UT professor Prof Dr Bram Nauta will be awarded this year's Stevin Prize, one of the highest honours in Dutch science. This was announced today by NWO, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. The Spinoza and Stevin Prize winners will each receive 1.5 million euros to be spent on scientific research and activities related to knowledge exploitation. The Stevin Prize will also be awarded to Prof Dr Corien Prins of Tilburg University, while the Spinoza Prize will go to Prof Toby Kiers of the VU and Prof Joyeeta Gupta of the University of Amsterdam.
The four researchers are receiving the awards for their outstanding, groundbreaking and inspiring work. The principal criteria for both prizes are the quality and impact of their work. The focus of the Spinoza Prize is on scientific work that addresses fundamental issues, while the Stevin Prize is primarily a recognition of the social impact of the research.
Bram Nauta (1964), professor of Integrated Circuit Design at the University of Twente, is a globally recognised expert in designing circuits on chips. His innovations have had a direct impact on widely used electronics. Smartphones became more compact and microelectronics became more energy efficient thanks to innovations such as the 'Nauta circuit'. His pioneering work was also behind wireless communication technologies such as 5G, wifi and Bluetooth.
Bram Nauta gained fame back in the 1990s with a startling discovery during his PhD research. This later became known as the 'Nauta circuit'. This super-fast electronic circuit with surprisingly simple design contains no speed-limiting internal junctions and is theoretically infinitely fast. Inverters - used as voltage-to-current converters - enable the circuit to filter out just the right one from a large number of signals. Miniaturisation resulted in a compact, affordable chip that was many times faster than what was on the market at the time. As a result, mobile phones became more efficient, data transport became smoother and the signal improved considerably.
He later devised thermal noise reduction with his Twente research group Integrated Circuit Design. This offers a solution for the various communication standards in the world of mobile telephony. The smart electronic circuit can recognise and amplify frequencies of standards such as GPS, Bluetooth, wifi and 4G and extinguish intrinsic noise. Before that, very compact circuits on a chip could be used as receivers for many different wireless standards. This also paved the way for the development of ultra-low-power analogue-to-digital converters. Scientific breakthroughs by Nauta's group also helped integrate circuits on a single chip for wireless communication into digital CMOS technology.
Today, Nauta's innovations can be found in billions of commercially available chips. These are incorporated in smartphones, but also in medical implants, aircraft and numerous other devices. The ultra-low power chips for the 'Internet of Things' owe their existence partly to the work of Nauta's research group. These microcircuits the size of a few cubic millimetres can harvest energy from the environment. Countless Internet-connected devices make use of them. The constant stream of innovations in analogue electronics is also important for the further development of 5G and 6G communications.
His department was at the cradle of several successful spin-offs and produces many graduates of interest to industrial companies. Partly for this reason, several chip companies have opened design centres near the University of Twente, thus stimulating local activity. The importance of his work for Europe is expected to increase further with Europe's drive for strategic autonomy (in the European Chips Act). His analogue circuits may also play an important role in new applications for artificial intelligence.
The selection committee for the Stevin Prize was very impressed by his research work and its impact on practice. 'The evaluation criteria for the Stevin Prize seem to have been written for him,' the committee said.
On the award, Bram says: "This is a very nice appreciation for me as a scientist, but also a recognition of the importance of chip technology. As an engineer, it is a great honour to receive this award, somewhat in the spirit of Simon Stevin; as an engineer, he used mathematical and physics principles to find solutions to diverse challenges in society. In fact, that is what we are also doing. It is impossible to imagine our society without chip technology, and with further digitalisation, that role will only increase. I hope that, as engineers, we can also inspire the next generation with our passion for technology, knowing that the need for technically skilled talent is going to increase even further."
NWO invites a number of selected individuals to nominate one or two scientists for a Spinoza Prize or a Stevin Prize. The Spinoza and Stevin committees are made up of 14 members from various countries and academic disciplines. The Stevin Committee also includes representatives from the business community and civil society organisations. The committees draw up a shortlist of candidates from the nominations, with a maximum of eight candidates for the Spinoza Prize and six for the Stevin Prize. The committee members then discuss each candidate with a number of international experts. Following these discussions, this year the committees advised NWO to award these four laureates. Including the new prize winners, there are now a total of 107 Spinoza laureates and twelve Stevin laureates.
The Spinoza Prizes and Stevin Prizes will be presented at an award ceremony on Wednesday 4 October 2023. During the event, the Spinoza and Stevin laureates will elaborate on the substance of their research and explain how they intend to use the prize money.