KIVI, the Royal Netherlands Society of Engineers, has awarded the Academic Society Award 2019 to Delft professor Andy van den Dobbelsteen. The award honours professors who conduct research of major social importance, and who make efforts to generate discussions with society.

Van den Dobbelsteen is a Professor of Climate Design & Sustainability at Delft University of Technology. His research is centred on building sustainably, with a focus on the energy transition in a changing climate. ‘I’ve become more and more interested in large-scale sustainable urban transformation,’ says Van den Dobbelsteen. ‘It’s all about how cities can be decarbonised or made energy-neutral in the short term.’


Although the problem we’re facing is serious, Van den Dobbelsteen always tries to come up with optimistic solutions. He recently presented a plan to increase the likelihood of the Elfstedentocht ice-skating race through 11 Frisian towns taking place (this requires a sustained period of freezing weather for the ice to be thick enough) by linking it to the energy transition in Friesland. He proposed installing 10,000 heat pumps along the route of the Elfstedentocht to draw thermal energy from the surface water. That would cool down the water and make it freeze earlier, increasing the chance of the race taking place. The energy required would be provided by 26 wind mills along the route.

‘I wanted to show that sustainable solutions can also give rise to lots of positive effects and it’s something I’d love to debate,’ explains Van den Dobbelsteen. ‘We scientists should make our voices heard more often, so we can separate opinions from scientifically proven facts. I’ve noticed that lots of people need to separate the wheat from the chaff, so my fight against ignorance is ongoing. Winning this KIVI Academic Society Award is a great source of support and encouragement for me.’

KIVI director Micaela dos Ramos explains why Van den Dobbelsteen was selected. ‘Building sustainably is an important issue. We chose Professor Andy van den Dobbelsteen because he has been a major driving force in this field for years, and has got involved with the social debate about climate change in a way that doesn’t pass unnoticed. He talks from the perspective of the facts, and helps deepen the debate, exactly what the Academic Society Award stands for.’


Van den Dobbelsteen also conducts this social debate online, where he uses social media to obtain useful information rapidly and talk about his own lectures, research and key social outcomes. He’s also unafraid to counter climate sceptics with hard facts and research. A series of tweets he wrote on New Year's Eve 2018 was read more than half a million times. ‘I used a Twitter thread to try and argue against the nonsense in an article, and defend modern climate science.’ (The Twitter thread can be read here.)


Van den Dobbelsteen will receive his award on the Day of the Engineer on 18 March, where the winner of the Prince Friso Engineering Award will also be announced (for more, see ‘Vote for the Engineer of the Year’).

Previous winners of the KIVI’s Academic Society Award have been professors Maarten Steinbuch, Vanessa Evers and Kitty Nijmeijer, and professor and Nobel laureate Ben Feringa.

Photo: Cok Francken

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