Ruud van Sloun, Tom de Greef and Eva Demerouti are the first winners of the TU/e Science Awards

May 12, 2022

The TU/e community elects the winners of the TU/e Science Awards in three different categories on the first ever TU/e Research Day. This day, we celebrate science together.

Winners Tom de Greef, Ruud van Sloun and Eva Demerouti. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

On the very first TU/e Research Day, we celebrate science. This year, for the first time, we are presenting the TU/e Science Awards. With the awards, we are recognizing and rewarding our researchers at different stages of their careers. This is also the first year we will hand out the TU/e Science Awards. With these awards we recognize and reward our own scientists in different stages of their careers. The winners of the awards are Ruud van Sloun (exceptional uses of AI in imaging), Tom de Greef (development of a molecular computer, using DNA-technology) and Eva Demerouti (well-being and performance of employees).

Just before the award ceremony, the three new honorary doctorates were also awarded and they gave their acceptance speeches. Earlier in the day, they had spoken with Rector Frank Baaijens during a ‘college tour’ in which attendees could ask all of their questions. On the TU/e Research Day, the TU/e celebrates science with their community. This day, TU/e scientists and their research take center stage. Three different awards – each worth 15,000 euros to spend on activities to develop your scientific career – have been created:

  • Young Researcher Award - promising young scientist with breakthrough research ideas
  • Groundbreaking Researcher Award - scientist with groundbreaking research results
  • Leadership in Excellence Award - nationally or internationally prominent scientist

Who are the nominees and the lucky winners in 2022? We’re delighted to introduce them to you!

Young Researcher Award 2022

This year’s Young Researcher Award will be presented to young, promising TU/e researchers who received their PhD between 2015 and 2020. Despite this, they are already well-known names in their field, both at TU/e and beyond. The nominees were Mauro Salazar, Rob Wolfs and Bas Overvelde, but the winner is Ruud van Sloun. Van Sloun reacts with surprise: “It’s a great feeling to be nominated, especially in this environment with so many talented people. Winning is a huge recognition, but not for me alone. I also owe this award to the contributions of the smart colleagues and students around me."

Young researcher award winner 2022 - Ruud van Sloun

TU/e is not alone in considering Ruud van Sloun a promising researcher. In 2020, he was also included by Elsevier in their ‘30-under-30’ list because of his special applications of artificial intelligence in ultrasound scanning. His work at the department of Electrical Engineering to quickly determine whether someone’s lungs have been damaged was, of course, made all the more topical by the corona pandemic.

“I’m working on applying AI in next-generation imaging for imaging systems (such as MRI, ultrasound and radar) that intelligently observe the world around them and respond to it to gather important information. For medical applications, this information could be diagnosis-related; for automotive radar, it’s all about safety.

I believe that these imaging systems should include their own ‘imagination’. They should be able to envision what’s happening out there. The systems can then figure out hidden causes of the measurement data and oversee the consequences of their own actions (e.g., choosing what to measure). Only then can they optimally plan their own image processing strategies. For this, we use state-of-the-art deep learning techniques.”

Winning this award means a lot to him. “Today’s fundraising and awarding processes are very competitive. Along with many other talented scientists, you are fighting for the same subsidies and funds. In this environment, anything you can do to stand out with your work matters. That’s why winning this award is really important for me and my team,” says Sloun.

Yet even for a talented scientist like Sloun, it was not always obvious that he would go into science. “I've always been curious and creative, and I used to question whether I wanted to continue in music or science. By the time I got my PhD in Electrical Engineering, the realization had arisen that creativity is also the key to success in science and that you need your creativity on a daily basis in order to move forward. That caused me decide to stay in science.”

