On Tuesday 5 March, Nobel Prize winner Ben Feringa visited the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, on the ​ initiative of the Swedish Nobel Prize Outreach organisation. He gave a lecture in English called The Art of Building Small, which introduced students to his research on molecular nanotechnology and molecular motors. This research opens the doors for revolutionary applications in various sectors, including medicine and pharmaceuticals. Ben Feringa is a renowned Dutch chemist affiliated with the University of Groningen. In 2016, he, Jean-Pierre Sauvage and Fraser Stoddart received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their research into molecular nanomachines.

In an auditorium filled to the rafters, Feringa immersed students of medicine, pharmaceutical sciences, biomedical sciences, chemistry, bioengineering and engineering in the chemistry adventure that took him to Stockholm and the Nobel Prize. He made an inspiring pitch about the importance of science and nanotechnology in human progress. In 2011, he was the first scientist in the world to synthesise molecular motors, enabling them to continue running under the influence of ultraviolet light. Feringa also discussed the practical applications that have the potential to transform medical science. For example, he and his research group developed a β€œnano-car with four-wheel drive”. In the future, this may enable revolutionary applications, such as transporting drugs through the bloodstream to a specific place in the body. This could be an anti-tumour drug that works on a tumour but leaves healthy tissues alone. After the lecture, a select audience of 15 students had the chance to meet Feringa and participate in a round table discussion with him. A small group of VUB professors and rector Jan Danckaert had a private meeting with Feringa before the lecture.

β€œWe were honoured to host a lecture by one of the greatest scientists of our time. Ben Feringa is someone who understands the true meaning of science. Science is about observing, and that is exactly what he does: Professor Feringa observes and analyses nature because we can learn a lot from it. Science is also about hope. Hope is what Professor Feringa offers with his nanorobots. They may be extremely small, but they represent extremely big science. Today’s laboratory breakthroughs may lead in a few years – perhaps a few decades – to revolutionary applications that change all our lives. Innovations that make new treatments possible. I think it is clear that without science, there can be no progress, there can be no sustainable future,” says Jan Danckaert, rector of the VUB.

The lecture is part of the wider programme of Nobel Prize Dialogue Brussels. The global Nobel Prize Dialogue is a forum for scientists and non-scientists to enhance dialogue between the scientific community and wider society. The 2024 Nobel Prize Dialogue Brussels is organised by Nobel Prize Outreach in Sweden in cooperation with the European Research Council.