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Toby Kiers receives Spinoza Prize for groundbreaking fungal research

4 October 2023
Professor of Evolutionary Biology Toby Kiers received the prestigious NWO Spinoza Prize on Wednesday, October 4, for her groundbreaking research on underground fungal networks. Kiers is the youngest scientist ever to receive this award. Jeroen Geurts, rector magnificus of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, describes Kiers as a significant source of inspiration. "We are incredibly proud of Toby, not only for her innovative and groundbreaking research but also for the way she builds and maintains networks above ground to involve people in her research and the importance she places on protecting underground ecosystems."

Kiers herself considers it an "enormous honor" to be the youngest scientist ever to receive the Spinoza Prize. "The world faces so many challenges: it's fantastic that I have the opportunity to conduct fundamental research on fungi that can contribute to addressing some of these major issues."

She discovered that beneath the soil, a kind of trade takes place between fungi and plants: fungi take up carbon and, in return, receive nitrogen and phosphorus. With her "unique pioneering contribution," as praised by the Spinoza Committee, Kiers has created "global attention." "The social impact of her work is enormous."

Kiers honored in Time 100 Next
Even the authoritative American magazine Time Magazine took notice of Kiers. In September of last year, she received an honorable place on the 'Time 100 Next,' a list of a hundred of the most promising and progressive 'leaders' in science, politics, and art. It is a crowning achievement for Kiers' already impressive resume, which includes the NWO Stairway to Impact Award, the 'Gravitation Grant', a TED talk, a VICI, the VU-URC chair, and the Ammodo KNAW Award.

The Spinoza Prize, annually awarded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), is the highest distinction in Dutch science. This prestigious prize is awarded to outstanding researchers who perform exceptionally well in scientific work. The 1.5 million euros prize enables Kiers to continue her impactful work. Her ambition remains significant. "My hope is that we will investigate the underground as intensively as space," she said earlier this year in an extensive interview with NRC.