Speech by the Prince of Orange on the occasion of the presentation of the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prizes at the Beurs of Berlage in Amsterdam

2 oktober 2008

Amsterdam, 2 October 2008

Distinguished laureates,

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to start by warmly congratulating today's laureates on the award of the prestigious Heineken Prize. I would also like to express my great respect to Mrs Charlene De Carvalho-Heineken, and thank her for the way in which she has continued the tradition started by her father, which now enjoys great international acclaim.

The Dr. A.H. Heineken Prizes are awarded to scientists and artists who are - I quote - "outstanding" and "a source of inspiration to others". The laureates are often creative individuals who are able to offer new perspectives, make unexpected breakthroughs, and develop new approaches that others can follow.

The world is in dire need of people who excel at science, like today's laureates, to solve a wide range of political, social, ecological, and human questions. And we are fortunate that the appeal the world makes to science, and those engaged in science, is not being ignored.

However, I do not intend focusing primarily on the valuable results of all that scientific effort - on the results achieved and the way they are applied. Rather, I would like to consider the scientific process as such.

To celebrate its two-hundredth anniversary, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has selected as its theme "The Magic of Science". This spotlights something that people often feel but that is seldom actually stated.

The magic of science. What is that exactly?

First of all, it's an intriguing paradox. After all, isn't the whole point of science to strip the magic away from natural phenomena, so as to literally discover what is unknown? Of course it is. And it is precisely that ambition to explain reality - or at least parts of it - that many people feel to be rather magical.

Scientists are people who know how to stop and consider the simplest of questions. Why is something the way it is? Why does something work the way it does? What will happen if we do this…or this…or this? It's the ability to feel amazement - the way children sometimes gaze in surprise at a speck of dust blown by the wind. It's that kind of magic.

And there are also magical elements in the challenge that scientific research involves - the sense of adventure that characterises every scientific quest, and the hard-to-grasp and sometimes fortuitous way in which new insights are generated.

There's also the magic of the individual versus the group. Nobody is as good as scientists at excelling and enjoying in isolation. But at the same time, nobody finds it more important than scientists to share results with colleagues and kindred spirits. Professor Frits van Oostrom, the former President of the Academy, put it like this: "It's doing conjuring tricks as part of a team: for me that's the magic of science".

But don't get me wrong: I fully realise that science is not always idyllic. I know that scientific research is sometimes an urgent necessity, certainly when there's an impatient world out there waiting for the results and their applications.

I also realise that free scientific endeavour is a vital condition for being able to experience that magic to the full. And in the same way, free artistic endeavour is a condition for exploring new artistic directions.

Nevertheless, I share the Academy's aim of emphasising the magic of science. For many people, that magic may be the very reason why they become scientists, or at least take an interest.

It is precisely that "touch of magic" that can make science interesting and exciting - including for young people, who now perhaps tend to dismiss it as being dry or boring. Focusing on the element of magic can enrich science and give it an enormous boost for the future.

Science makes the imperceptible perceptible, the incomprehensible comprehensible, the indescribable describable, and the inexplicable explicable.

It strips away the magical dimension from reality, but in doing so it creates a magic of its own.

It is that fascinating whole - that mixture of intuitive creativity and empirical meticulousness, of simple wonderment and keen intelligence, of a magical process and an outstanding product - that is being honoured here today in the persons of the Heineken laureates.

This is the fourth time that I have had the privilege of presenting the Heineken Prizes to an elite group of top scientists and to a top Dutch artist.

The Prizes are primarily intended to reward outstanding work, but I hope they will also be a source of inspiration for all those who are seeking their way in or towards science, and who still believe in a very special kind of magic: the magic of science.

Thank you.