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Prof. Dr.

Ben L. Feringa

Year of election: 2019
Section: Chemistry
City: Groningen
Country: Netherlands
Interview with Ben L. Feringa


Major Scientific Interests: Synthetic chemistry, Molecular Nanoscience, Catalysis, Supramolecular Chemistry, Photopharmacology

Ben Feringa is a chemist. His research focuses on organic chemistry and molecular nanotechnology. He was the first to develop a molecular motor. In 2016 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “the design and synthesis of molecular machines” together with Jean-Pierre Sauvage and Fraser Stoddart.

Feringa builds tiny molecular switches and motors from organic molecules. Such molecular motors play an important role in nature. In muscle cells, for example, myosin molecules are responsible for muscle contraction.

Feringa developed a light-driven molecular motor based on the light-sensitive molecule rhodopsin. These molecules can directly use light to generate a directional rotor movement.The molecular motor thus becomes controllable and is therefore capable to perform a specific task. Molecular motors can currently rotate up to ten million times per second.

Based on these findings, Ben Feringa constructed the world's first molecular "Nanocar" from molecules. It is only two nanometers in size and uses rotor molecules for propulsion. If the scientists let electrons float above the "Nanocar", the rotor molecules rotate in one direction and move the vehicle.

There are many conceivable applications for molecular engines and "Nanocars" in the future. They could be used to transport medication to specific targets in the body. Molecules equipped with light switches could then be activated at the target point with a corresponding light wavelength. Light-controlled antibiotics or chemotherapeutic agents could be used selectively and possible side effects therefore avoided. Molecular motors and machines may also be used for the development of new materials, sensors, and energy storage systems.

Photo: University of Groningen


  • since 2017 Co-Director of Feringa Nobel Prize Scientist joint Research Center, ECUST, Shanghai, China
  • since 2011 Hans Fischer Honorary Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies, TU Munich, Germany
  • since 2008 Academy Professor, Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences
  • since 2003 Jacobus H. van 't Hoff Distinguished Professor of Molecular Science University of Groningen, Netherlands
  • 2003-2011 Director Stratingh Institute for Chemistry, University of Groningen, Netherlands
  • 1991-1995 Chairman, Department Organic and Molecular Inorganic Chemistry, University of Groningen, Netherlands
  • since 1988 Appointed successor of Prof. Dr. H. Wynberg; chair of Organic Chemistry, Professor of Organic Chemistry, University of Groningen, Netherlands
  • 1984-1988 Lecturer Organic Chemistry, University of Groningen, Netherlands
  • 1983-1984 Project Leader Homogeneous Catalysis, Shell Research Laboratories, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 1982-1983 Research Chemist (Bioorganic Chemistry), Shell Biosciences Laboratories, Sittingbourne, UK
  • 1979-1982 Lecturer Amsterdam (Hogere Analistenschool)
  • 1978-1984 Research Chemist (organic synthesis, oxidation processes, photochemistry), Royal Dutch Shell, Shell Laboratories, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 1978 PhD at Department of Organic Chemistry, University of Groningen, Netherlands
  • 1969-1978 Undergraduate and graduate studies in chemistry, University of Groningen, Netherlands


  • since 2019 Member ERC Scientific Council
  • 2014 Member, International Academic Advisory Board, Max-Planck-Institute
  • 2014 Chairman, International Janssen Pharmaceutical Prize
  • 2013-2018 Appointed Member of Council, Royal Society of Chemistry, UK
  • 2013 Co-Chairman and Organizer, ArmChemFront 2013 Conference
  • 2012 Tetrahedron Chair at BOSS symposium
  • 2011-2016 Vice-president, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts & Sciences (KNAW)
  • 2011 Member, International Scientific Advisory Board, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2010-2016 Chair Netherlands Science Foundation, Chemical Division
  • 2010 Member and Executive Director, ACS 2010 Board, American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, USA
  • 2009 President of Bürgenstock Conference, Switzerland
  • 2007 Member, International Scientific Advisory Board, Wissenschaftsrat, Berlin, Germany
  • 2007 Co-Chairman and Organizer, International CD Conference (with E.W. Meijer)
  • 2002-2006 Founding Scientific Editor of the RSC Journal Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry
  • 2001 President, European Symposium on Organic Chemistry, ESOC-12, Groningen, Netherlands
  • 2001-2005 International Scientific Advisory Board, Max Planck Institute for coal research, Mühlheim/Ruhr, Germany
  • Co-Founder, Contract Research Company SELACT (now KIADIS)
  • Founder and Director, Stratingh Institute for Chemistry, University of Groningen, Netherlands
  • Member, Evaluation committee Topinitiativen, German Research Community
  • Chair, Executive Board, Advanced Research Center Chemical Building Blocks Consortium (ARC CBBC), Netherlands
  • Scientific Advisor Board, Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria), Austria
  • Editorials and Member in Editorial Boards:
  • Chair, Editorial Board, Chemistry World, Royal Society of Chemistry, UK
  • Member, Editorial Board, Journal of the Chemical Society, Faraday Transactions; Advanced Synthesis and Catalysis; Adv. Phys. Org. Chem.; Topics in Stereochemistry; Macromolecular Rapid Communications
  • Member, Editorial Advisory Board, Chemical Communications; Journal of Organic Chemistry; Chemistry, an Asian Journal; Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry
  • Member, International Advisory Board, Israel Journal of Chemistry

