Ilja Voets wins KNCV Gold Medal

July 8, 2019

Professor anti freeze proteins connects chemists, physicists, and biologists.

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The Royal Dutch Chemical Association (KNCV) has awarded the KNCV Gold Medal 2019, the highest Dutch award for chemical top talent under forty years of age, to Prof Dr Ir Ilja Voets. She is Professor of the research group Self-Organizing Soft Matter at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry.

On Friday, the KNCV announced the award on its website. "Voets has a unique profile in which she combines different disciplines," says Jurriaan Huskens, chairman of the jury of the Gold Medal Committee 2019. "She is also very involved in the chemical community, as shown by the many national and international committees and conferences in which she has participated. Voets has more than 100 publications to her name and 4 patents. "Ilja Voets has an impressive CV," says Huskens. "In addition to her extensive and visible research, she stands out because of the many and diverse forms of outreach she does. She really has an ambassadorial function in chemistry."

Professor unites disciplines

Voets studied Molecular Sciences at Wageningen University, where she obtained her PhD cum laude in 2008, under the supervision of Dr. Arie de Keizer and Prof. Martien Cohen Stuart. Afterwards, Voets was a postdoc at the Aldolphe Merkle Institute at the University of Freiburg (Switzerland). In 2011 she started as an assistant professor in the Physical Chemistry group at Eindhoven University of Technology, at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry and at the Institute for Complex Molecular Systems.

In 2018, Voets was appointed full professor at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry, where she holds the chair 'Self-Organizing Soft Matter'. This chair has a strong experimental, multi-scale, soft-matter approach, with special attention to interdisciplinary issues, small length scales (submicrometer), short time scales (milliseconds), complex mixtures of different components and innovative measuring methods. The chair connects chemists, physicists and biologists.

Antifreeze Proteins

Voets' research focuses mainly on imitating natural antifreeze proteins. Freezing harms soft materials, such as cells, which are often irreparable. This is because ice crystals can be sharp or because ice takes up more space than liquid water. Inspired by polar fish and bacteria, Voets looks for ice-binding proteins and polymers to protect soft materials from freezing damage.

Prestigious research grants

Voets has acquired several prestigious grants. In 2010 she received a Veni from NWO, and in 2014 a Vidi, for protein equilibria in cells and molecular light switches respectively. In 2014, she was also awarded an ERC Starting Grant to investigate antifreeze proteins and their mechanisms. In 2016, Voets received an NWO ECHO grant to continue her research. In 2017, the ERC awarded her the Proof of Concept grant, intended to further support groundbreaking ideas that have emerged from previous ERC funding. This enables the researchers to explore opportunities for marketing and to set up a concrete business plan for a spin-off company.

Gold Medal

The KNCV Gold Medal is awarded to chemical top talent in the Netherlands since 1963. The official award ceremony for this prestigious prize will take place during CHAINS 2019, a major chemistry conference⁠—10 and 11 December 2019⁠—which focuses on science and industry.

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Aldo Brinkman
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