Leiden PhD student Koen Schakenraad wins Lorentz Graduation Award


Leiden PhD student Koen Schakenraad has won this year’s Lorentz Afstudeerprijs, a prize awarded annually by the Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities (KHMW) to a recently graduated theoretical physics master student with an outstanding thesis. Schakenraad, now member of Luca Giomi’s group at the Leiden physics institute, developed a model to help biophysicists analyze experimental data on DNA research.

Scientists study mechanical properties of DNA strands by stretching them. To zoom in on the actual genetic code—the base letters—biophysicists fluorescently label letters so they can trace them. However, these labels influence the mechanical properties of the DNA strand. During his master’s at the Eindhoven University of Technology, Schakenraad designed an analytical model that corrects for any influence of the labels.

After obtaining his master’s degree, he received a Leiden/Huygens fellowship to continue his work on bio-mechanics in Leiden and carry out theoretical research on cell morphology. ‘I got a phone call from the chairman of KHMW to let me know I won,’ said an excited Schakenraad. ‘I knew that my previous supervisor had nominated me, but I had no idea if I’d have a chance to win.’