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VUB honorary doctorates celebrate 'figures that matter'

15:59 02/04/2019

The Vrije Uniersiteit Brussel (VUB) is awarding seven honorary doctorates today. Given out at an event titled Figures That Matter, the PhDs are going to internationally renowned mathematicians and scientists.

The director of France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, Karine Chemla, is being recognised for her work as a mathematical historian. A scholar of sinology, or Chinese studies, her work bridges the cultural divide between Asian and western mathematical thought.

Freddy Van Oystaeyen, professor emeritus at Antwerp University, is a world expert in noncommutative algebra and geometry, known for his strong ethical approach to mathematics.

Padmanabhan Seshaiyer is a mathematics professor at George Mason University in the US. Director of the Stem Accelerator Program and the Center for Outreach in Mathematics Professional Learning and Educational Technology, he is a leader in introducing Stem subjects in primary and secondary schools.

Nearly 30 years ago, Susie Novis Durie was one of three founders of the International Myeloma Foundation in California. Another founder was her late husband, Brian Novis, who soon died of the disease, a cancer of the bone marrow plasma cells. She is being honoured with a doctorate together with the third founder, her husband Brian Durie, for the foundation’s research and services in improving treatment options and counselling patients.

A posthumous PhD is being awarded to Swedish MD Hans Rosling as well as to his son, Ola Rosling and Ola’s wife Anna Rosling Ronnlund. Rosling, who died last year, was the director of the Gapminder Foundation and author of Factfulness, both developed by the trio to address basic public misconceptions about global development.

Theoretical physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf (pictured above), a professor at the University of Amsterdam and director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton – where he inhabits Albert Einstein’s former office – is credited with breaking down difficult, abstract concepts and making them accessible to the public. A real ambassador of the sciences, he has introduced tens of thousands of people to string theory and quantum gravity.

And finally, Gerard Alsteens, better known as GAL, is a long-time Flemish cartoonist and house illustrator for Knack magazine since 1983. Fifteen years ago, he suffered an embolism in one of his eyes, became visually impaired and couldn’t work for three months. With the help of technology, he began to draw again and continues to this day, age 79.

“This academic year at VUB is dedicated to the beauty, power and wisdom of science,” said rector Caroline Pauwels. “That is reflected in the honorary doctorates, which are connected to notable figures, data and research results. That includes GAL’s figures and drawings, which encourage us to think critically.”

Photo courtesy VUB

Written by Flanders Today