Building Bridges 2022 Spotlight Series: an interview with Sierd Cloetingh MAE

Building Bridges 2022 Spotlight Series: an interview with Sierd Cloetingh MAE

Sierd Cloetingh is the recipient of the 2022 Gold Award. He gives us his reaction and tells us about some of his recent activities on behalf of AE.

About Sierd Cloetingh MAE

Professor Sierd Cloetingh is the 2022 winner of Academia Europaea’s prestigious Gold Medal award. A Distinguished Professor at Utrecht University, he was President of Academia Europaea from 2014 – 2021. He was a member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council from 2009-2015 and Vice-President from 2014-2015. He served as President of the Association for European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) from 2017-2019.

Professor Cloetingh is a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and Foreign Member of the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences of Barcelona, Royal Norwegian Academy of Sciences, the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences, the Heidelberg Academy, the Bavarian Academy and the German Academy for Technical Sciences, acatech. He is also an honorary member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

The interview

Congratulations on receiving the Academia’s Gold Award. What does the award mean to you?

“It means a lot to me, for various reasons. Academia Europaea is the first academy I joined so it’s a little bit like your first love – something you always remember! Also, it is a great honour to be on the list of recipients for the Gold Award alongside predecessors such as Helga Nowotny, Robert-Jan Smits and Ole Petersen. I vividly remember their Gold Award lectures, which are highlights of AE’s annual conferences. I’m also very honoured that Robert-Jan Smits – the architect of the Scientific Advice Mechanism of the European Commission and someone who has been so crucial to European research and the making of Horizon Europe as it stands today – is giving my laudation. I’m really very pleased and very honoured.”

Climate change is the world’s greatest challenge and AE has formed an environmental taskforce to consider the issue. What key contribution do you think the Academy can make in tackling the crisis?

“I think it’s very important to realise that an issue like climate change is very much linked to the issue of energy transition. That’s reflected in the topics addressed by SAPEA, of which AE is a partner. These issues require an integrated approach, where we bring together knowledge shared by people from different disciplines, from the natural sciences and the social sciences and humanities. That is exactly what Academia Europaea stands for; we have the experience to operate in such a way. Likewise in SAPEA, we have the means to bring people together in the European Research Area, for example. We also have the COST association, of which I was formerly President.

“Related to climate change, there’s a topic I’ve been working on for quite a few years. I’ve been coordinating the TOPO-EUROPE programme in which 23 countries in Europe participated, financing 60 young researchers to investigate the coupling of deep Earth and surface processes and their effect on continental topography. We basically see that the deep Earth, which sounds pretty far away, is very much connected to what’s happening at the Earth’s surface, in terms of the processes that operate there. And when we talk about surface processes, we also talk about the effects of climate on erosion at the Earth’s surface so that’s high on the agenda in my own field. This offers unique opportunities for interfacing with other fields. To give you another example, a lot of the research that we have been carrying out on deep Earth now finds its way into applications such as the exploration of geothermal energy, which is a very important development in the present situation, where we must diversify our sources of energy. Europe is quite advanced in this, due to the efforts financed to a large extent by programmes such as Horizon Europe. Recently, I paid a visit to the AE Bergen Hub where Hub Director Eystein Jansen is one of the leading people in climate-related research. I know that climate change is on the agenda of a number of the AE hubs.”

Your term as President of AE finished at the end of 2021 after seven years, but your commitment to AE remains unwavering. Could you tell us about your role in the Academy now?

“I’m very happy to continue my involvement in a different role. The Board has asked me to chair the Independent Advisory Group. The Academia Europaea Board and the International Advisory Group will soon have a first meeting together, and I’m very happy that a number of very prominent people have agreed to join, including Robert-Jan Smits, Helga Nowotny, Andreu Mas-Colell, Carl-Henrik Heldin and Rolf-Dieter Heuer. I’m very happy with this role and to have further interaction with Academia Europaea.

I continue to support the Hubs where I can. I mentioned my recent visit to the Bergen Hub. I gave two lectures there, one of which was hosted by one of my former students who is a professor in Earth Sciences in the University of Bergen and another one on opportunities and challenges in the context of the European Research Area for science policy and innovation. It was a very inspiring session.

I’ve also recently been to Tbilisi, where I am on the advisory board for the AE Tbilisi Hub. I was very honoured to receive an honorary doctorate from the Tbilisi State University. I remember the establishment of the Tbilisi Hub very well and welcome the hubs continuing to play an important role in bringing us together on a full European scale. Also, we should be unlocking talent wherever it is; Georgia is a member of the Eastern Partnership of the European Union and a full member of the COST association. I am confident that this will be another example of where Academia Europaea can bring people together, including some who are not members of AE, and also continue its strong interaction with the Young Academy of Europe because I think that’s important for the future of the Academy.

Altogether I’m pleased with the momentum and pro-active role of the Academy as a platform stimulating a wide spectrum of bottom-up activities promoting research, education and policy advice on a full pan-European scale, in the spirit of the founders of our Academy.”

Interview by the Academia Europaea Cardiff Knowledge Hub. Posted 27th October 2022. For further information please contact

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