University Fund Wageningen has granted the Thesis Award of 2020 to four students from Wageningen University & Research. Peter La Follette won within the domain of environmental sciences and was honoured as overall winner. Within the other domains Patrick Barendse, Wisse van Engelen en Lianne Remie received prizes.
The Thesis Award is an annual prize of University Fund Wageningen and is intended for WUR students who have written an excellent thesis (graded with a 9 or higher) in the master's phase of their studies.
Errors in algorithms and AI
Peter La Follette wrote his winning thesis “Numerical daemons of hydrological models are summoned by extreme precipitation” under the supervision of Lieke Melsen and Ryan Teuling for the Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management chair group. In his thesis, La Follette focused on errors in measurements and models of predictions of extreme precipitation conditions and their expected changes due to climate change. La Follette not only showed a high level of skill in his modelling, his focus on understanding errors in modelling could also count on the jury’s approval.
With this, La Follette also opens up a larger issue, namely the increasing use of algorithms and artificial intelligence in everyday life. The jury: ‘It is unrealistic to think that in a modern society we can do without artificial intelligence, and without algorithms. But if we use them, then it is of paramount importance that we understand their behaviour, and especially what happens if erroneous input takes place.’
According to the jury, there is too little awareness of the occurrence of errors in models and their implications for further calculations. Therefore, according to the jury, crowning this thesis with the Thesis Award should be interpreted as a signal to WUR researchers and students that it is important to pay more attention to this.
La Follette is currently working on a publication based on his research for which he won the thesis prize and on his second thesis. For this, in addition to his former supervisors, he is also working with a team of researchers from the Eel River Critical Zone Observatory. Moreover, he has been working on a number of independent hydrological modelling projects. As the overall winner he received €1000 and a bronze sculpture of the 'Wageningen tree' by Sjoerd Buisman. The other three domain winners each received €500.
Online award ceremony
Due to COVID-19, the award ceremony took place online again this year and was attended by the jury members, the winners, supervisors and chair holders, Friends of UFW, and family and friends of the winners. This year's jury chairman was Dr. Paul Hebinck. Rector Prof.dr.ir. Arthur J.P. Mol provided the introduction.
Other winning theses
Agrotechnology and Food sciences
Lianne Remie, Human Nutrition
Title thesis: ‘Alzheimer-related activation of microglial cells caused by intestinal barrier exposure to LPS, DON, H2O2 or Ibuprofen’
Supervisor: Wilma Steegenga; chair holder: Sander Kersten
Wisse van Engelen, Forest and Nature Conservation
Title thesis: ‘The Park Multiple: The Politics of Conservation Tourism Partnerships’
Supervisor: Esther Turnhout; chair holder: Marielos Pena Claros (since 1 January 2021)
Patrick Barendse, Molecular Life Sciences
Title thesis: “Expanding the CRISPR toolbox using thermostable Cas9 variants. Genome editing and base editing in E. coli and human cell-lines”
Supervisor: Ioannis Mougiakos, Despoina Trasanidou, Laura de Haan; chair holders: Thijs Ettema (Microbiology) en Yvonne Rietjens (Toxicology)