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Top Swedish scientist professor Bertil Andersson awarded prestigious Wilhelm Exner Medal in Vienna

Professor Bertil Andersson, a world-renowned Swedish scientist known for his groundbreaking work in biochemistry, received the prestigious Wilhelm Exner Medal in Vienna yesterday.

He joins an illustrious list of laureates which includes 15 Nobel Prize winners. The award is in recognition of his research related to artificial leaves and its creation as well as his contributions to European and Austrian research. This Medal has been awarded since 1921 to scientists and inventors whose work has opened new possibilities in industrial applications.

"I am deeply honoured and yet humbled to be in the prestigious company of the most outstanding scientists and inventors in the last nine decades who have shaped the world we live in today," said Prof Andersson, who was nominated by the laureates and unanimously accepted by the General Assembly of the Austrian Association of Small and Middle-Sized Enterprises (sterreichischer Gewerbeverein, GV).

Wilhelm Exner, the eponym of the medal, was a pioneer in Austria's industrial development, as well as a university professor, technologist, politician, reformer of industrial education, founder of the Museum of Technology, Vienna, and Honorary President of GV.

For Professor Andersson, author of more than 300 papers covering topics from photosynthesis research to biological membranes, life has been a series of breakthroughs. The former commando was a competitive skier who swept sports medals, before moving on to win medals for his research work.

Come 2011, he will become the first Swedish as well as first foreign President to head Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU), one of the two largest public universities in Singapore, which Professor Andersson describes as a "small smart country like Sweden".

"NTU's spirit is one of resilience, perseverance and the ability to overcome all odds. This resonates well with me because it is very similar to the Swedish spirit," he said, explaining that both Sweden and Singapore are small countries which have done well on the international stage, including their universities.

NTU is ranked 74th in the QS 2010 World University Rankings, alongside Sweden's Uppsala University (62nd) and Lund University (72nd).

Professor Andersson joined NTU four years ago as the Provost. He added: "During this time, I have not just acclimatised myself to the tropical weather in Singapore but also attuned myself to the challenges and complexities of this large multicultural university which is one of the fastest growing young universities in the world."

As the university's chief academic officer, he has been instrumental in helping to redefine education and research at NTU by championing key thrusts in science and engineering. In domains such as sustainability, healthcare, new media and innovation, he has spearheaded institutional changes that have led to bold new programmes as well as increased funding support.

NTU had been on a steep up-climb, transforming itself from being a teaching university to becoming a research-intensive university, since 2003. An internationally acclaimed scientist and one with a long association with the Nobel Foundation, Professor Andersson was recognised as the man who could turbo-charge NTU's drive to be a research-intensive university when he was recruited by the current president, Dr Su Guaning in 2007.

He is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of the Nobel Foundation and as such, engages and participates in the annual Lindau Nobel Laureate meetings.

"Through my central engagement with the Nobel Foundation, I have gained first hand insight into world-leading knowledge creation. This has also allowed me to cultivate a network of top echelon scientists which will have a positive influence on the work we do at NTU," said Professor Andersson.

A talent magnet, he soon made NTU the choice institution for top young investigators keen to pursue research and also successfully attracted to NTU a host of world class academics prominent in their fields of study.

They include the earth sciences dream team comprising Professor Kerry Sieh, Professor Chris Newhall and Professor Paul Tapponnier; Professor Nadia Thalmann (virtual humans); Professor Rudolph Marcus (Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry); Professor Pr Nordlund (structural biology); Professor Staffan Kjelleberg (microbiology); Professor Yehuda Cohen (microbiology) and Professor Vibeke Sorensen (animation).

On his acumen for attracting talent, he brushed it off modestly: "It's not that difficult. I attract one good academic and he draws fellow top academics over. For example, I persuaded Kerry Sieh to give up his Chaired Professorship at Caltech to come to Singapore to head the Earth Observatory of Singapore. He then recruited leading volcano expert Professor Chris Newhall and Professor Paul Tapponnier, the foremost scientist of his generation in the field of neotectonics, and before long, a galaxy of superstar academics in earth sciences has evolved at NTU."

Last month, NTU sealed the deal with Imperial College London, to set up a new medical school in Singapore. This is Imperial College's first foray out of the United Kingdom. A Visiting Professor and Fellow at Imperial, Professor Andersson was instrumental in the "marriage" between NTU and Imperial to establish the Imperial College-Nanyang Technological University Medical School which will start accepting students in 2013.

"Two years after I joined NTU, the Singapore government invited NTU to put up a proposal to set up a medical school. I knew the brightest Singaporean students aspire to go to Imperial to study medicine and I knew that Imperial had ambitions to come to Asia. So here was a perfect opportunity to fulfil these two ambitions and start a new school that will train a new generation of skilled doctors who are innovative and familiar with technology.

"Like Imperial, NTU has strengths in engineering. In fact, unknown to many, NTU's College of Engineering is the largest in the world, with 16,000 students on one campus. The interface between medicine and engineering brings about exciting synergies, such as in biomedical engineering. The doctors of tomorrow have to be familiar with what technology can do and how it can help their patients because many developed countries, including Singapore, face the problems of an ageing population," said Professor Andersson.

No stranger to leading change within complex, global environments, the feisty professor was, prior to his appointment as NTU Provost, the Chief Executive of the European Science Foundation from 2004 to 2007 and Rector of Linkping University from 1999 to 2003. From 1989 to 1997, he was a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry (serving as Chairman in 1997), and from 2000 to 2006, a member of the Nobel Foundation.

He looks forward to his new role as the President of NTU next year. Paying tribute to the current President, Dr Su Guaning, he said: "Guaning has set the university on an accelerated path since 2003 and my job is to continue to grow the university even further. We have enjoyed a fruitful relationship and worked well as a team.

NTU has just unveiled its five-year strategic blueprint which Professor Andersson will implement as the new president. Under this plan, the university will build Five Peaks of Excellence, in sustainability, healthcare, new media, innovation and as a knowledge hub of the best of the East and the West.

These peaks leverage the university's diverse strengths, particularly its longstanding expertise in engineering and business, and the interfaces these have with various disciplines such as with healthcare, science and the humanities.

"New knowledge is found in the interfaces between different disciplines. As education and research have a symbiotic relationship, NTU not only transfers knowledge to our students but we are also at the forefront of knowledge creation through our cutting-edge research," said Professor Andersson.

NTU has a rich heritage as a Chinese-language university that started 55 years ago. Today, it is an international cosmopolitan university with about 8,000 out of 33,000 who are international students as well as 3,000 faculty and research staff from about 80 countries.


Contact: Feisal Abdul Rahman
Nanyang Technological University

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