Groundbreaking researcher award 2022

For the Groundbreaking Researcher Award, notable researchers who obtained their PhD between 2010 and 2015 were sought out. For their excellent research and careers, Andreas Hülsing, Ghislaine Vantomme, Dirk Fahland and Liesbeth Janssen were nominated. Yet they just missed out on the award this year, which goes to biomedical enigeer Tom de Greef. “It’s an honor to be nominated for the award. I see it as recognition for the team of PhD students and postdocs that I’ve had the pleasure to lead for the past ten years. This team has worked extremely hard on risky and highly challenging research, which has proven to be worthwhile in the end thanks to their enormous dedication and commitment,” says de Greef in response to this.

Groundbreaking researcher award winner 2022 - Tom de Greef

Tom de Greef is an associate professor of synthetic biology in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the TU/e Institute for Complex Molecular Systems (ICMS). He specializes in synthetic biology and DNA nanotechnology, which he is applying in the development of a molecular computer. He has previously won special awards and is a member of the KNAW’s The Young Academy. This also leaves him feeling calm when it comes to winning this award. “It does confirm my conviction that we’re doing great research with our team. This award motivates us to continue doing so in the future,” says de Greef.

He has worked or studied at TU/e for most of his career, starting as a first-year student in 1998. “My group does research in the field of living technology, or technological products produced by or composed of living cells. We build cellular systems with non-natural components so that they can perform tasks that their all-natural counterparts cannot.

Consider the detection of disease in the human body. In our second line of research, we use DNA to store information at the molecular level. DNA-based data storage is the perfect solution for archiving data storage because you don’t need environmentally unfriendly data centers that use a huge amount of energy for this.”

Leadership in excellence award 2022

In the last category, the Leadership in Excellence Award, there is room for established names in science who have already earned their spurs. Panos Markopoulos and Heleen de Coninck were nominated, but the 2022 award goes to occupational psychologist Evangelia Demerouti, of the Industrial Engineering & Innovation Sciences departement! “I think it’s really great that my department thought of nominating me,” responds Demerouti. “It can be challenging to be recognized as a social scientist at a technical university. In any case, the award can’t make me even more enthusiastic about my research than I already am. Winning the award does give me the feeling that there is now a better balance between the effort and recognition in my work.”

Leadership in excellence award winner 2022 - Eva Demerouti

As a full professor at the Human Performance Management group, Eva Demerouti studies how people stay motivated at work. And with all the changes in working conditions in recent years, there is plenty to investigate. “I do research on work characteristics, such as people’s well-being and functioning in their work. I apply this subject to improve how employees adapt to (technological) changes.

I also develop interventions to improve employee well-being and functioning, to increase inclusiveness and diversity in organizations and even to improve employee functioning during crises, such as COVID-19. In doing so, I strive to provide answers which are based on facts and evidence and to uncover clear answers to contemporary organizational problems related to these subjects,” says Demerouti.

The fact that Demerouti now works at TU/e and is very successful here was also the result of an unusual path for her. “I was asked by one of my current colleagues to apply for the position of professor at TU/e. I had seen the vacancy, but I hadn’t responded because I didn’t think I qualified. It did take some time to get used to the TU/e culture, coming from a general university, but now I’m very happy to be working at TU/e.”

And that hope for the future only gets stronger through winning this award: “I hope that this will allow me to set up even more great collaborations with interesting people doing fascinating research.”

TU/e Science Awards 2022

Each year, the different awards are open to different research domains and departments. This year, the Young Researcher Award could be won by scientists in the Engineering domain (the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Built Environment and an Eindhoven Young Academy of Engineering (EYAE) candidate). The Groundbreaking Researcher Award was awarded in the Science domain (Applied Physics, Biomedical Engineering, Mathematics & Computer Science, Chemical Engineering & Chemistry). Finally, this year’s Leadership in Excellence Award went to the Design & Management domain (Industrial Design, Industrial Engineering & Innovation Sciences). Built Environment alternates between the Engineering and Design & Management domains every three years.

The jury for each award consists of the rector magnificus and the deans of the departments not competing for the award.

Nicole van Overveld
(Science Information Officer)

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