Prize Contest 2014 Teylers Second Society: the formation of research schools in the sciences (Deadline: 1 januari 2017)

Teyler’s Foundation in Haarlem, the Netherlands, has promoted scientific investigations[Fv1]  for over 200 years. As a part of this continuing endeavour, Directors of the Foundation, together with the members of Teylers Second Society, have issued a prize contest for the year 2014 in the field of the history of science.


The contest asks for a written study into the formation of research schools in the natural sciences. Responses can either analyse such processes from a historical perspective, or discuss the question to which degree the formation of such schools may be expected to change as a consequence of modern means of communication, and in particular the internet.


The natural sciences are generally seen to be particularly prone to the formation of research schools. A prominent scientist often acts as an example for his or her colleagues, in particular younger collaborators, such as postgraduate students, who are thus stimulated to follow his or her specific approach. Such followers may become part of a coherent research school..

On closer inspection, the formation of such schools in the sciences, especially in recent times, turns out to be a much more complex phenomenon, in which many elements play their part. One may think of:

  • the ‘tradional’ formation of research schools as described above, where a single scientist acquires followers by his or her example, and which we come across mostly in the past.
  • the formation of schools can also occur when a scientist supervises a large stream of disciples, who are moulded by the research programme in which they participate.
  • Geopolitical factors such as isolation. One may think of the Landau school of theoretical physics, which came into being partly through the physical isolation of its Russian members.
  • The size of a country. A small nation may establish a research school sooner, when a limited number of scientists becomes dominant. One example is the erstwhile ‘Dutch School’ of statistical physics in the years between 1960 and 1980, another the current Dutch school of macro-molecular chemistry.
  • A school may emerge when a one person controls an entire group of experimental scientists that is focused on testing that person’s ideas, which leads to new questions – one may think of De Gennes’ ‘Soft Matter School’.
  • The presence or absence of experimental means may extert their influence – the impish character of a part of the French school of experimental physics was, up to a point, the consequence of a lack of means. On the other extreme, the availability of unique facilities or instruments may also provoke coherent research schools.
  • The scientific ‘system’ of a country exerts a definite influence, for example through the way in which international peers are being consulted, or the degree to which researchers depend on external funding.
  • The formation of a school of thought can take place in an institution with a defined focus, because its researchers influence one another and develop a communal approach. Good examples are Bell Labs, or modern instutions with a clear focus such as the Perimeter Institute or the Institute for Mathematics and Physics of the Universe in Tokyo.

Those who aspire to be awarded the prize, are asked to submit an original study that casts a new light on the formation of schools of thought in the natural sciences. This can be done by elaborating upon one of the examples mentioned above, by writing a more extensive study which compares various ways in which schools established themselves, or by analyzing the influence of modern means of communication on changes in school formation.

Form of reply

The answer may consist of either:

  • a more extensive monograph in a publication-ready form
  • a number of existing publications (the majority of which has to have appeared during th last three years prior to January 1st, 2017, and where the candidate is the author or one of the main authors), accompanied by a piece specifically authored for the contest which offers a scientific frame for these publications.


In order to be eligible for evaluation, the answers need to be submitted fourfold before January 1st, 2017, to Directeuren van Teylers Stichting (Spaarne 16, NL–2011CH Haarlem, the Netherlands). Papers submitted after that time shall not be considered.

Answers may be submitted in either Dutch, French, German, or English.

In consequence of the conditions set out in the testament of Pieter Teyler van der Hulst, those texts that have not been published before cannot mention the name of the author: they should be submitted anonymously, signed with a motto. The submission should also contain a sealed envelope containing the motto as well as the author’s name and address.


Evaluations are conducted by Teylers Second Society, which is bound to submit a proposal regarding the award to Directors of Teylers Foundation within four months after the closing date of the contest. Directors decide within one month; their decision is irrevocable. All participants of the contest are informed immediately thereafter.


The award consists of a honorary golden medallion, manufactured using the Society’s stamps. The medallion shall be prestented to the winner(s) during a special ceremony in Teyler’s Museum. Professional media, the press and other interested parties shall be informed about this occasion.


The author is allowed to publish the winning submission with the mention of the award by Teyler’s Foundation. The Foundation and the Society may consider to be of assistance in this matter.


More information can be gained from the Society’s secretary ( The editorial boards of journals and other organizations (that decide not to print the above in its entirety) are urgently requested to point any potential authors to the prize contest program, so that they may take notice of the relevant requirements. For that purpose, a form can be requested from the secretary.

Those that wish to learn more about Pieter Teyler van der Hulst, Teyler’s Foundation and its associate institutions, both Societies, the museum and the almshouse, may do so from M. Scharloo (ed.), Teylers Museum: A Journey in Time (Haarlem 2010).

 [Fv1]Of: research