8 January 2019

Team achievements and sustainability research receive recognition

Erik van Sebille and Niko Wanders share Publi Prize

Erik van Sebille en Niko Wanders nemen de prijs in ontvangst. Fotograaf: Bas van Hattum

Erik van Sebille, an expert in the area of plastic soup and ocean currents, and Niko Wanders, a drought expert, have both won the UU Publi Prize. Never before has the UU Publi Prize been awarded to two winners at once. Two team achievements, in the form of Utrecht researchers' contributions to the NRC's climate blog and Europe column, were honoured as well. All winners received their prizes and honourable mentions from Henk Kummeling, Rector Magnificus of Utrecht University, during the New Year's reception.

Thinking in terms of solutions

Niko Wanders' research focuses on extreme hydrological conditions and how they impact society. He was a fixture in the press during last year's unusually dry summer, making him the 'face' of scientific explanations for the drought.

While Wanders is happy to take the media world by storm when current events give cause, Van Sebille is always willing and eager to share his expertise proactively, even when there is no immediate link to the day's headlines.
The Publi Prize jury

However, Wanders goes beyond mere explanation: as of recently, he advises the Delta Programme Commissioner on ways to ensure the Netherlands is 'future-proof' with regard to the inevitable consequences of climate change. According to the jury, the fact that Wanders chooses to think in terms of solutions, rather than in terms of problems, is evidence of both his communication skills and willingness to contribute to battling the effects of climate change. Jury members were deeply impressed by both qualities; they found it admirable that the researcher excels in so many areas and is able to hold his own in the media landscape.

Beyond the university's walls

Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer, greatly impressed the jury with his creativity and inventiveness. Van Sebille conducts research into ocean currents and frequently gives expert statements for the news, particularly on the topic of plastic soup. The short film he recorded with DUIC demonstrates that his research is conducted where science meets society, both regionally and nationally.

Erik van Sebille's research has an interdisciplinary nature that transcends not only the borders of a single faculty, but extends beyond the university's walls as well
The Publi Prize jury

Mr Wet and Mr Dry

In other words, the jury found it impossible to pick a single winner: both researchers – dubbed 'Mr Wet and Mr Dry' by the jury and Rector – earned the Publi Prize in wholly individual fashion. Both researchers are affiliated with Pathways to Sustainability and strive to achieve a more sustainable world through their research, an aim that also drives and inspires Utrecht University. 'While Wanders is happy to take the media world by storm when current events give cause, Van Sebille is always willing and eager to share his expertise proactively to make sure plastic soup and other topics make headlines, even when there is no immediate cause,' according to the jury.

Researchers who work in teams to contribute to the social debate are equally deserving of a place in the spotlight

Collaboration and team achievements

This year, in addition to rewarding individual researchers, a decision was taken to celebrate team achievements as well. Interdisciplinarity and collaboration are high priorities on the university's agenda. By consequence, researchers who work in teams to contribute to the social debate are equally deserving of a place in the spotlight.

The jury selected the contributions to the climate blog and the Europe column in the NRC newspaper. 'It is a fine thing when academics put themselves in the spotlight in this way. This is vital to our university and to the quality of the social debate as a whole,' Henk Kummeling said in his speech.

UU Publi Prize

The UU Publi Prize consists of funds to be used to create a video about the winning researcher's work. Through the UU Publi Prize, the university hopes to encourage academics to generate publicity for their own research, to engage in the social debate and to contribute to solutions for the problems faced by society.


The jury for the 2018 UU Publi Prize included Rosi Braidotti, Professor of Gender Studies (chair); Daphina Misiedjan, Assistant Professor of Human Rights and the Environment; Niels Geijsen, Professor of Regenerative Medicine at the Hubrecht Institute; Jop de Vrieze, freelance journalist for outlets including de Volkskrant; and Sandy van Heerde, Head of External Communications.