Keynote Speakers

  • Erik Verlinde

    Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

    “We use concepts like time and space, but we don’t really understand what this means microscopically. That might change… I think there’s something we haven’t found yet, and this will help us discover the origins of our universe.”
    Erik Verlinde, in UvA in the Spotlight

    Erik Verlinde is a Dutch theoretical physicist, internationally recognized for his contributions to the field of string theory and quantum field theory. His PhD work in conformal field theories led to the Verlinde formula, which is widely used by string theorists. He is currently best known for his work on emergent gravity, which proposes that both space-time and the gravitational force are not fundamental, but emergent properties arising from the entanglement of quantum-information. Incorporating the expansion of the Universe into this theory even allowed him to predict, under specific circumstances, the excess gravity currently attributed to dark matter. Erik studied physics at the University of Utrecht and conducted his PhD research under the supervision of Bernard de Wit and Nobel Prize winner Gerard ‘t Hooft. At the end of his PhD, he moved to Princeton as a postdoctoral fellow. In 1993 Erik accepted a tenured position at CERN, and in 1996 Utrecht University appointed him as professor of Physics. In 1999 he was also awarded a professorship at Princeton University. Since 2003 Erik Verlinde has been a professor of Physics at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in the University of Amsterdam. In 2011 he was awarded the Spinoza Prize, the most prestigious award for scientists in the Netherlands.

  • Thanu Padmanabhan

    Distinguished Professor, Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, India

    “Instead of the conventional view that gravity is a fundamental interaction, it could be that a microstructure - the 'atoms of space time' - give rise to it. … The connection between gravity and thermodynamics which started out as an analogy … has now become a physical reality.”
    Thanu Padmanabhan, in Scientific American India

    Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Thanu Padmanabhan is currently a distinguished professor at the Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) at Pune, India. He was born in Trivandrum in 1957, and obtained his BSc and MSc degrees in Physics from Kerala University, both of which were awarded with the Gold Medal. During his PhD research at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) he was offered a faculty position, even before he was finished. He is internationally renowned for his major contributions to a wide range of cosmological topics, including universal structure formation, the nature of dark energy and the emergence of gravity from quantum theory. The latter endeavour has led to a description where gravity emerges from the collective behaviour of “the atoms of space-time”, just like the theory of fluid dynamics arises from a macroscopic description of regular atoms. His essays on this topic have received awards from the Gravity Research Foundation on seven occasions. In 2002 he became a Sackler Distinguished Astronomer at Cambridge, and he was the President of the Cosmology Commission of the International Astronomical Union from 2009 to 2012. In addition, he very active in the education and popularization of science, with more than 100 popular science articles and 12 books to his name.

  • Alan Heavens

    Director of the Imperial Centre for Inference and Cosmology, Imperial College London, England

    “Advances in astrophysics and cosmology are driven by large and complex data sets, which can only be analyzed, interpreted and understood thanks to refined statistical methods.”
    Alan Heavens' ICIC Mission statement

    Alan Heavens is the Director of the Imperial Centre for Inference and Cosmology (ICIC) at Imperial College London, which aims to address the challenges posed by the statistical analysis of massive and complex data streams in astrophysics, astroparticle physics and cosmology. After earning his MA and PhD at the University of Cambridge, he obtained his first position as a professor of Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Edinburgh. He is currently a member of the Planck and Euclid consortia, and a fellow of Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His main field of expertise involves the statistical analysis of cosmological data, especially from large surveys of galaxies or the cosmic microwave background, as obtained by the Planck and Euclid telescopes. His techniques allow him to gain insights in many astrophysical areas, such as the evolution of large-scale structure, the nature of dark energy and dark matter, gravitational lensing, galaxy spectra, and the search for rare astrophysical objects. In addition his expertise in data-analysis branches out to other applications, as illustrated by his foundation of Blackford Analysis. This company uses massive data compression techniques to rapidly analyse large datasets, such as those obtained from medical scanners.

  • Larry Wasserman

    Professor of Statistics and Machine Learning, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA

    “Statistics and Machine Learning … What is the difference between these two fields? The short answer is: None. They are both concerned with the same question: how do we learn from data?”
    Larry Wasserman, on Normal Deviate

    Larry Wasserman is a statistician and data scientist from Canada, who is currently a professor in the Department of Statistics and the Machine Learning Department at Carnegie Mellon University. He studied Computer Science at the University of Toronto, where he finished his PhD thesis in 1988. This work received the Pierre Robillard Award for the best thesis in probability or statistics. His research interests include the application of machine learning to statistics, which can be used to minimize the complexity of problems in order to tackle scientific questions. He applies his statistical methods to a wide range of fields, including astrophysics, cosmology, bioinformatics and genetics, and has written two textbooks on the subject. The first of these books, named “All of Statistics”, has received the 2005 DeGroot Prize which recognizes influential texts concerning the fundamental issues of statistics. In 1999 he won the Presidents' Award from the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies (COPSS), and in 2002 he won the Centre de Recherches Mathematiques – Statistical Society of Canada (CRM-SSC) Prize in Statistics. He is a fellow of numerous associations, including the American Statistical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences, and he is Associate Editor of The Journal of the American Statistical Association and The Annals of Statistics.

