Thomas Kiørboe. Photo: Carlsberg Foundation.

DTU professor awarded Carlsberg Foundation Research Prize 2019

Monday 02 Sep 19

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Thomas Kiørboe
Professor
DTU Aqua
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About Thomas Kiørboe

Thomas Kiørboe has an MSc degree in biology, a PhD degree and a doctorate from the University of Copenhagen.

Employed at DTU Aqua (formerly Danish Institute for Fisheries Research) since 1983.

Research professor from 1994 and professor at DTU since 2008.

Director of the Centre for Ocean Life since 2012.

Has been visiting researcher at, among others, MIT in Boston and UC in Berkeley.

Has previously won the Researcher of the Year award, the A.G. Huntsman Award and the G.A. Hagemann Gold Medal.

Thomas Kiørboe, Professor of Ocean Ecology at DTU, receives research prize for his groundbreaking work.

Professor Thomas Kiørboe has been awarded the Carlsberg Foundation Research Prize 2019 for his groundbreaking work on the microscopic life of the ocean. Thomas Kiørboe is one of the world’s leading marine ecologists and has played a key role in understanding life in the ocean. 

The prize was presented by H.R.H. Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, the Danish Minister for Higher Education and Science Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen, and Carlsberg Foundation Chairman Flemming Besenbacher at the Foundation’s annual banquet at the New Carlsberg Glyptotek. 

Of the total prize money of DKK 1 million, DKK 750,000 is earmarked for research activities and DKK 250,000 is a personal gift. 

Mikael Rask Madsen, Professor of European Law and Integration at the University of Copenhagen, was awarded the other of the Calsberg Foundation’s two research prizes in 2019.

In the motivation for the award, the Carlsberg Foundation describes Thomas Kiørboe as a “passionate scientist” who has delivered "impressive and internationally acclaimed research" and who is "renowned for original scientific thinking which has heralded important breakthroughs in many aspects of marine ecology”. This is evident from the 220 scientific publications authored by Thomas Kiørboe.

At the intersection between biology and physics 

Thomas Kiørboe’s research is notable for drawing effectively on two separate scientific disciplines: biology and physics. Thomas Kiørboe and his colleagues use fluid physics, for example, to understand and generalise the basic mechanisms that describe ocean metabolism and the role of the oceans in global climate.

“We can’t intuitively understand the behaviour of microscopic plankton organisms. Their living conditions are completely different from ours. They are 1 mm long and blind, and they live in a wold where the water feels as viscous as syrup. This has led us to some of the issues we’re researching, for example how zooplankton find their prey by detecting minute movements in the water, and how single-celled organisms can smell their enemies and defend themselves by changing behaviour or producing toxins,” explains Thomas Kiørboe. 

The same cross-disciplinary approach has featured in Thomas Kiørboe’s epoch-making study of ‘marine snow’ – tiny flakes of dead material that are hugely important for the ocean’s carbon budget and the earth's climate. Here, he has developed a mathematical description of the formation and significance of marine snow, which is now a mainstay of many biogeochemical models of the ocean’s carbon budget.

Simplifying the complicated

Thomas Kiørboe is behind the establishment of the Centre for Ocean Life at DTU Aqua. Since 2012, the centre has brought together Danish marine research across disciplines and universities, with a view to exploring fundamental biological-physical marine processes and developing models to describe marine life.

The centre’s researchers are the first in Denmark to work with so-called trait-based models in marine research. Rather than concentrate on what species an organism belongs to, the trait-based approach considers what an organism does. The basic idea is that there are a number of key traits across species, e.g. size, which are crucial for the ability of organisms to survive, eat, and reproduce under different conditions.

”We can’t study all organisms in the ocean, so we’re working to isolate general principles for how organisms interact with each other and with the environment based on observations of a limited number of organisms,” says Thomas Kiørboe.

The Centre for Ocean Life uses the trait-based models to, for example, estimate animal plankton’s ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and thus their role in the regulation of the global climate.

Read the Carlsberg Foundation’s press release and motivation for the award

About the Carlsberg Foundation Research Prize

The Carlsberg Foundation Research Prize was established in 2011 to mark the 200th anniversary of the Foundation’s founder, J.C. Jacobsen.  The objective of the prize, which is awarded on the recommendation of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, is to support two active researchers in Denmark or abroad who have made significant contributions to basic research, and who enjoy widespread scientific recognition. 

Each prize totals DKK 1 million, of which DKK 250,000 is a personal gift and DKK 750,000 supports a research project. The prize must encourage further research, and can be used as required for studies abroad, fieldwork, the procurement of equipment, or remuneration for academic assistance.

Source: Carlsberg Foundation.