Science Awards
Science Awards

Radboud Science Awards 2023: conscientious language, searching computers and smell

Do we make different decisions if a dilemma is presented to us with a foreign accent? How can we improve the recommendations we get from websites? How big is the impact of the smell of fear of others on our own experience of fear? These are the research topics that granted Susanne Brouwer, Harrie Oosterhuis and Jasper de Groot the Radboud Science Awards 2023 respectively.

During the festive ceremony on Wednesday 22 November, the winners will receive their trophy, after which they will give a lecture for primary school students. Part of the prize is a project for primary education. In collaboration with the Science Education Hub Radboud University, the winners will develop activities for primary school pupils to introduce them to their research.

Winning studies

Susanne Brouwer

Conscientious language

It’s already known that people make more utilitarian choices when they are presented with a moral dilemma in their foreign language than in their native language. A utilitarian decision means that people choose the option that will work out best for the greatest number of people. With her research, Susanne Brouwer has found that we also make more utilitarian choices when a moral dilemma is presented by a speaker with a foreign accent than by a native speaker without an accent. This Foreign Accent effect has several explanations. We experience more emotions in our native language. Listening to a speaker with a foreign accent also requires more cognitive effort and creates distance because this person does not belong to the social group.

The Foreign Accent effect also has consequences for education. During the project in the classroom, pupils investigate how many languages they know. They will also examine the Foreign Accent effect themselves. By mapping the richness of languages in the classroom, pupils become aware of their multilingualism and that of their classmates. In this way, pupils develop an open attitude to other linguistic and cultural backgrounds, which can have a positive effect on how pupils interact with each other in the classroom.

Harrie Oosterhuis

Searching computers

Search engines and recommendation systems use ‘machine learning’: self-learning methods to learn from user behavior, so that they automatically adapt to their preferences. An example of such a system is the algorithm that recommends videos on Netflix or YouTube. The challenge in learning user behavior is that this behavior often says more about what recommendations or search results were presented to the users than the actual preferences of users. In his research Harrie Oosterhuis focuses on separating these two factors. He designed a new system that combines different approaches and is already accurate with much less data. As a result, small companies can also use a recommendation system and large tech companies can learn more efficiently from their customers.

Activities in the classroom will help students to understand how Internet search engines and recommendation systems work by mimicking different aspects of these systems. They will explore this without the use of computers.

Jasper de Groot

There's something in the air...

Jasper de Groot investigates “the chemistry between us” - the social functions of the human sense of smell. His research takes a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach, delving into psycho(physio)logy, neuroscience (fMRI), genetics, and chemical analysis to uncover intriguing insights. His investigations have led to the discovery of a potential universal molecular foundation for anxiety-related odors, shedding light on the complex world of human chemical communication, particularly the profound effects of odors on behavior and emotions. Collaborating with a consortium of researchers, he unveiled the pivotal role of smell loss as the most reliable predictor of a COVID-19 infection, and delved into the enduring repercussions of COVID-19-induced smell loss. Currently, he also aims to uncover the intricate role of smell in romantic relationships.

Within the classroom project, students will embark on a journey to assess their own olfactory skills, explore the nuanced changes in sweat odor under the influence of anxiety, and engage in hands-on experimentation by blending various molecules to create unique scents.

The Radboud Science Awards are presented annually to researchers from the Radboud University and the Radboudumc for their important contribution to science. You are cordially invited to attend the festive ceremony on Wednesday 22 November 2023 (starts at 10 a.m.) in the auditorium of the Radboud University. During this ceremony, the winners will talk about their research to an audience of primary school students, who will question them extensively. More information and registration:

Contact information

Organizational unit
Science Hub Radboud University