Dutch Professor Ben Feringa has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Feringa receives the prize together with Jean-Pierre Sauvage (France) and Fraser Stoddart (USA) for their work on the development of molecular machines. Feringa has been a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Groningen since 1988 and his 1999 discovery of the ‘molecular motor’ — a light-driven rotary molecular motor — is widely recognised as a spectacular scientific breakthrough. Within NanoNextNL Ben Feringa and his research group developed such molecules for the so-called ‘nano engine’. His involvement with NanoNextNL is within the Nanomaterials theme, specifically the programme Supramolecular and bio-inspired materials.
Breakthroughs in nanotechnology
Ben Feringa (1951) has been a professor of Organic Chemistry since 1988 and is regarded as one of the best scientists of our time, both within the Netherlands and worldwide. His research performance is exceptional. This is mainly due to the many breakthroughs he has achieved in various fields of chemistry, including organic synthesis, catalysis, supramolecular chemistry and nanotechnology; he is generally regarded as one of the world’s most creative and productive chemists.
Pioneer molecular engines
Feringa is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of molecular engines, as the many citations in a background article on nano engines in Nature confirm. One of the potential applications of his engines is the delivery of medication inside the human body. Besides molecular engines, Feringa is also involved in catalysis and smart medication that can, for instance, be turned on and off by light.
As a chemist, Ben Feringa is interested in molecular construction. ‘I am a molecule builder trying to construct smart molecules’, says Feringa. ‘Building a moving molecule is not that difficult in itself, but being able to steer it, have control over it, is a different matter.’ In 1999 Ben Feringa presented the first molecular motor, consisting of a molecule, part of which performed a full rotation under the influence of light and heat. He has designed many different engines since, even including a molecular ‘4-wheel drive’ car . By fixating the engine molecules to a surface, Feringa developed a nano ‘mill park’ in which the mills rotate when exposed to light. And last year he described the world’s first asymmetrical molecular engine. Feringa also succeeded in putting these molecular engines to work, having them turn a glass cylinder 10,000 times their size.
His discovery in 1999 of the ‘molecular motor’, a light-driven rotating molecule and the potential applications of this concept are as numerous as they are spectacular. The idea that molecular motors can transport themselves through the bloodstream in order to deliver drugs to previously unreachable locations in the human body with a high degree of accuracy is particularly inspiring. It is partly thanks to Feringa that the University of Groningen is undisputedly Europe’s number one in the field of chemistry.
Prizes in science
Feringa has been awarded numerous prizes, including the 2004 Spinoza Prize; the highest Dutch prize in science which is awarded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). In 2008 the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) appointed Feringa as the Academy Professor, giving him the opportunity to concentrate on his areas of interest in the field of innovative teaching and research for five years. Feringa also currently holds the post of Vice President of the KNAW. In 2011 he received the Van ‘t Hoff medal which is awarded once every ten years by the University of Amsterdam for work in the field of chemistry. In May 2013 he was awarded a TOP grant of EUR 780,000 by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to fund his research on molecular motors.
In 2013 Feringa was awarded the Lilly European Distinguished Science Award, followed by the Marie Curie Medal, the highest honor awarded annually by the Polish Chemical Society for chemists working outside of Poland. Also in 2013, he was awarded two important Japanese prizes followed by, in 2014, the prestigious Cope Scholar Award of the American Chemical Society. In November 2015 he received the Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize.
Source: University of Groningen