachines.

In an auditorium filled to the rafters, Feringa immersed students of medicine, pharmaceutical sciences, biomedical sciences, chemistry, bioengineering and engineering in the chemistry adventure that took him to Stockholm and the Nobel Prize. He made an inspiring pitch about the importance of science and nanotechnology in human progress. In 2011, he was the first scientist in the world to synthesise molecular motors, enabling them to continue running under the influence of ultraviolet light. Feringa also discussed the practical applications that have the potential to transform medical science. For example, he and his research group developed a “nano-car with four-wheel drive”. In the future, this may enable revolutionary applications, such as transporting drugs through the bloodstream to a specific place in the body. This could be an anti-tumour drug that works on a tumour but leaves healthy tissues alone. After the lecture, a select audience of 15 students had the chance to meet Feringa and participate in a round table discussion with him. A small group of VUB professors and rector Jan Danckaert had a private meeting with Feringa before the lecture.

“We were honoured to host a lecture by one of the greatest scientists of our time. Ben Feringa is someone who understands the true meaning of science. Science is about observing, and that is exactly what he does: Professor Feringa observes and analyses nature because we can learn a lot from it. Science is also about hope. Hope is what Professor Feringa offers with his nanorobots. They may be extremely small, but they represent extremely big science. Today’s laboratory breakthroughs may lead in a few years – perhaps a few decades – to revolutionary applications that change all our lives. Innovations that make new treatments possible. I think it is clear that without science, there can be no progress, there can be no sustainable future,” says Jan Danckaert, rector of the VUB.

The lecture is part of the wider programme of Nobel Prize Dialogue Brussels. The global Nobel Prize Dialogue is a forum for scientists and non-scientists to enhance dialogue between the scientific community and wider society. The 2024 Nobel Prize Dialogue Brussels is organised by Nobel Prize Outreach in Sweden in cooperation with the European Research Council.

Nathalie Vlaemynck

Broaden your horizons

This initiative is part of VUB’s public programme: a programme for everyone who thinks the world can be different and believes that scientific insights, critical thinking and dialogue are an important first step to making a difference to your environment and the world.

As an urban engaged university, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel aims to be a driver of change. Through our teaching and innovative research, we contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and make our mark on the future

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Nathalie Vlaemynck
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Vrije Universiteit Brussel is an internationally oriented university in Brussels, the heart of Europe. By providing excellent research and education on a human scale, VUB wants to make an active and committed contribution to a better society.

The World Needs You

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel assumes its scientific and social responsibility with love and decisiveness. That’s why VUB launched the platform De Wereld Heeft Je Nodig – The World Needs You, which brings together ideas, actions and projects based on six Ps. The first P stands for People, because that’s what it’s all about: giving people equal opportunities, prosperity, welfare, respect. Peace is about fighting injustice, big and small, in the world. Prosperity combats poverty and inequality. Planet stands for actions on biodiversity, climate, air quality, animal rights... With Partnership, VUB is looking for joint actions to make the world a better place. The sixth and last P is for Poincaré, the French philosopher Henri Poincaré, from whom VUB derives its motto that thinking should submit to nothing except the facts themselves. VUB is an ‘urban engaged university’, strongly anchored in Brussels and Europe and working according to the principles of free research.


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