  • Karlheinz Meier

    Professor of Experimental Physics, University of Heidelberg, Germany

    “What makes the brain so specific and so attractive in terms of computing? I mean: It runs on very little food, it’s 'banana power' that safely keeps you running; it's very compact, obviously much smaller than a supercomputer; and maybe the most important thing, it doesn't need any software updates.”
    Karlheinz Meier, at the SAI conference 2015

    Karlheinz Meier acquired his PhD in Physics at the Hamburg University in Germany, and is currently Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Heidelberg. Although he has played a leading role in experimental particle physics as a scientific staff member at both DESY (Hamburg) and CERN (Geneva), he has since expanded his interest to 'neuromorphic computing': the field of designing electronic systems inspired by the human brain. After leading the construction of the data pre-processing system for the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider, he co-founded the Kirchhof Institute for Physics in Heidelberg. Here he oversees research ranging from testing particle physics models in accelerators and studying complex quantum systems, to developing electronic system models for understanding information processing in the brain. On the latter subject he has initiated numerous large-scale projects, such as the FACETS and BrainScaleS projects with the goal of developing 'silicon neural circuits'. He is currently co-director of the Human Brain Project, which strives to link neuromorphic systems to large scale computer simulations of the brain in order to advance the fields of neuroscience, computing and brain-related medicine. His excellent presentation skills are exemplified by his numerous short films, where he explains a wide range of experiments to a general audience.

  • Peter Sloot

    Professor of Computational Science, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

    “I believe that if we can gain a better understanding of what complex systems actually amount to and develop the computational models to mimic them, we will get very close to predicting life, the universe and everything, and the best coffee for that matter.”
    Peter Sloot on Uva in the Spotlight

    Peter Sloot uses computational modelling and simulation to study the way in which “nature processes information”. His work has many applications, such as mapping the relations of criminals, modelling the immune system, predicting the risk of drug addiction, understanding the growth of tumours, and studying the way in which infectious diseases like HIV are behaving and spreading. After finishing his MSc in both Physics and Chemistry at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), he performed his PhD research in Computational Science at the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Cancer Institute. He is currently a Professor of Computational Science at the UvA, where he is appointed as Scientific Director of the “Foundations of Complex Systems” programme at the Institute of Advanced Study. In addition, he works as Professor of Complex Systems in Singapore, and as Professor of Advanced Computing in St. Petersburg. His passion for education and sharing knowledge is demonstrated by his numerous video appearances, including Dutch news broadcasts, scientific TV programs, a scientific documentary and a TED-talk. He also works as the Editor-in-Chief of two Elsevier Science journals: the Future Generation Computer Systems journal, which focuses on grid computing and eScience, and the Journal of Computational Science, an international platform used to exchange the latest results in simulation-based science across scientific disciplines.

  • Lieven Vandersypen

    Professor of Quantum Nanoscience, Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands

    “Quantum technology, technology making use of quantum effects, is about quantum computers faster than any computer we can imagine today, about ways of communicating with each other that are just impossible today, and about sensors and imaging techniques with unprecedented accuracy. But perhaps the most important applications we can’t even imagine quite yet.”
    Lieven Vandersypen at TEDxBreda

    Originally from Belgium, Lieven Vandersypen started his undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leuven, but obtained his MSc and PhD in Electrical Engineering at Stanford, California. At IBM Research - Almaden he developed his expertise in quantum information and computing. He used the spins of nuclei as quantum bits to perform unique quantum calculations, such as the factorization of 15 into the prime numbers 5 and 3, which warranted a publication in Nature. He was subsequently hired as a Postdoc at the Delft University of Technology, where he became an Antoni van Leeuwenhoek professor at the department of Quantum Nanoscience in 2006. Here he leads the Vandersypen Lab, which researches quantum mechanical phenomena in nanoscale devices with the goal of eventually building a large-scale quantum computing. At temperatures of only a few milli-Kelvins, his team manages to trap individual electrons in “quantum dots”: molecular structures the size of a virus, and to control and observe their spin. His latest research focuses concentrates on the usage of spin-less materials like graphene as the basis for quantum computers. Lieven’s dedication to interdisciplinary and socially motivated scientific discourse is exemplified by his work at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences’ (KNAW) Young Academy, and his many online videos including a TED-talk.