Honours and Memberships

  • 2020 Foreign Member of the Royal Society
  • 2019 Asteroid named after him "(12655) Benferinga" (2019)
  • since 2019 Member of the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, Germany
  • 2019 Slovak Chemical Society Gold Medal
  • 2019 Gold Medal, Comenius University Bratislava, Slovakia
  • 2019 Magnolia Silver Award, Shanghai Municipal People’s Government, China
  • 2019 Honorary Doctorate, University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain
  • 2019 Honorary Doctorate, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
  • 2019 Raman Chair Professorship, Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, India
  • 2019 Honorary Patronage, University Philosophical Society, Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland
  • 2018 Foreign Member, Academy of Sciences of Bologna Institute, Italy
  • 2018 Honorary Doctor, Yerevan State Medical University, Yerevan, Armenia
  • 2018 University Medal, University of Florence, Italy
  • 2018 European Chemistry (EuChemS) Gold Medal
  • 2018 Solvay Chair 2018, Solvay Institutes, Belgium
  • 2018 Honorary Member, Israel Chemical Society
  • 2017 ChemPubSoc Europe Fellow
  • 2017 TUM Ambassador, Technical University Munich, Germany
  • 2017 Honorary Professor, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University, Qhuanzhou, China
  • 2017 Gerhard Ertl Lecture Award, Fritz Haber Institute Berlin, Germany
  • 2017 Honorary Professorship, South China Normal University, Qhuanzhou, China
  • 2017 Distinguished Affiliate Professor, Technical University Munich, Germany
  • 2017 RSC Centenary Prize der Royal Society of Chemistry, UK
  • 2017 Academic Society Award, Royal Netherlands Society of Engineers
  • 2017 Tetrahedron Prize
  • 2017 Honorary Professorship, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
  • 2017 Ereburger City of Groningen und Tynaarlo, Netherlands
  • 2017 Honorary Professorship, East China University of Science and Technology, China
  • 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (jointly with Jean-Pierre Sauvage und Fraser Stoddart)
  • 2016 Honorary Member of the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society
  • 2016 August Wilhelm von Hofmann Medal, German Chemical Society
  • 2015 Chemistry for the Future Solvay Pize, Solvay, Belgium
  • 2015 Arthur C. Cope Late Career Scholars Award, American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, USA
  • 2015 Netherlands Chemistry and Catalysis Award
  • 2015 Diels-Planck Award Lecture, Kiel, Germany
  • 2014 International Organic Chemistry Foundation (IOCF) Yoshida Lectureship Award, Kyoto, Osaka, Japan
  • 2014 Theodor Förster Award, German Chemical Society and Bunsen-Society for Physical Chemistry
  • 2013 Nagoya Gold Medal, Japan
  • 2013 Yamada-Koga Award, Tokyo, Japan
  • 2013 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Medal, Polish Chemical Society, Poland
  • 2013 Lilly European Distinguished Science Award
  • 2013 RSC Award, Royal Society of Chemistry, UK
  • 2013 Dutch Research Council (NWO) gravitation program grant, Netherlands ministry of Science & Education (with E.W. Meijer, R. Nolte)
  • 2012 Grand Prix Scientifique Cino del Duca, French Academy of Sciences
  • 2012 Humboldt Award, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
  • 2011 RSC Organic Stereochemistry Award, Royal Society of Chemistry, UK
  • 2011 Van ‘t Hoff Medal
  • since 2010 Member of the Academia Europeae
  • 2009 Van ’t Hoff Award Lecture, Netherlands Academy of Sciences
  • 2009 Chirality Medal, Società Chimica Italiana, Rome, Italy
  • 2008 Paracelsus Award of the Swiss Chemical Society
  • since 2008 Elected Member of the Netherlands Academy for Technology and Innovation
  • 2008 ERC Research Grant, European Research Council (again 2016)
  • 2008 Knighted by Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands
  • 2007 James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry, American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, USA
  • since 2006 Elected Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences
  • 2005 Prelog Gold Medal, (ETH) Zurich, Schwitzerland
  • 2004 Solvias Ligand Contest Award (shared with J. Hartwig), Yale University, Connecticut, USA
  • 2004 Spinoza Award (highest Netherlands scientific award)
  • since 2004 Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, USA
  • 2004 Jacobus H. van‘t Hoff Distinguished Chair in Molecular Sciences, University of Groningen, Netherlands
  • 2003 Koerber European Science Award
  • 2003 Guthikonda Award, Columbia University, New York, USA
  • 2000-2001 Novartis Chemistry Lectureship Award
  • 1998 Elected Fellow, Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), UK
  • 1998 JSPS Fellowship award und JSPS Lecturesahip, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), Japan
  • 1997 Pino Gold Medal, Società Chimica Italiana, Rome, Italy




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