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Dorthe Berntsen and Eske Willerslev receive Carlsberg Foundation Research Prizes 2021

The Carlsberg Foundation's Research Awards 2021. From left Chairman of the Board of the Carlsberg Foundation Flemming Besenbacher, Minister of Education and Research Jesper Petersen, HRH Crown Princess Mary, recipient Eske Willerslev and President of the Royal Academy Marie Louise Nosch. Foto Martin Juul

The Carlsberg Foundation Research Prizes 2021 have been awarded to Eske Willerslev, professor of ancient DNA, and Dorthe Berntsen, professor of autobiographical memory.

The prizes have just been presented at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek by Her Royal Highness the Crown Princess of Denmark, Minister for Higher Education and Science Jesper Petersen, President of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters Marie Louise Nosch and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Carlsberg Foundation Flemming Besenbacher.

Professor at Aarhus University Dorthe Berntsen receives the prize for her exceptional research in the human ability to recall experiences in our personal past and to imagine possible events in our personal future.

Professor at University of Copenhagen and University of Cambridge Eske Willerslev receives the prize for his many years of groundbreaking research in ancient plants, animals, microorganisms and humans, including their evolution and interaction in time and place.

Each prize amounts to DKK 1 million, of which DKK 750,000 is earmarked for research activities and DKK 250,000 is a personal honorary gift.

Groundbreaking research delivered through curiosity and diligence

The prizes are being awarded to Dorthe Berntsen and Eske Willerslev on the recommendation of a Prize Committee consisting of Danish and international scientists appointed by the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters and the Carlsberg Foundation.

“It’s a great delight to be able to award the Carlsberg Foundation Research Prizes 2021 to two such prominent researchers as Dorthe Berntsen and Eske Willerslev. Both have been delivering outstanding results within their respective fields for a number of years. And each has contributed crucial new knowledge that is making a difference and taking to new heights our understanding of animal and human history as well as the human ability to remember.” says Professor Flemming Besenbacher, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Carlsberg Foundation.

Marie Louise Nosch, President of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters and Chair of the Prize Committee, is also delighted with the diverse proposals for prizewinners that the committee has received:

“We in the Prize Committee, which includes both national and international scientists, consider it a great privilege, in an extremely wide-ranging and varied Danish research landscape, to be able to spotlight two exceptional researchers. Through their curiosity and diligence, they have both delivered groundbreaking research and epoch-making results.”

The Prize Committee’s reasons for awarding the Carlsberg Foundation Research Prize to Dorthe Berntsen

Dorthe Berntsen is being awarded the Carlsberg Foundation Research Prize 2021 for having transformed psychological research in Denmark.

The work of Dorthe Berntsen and her colleagues with PTSD and traumatic memory has revealed how traumatic memories serve as a reference point for organising information related to the self, and hence why they are so important for our identity and mental health.

Dorthe Berntsen has illuminated the subject of autobiographical memory from an unusually broad and integrated perspective, combining neuropsychology, clinical psychology, developmental psychology, ageing, animal behaviour and neuroscience.

This has made her a role model for implementing a truly interdisciplinary research endeavour.

Read the Prize Committee’s full citation

Read a profile of Dorthe Berntsen and watch a film about her research

The Prize Committee’s reasons for awarding the Carlsberg Foundation Research Prize to Eske Willerslev

Eske Willerslev is being awarded the Carlsberg Foundation Research prize 2021 for transforming not only his own research field – ancient genetics and evolutionary biology – but science as a whole.

Twenty years ago, he demonstrated how it was possible to extract ancient DNA from fossils and sediment samples – and in so doing was able to create, and subsequently expand, the field of environmental DNA. This opened up a brand-new track within evolutionary ecology – from microbacteria to plants and mammals – from modern and ancient sediments, freshwater and marine environments.

In his research group, Eske Willerslev has successfully fused archaeology, ecology, medicine, genetics and biology.

Based on this transdisciplinary approach and the wealth of data generated, Eske Willerslev and his research group have in recent years been able to rewrite human history by tracing global migrations.

Read the Prize Committee’s full citation

Read a profile of Eske Willerslev and watch a film about his research

About the Carlsberg Foundation Research Prizes

The purpose of the Carlsberg Foundation Research Prizes is to honour two active researchers, in Denmark or abroad, who have made vital contributions to basic research at a high international level. The prizes are intended to encourage further research and can be spent on research stays abroad, field work, equipment or salary for scientific assistance.

The Carlsberg Foundation Research Prizes were first awarded in 2011 to mark the bicentenary of the birth of founder J.C. Jacobsen. This is the tenth time (no prize was awarded in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic) that two outstanding researchers within natural sciences and humanities/social sciences have been honoured with prizes.

Each prize amounts to DKK 1 million, of which DKK 250,000 is a personal honorary gift and DKK 750,000 is for a research project.

The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters undertakes the process of inviting nominations and recommending prizewinners.

Read about the recommendation process (in Danish)

See previous winners of the Carlsberg Foundation Research Prizes


The Prize Committee

Chair:

The President of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters

Marie Louise Nosch, Professor, SAXO Institute - Archaeology, Ethnology, Greek & Latin, History, University of Copenhagen

Members:

International members within humanities and social sciences:

• Joanna Story, Professor of Early Medieval History, University of Leicester

• Heinrich Detering, Professor of Modern German Literature and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Göttingen

International members within the natural sciences:

• Carol Robinson, Professor of Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford

• Susanne Renner, Professor of Biology, Department of Biology, Washington University in St. Louis

Previous winners of the Carlsberg Foundation Research prize:

• Mette Birkedal Bruun (2017), Professor, Section of Church History, University of Copenhagen

• Andreas Roepstorff (2015), Professor, Director of the Interacting Minds Centre, Aarhus University

• Poul Nissen (2018), Professor, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University

• Karl Anker Jørgensen (2017), Professor, Department of Chemistry, Aarhus University


Further information can be obtained by contacting Press and Communications Advisor Jane Benarroch: tel. +45 3164 0010, e-mail jb@carlsbergfoundation.dk



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