Aarhus University Annual Celebration 2011

Speech to the distinguished alumnus Professor Lene Vestergaard Hau


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Aarhus University is privileged to have a very, very large number of incredibly clever alumni whom we value greatly, and who function as wonderful ambassadors for the university in the world outside. We would like to do even more for these alumni, and therefore we have established the Gerda Alumni Network, named after Gerda Kolstrup, who became the university's first ever graduate in 1935. Through Gerda, we will offer our graduates the opportunity to participate free of charge in the lectures organised by the University Extension in Emdrup, Ebeltoft, Herning and Aarhus, and there will also be numerous other opportunities made available to our many alumni. All the university's 130,000 alumni naturally receive our magazine AUgustus regularly, provided of course that we have their addresses.

At the same time, we also want to single out individual graduates who have distinguished themselves in very special ways, and who can serve as examples to all of us. For this reason, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of Aarhus University in 2008, we established a new prize: The Aarhus University Distinguished Alumnus Prize.

In addition to the honour of the award, the prize comprises a sculpture by sculptor Hanne Varming, and is presented at the annual celebration to a graduate of Aarhus University who has made an outstanding contribution to society and who thus symbolises the importance of the university. The first winner of the prize was His Royal Highness Crown Prince Frederik. In 2009 the prize went to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the General Secretary of NATO and former Danish Prime Minister, while last year the Managing Director of  A.P. Møller-Mærsk, Nils Smedegaard Andersen, was named as the university's third distinguished alumnus.

I can reveal that the Aarhus University Distinguished Alumnus for 2011 is Professor Lene Vestergaard Hau of Harvard University.

Dear Lene Vestergaard Hau,

It is with great pleasure that I name you today Distinguished Alumnus of Aarhus University for 2011. You graduated with a Master's degree in physics in 1986, and in 1991 you were awarded your PhD degree from Aarhus University, before going to the Rowland Institute for Science and Harvard University. Your career is a unique one, and you have shown that if talent, persistence and commitment are great enough, there are no limits to what a person can achieve. In this way you have become a fantastic role model for university students.

You were inspired by the Aarhus theoreticians Jens Lindhard and Jens Ulrik Andersen, and through your experimental research you achieved the impossible: to stop light.  This is an amazing achievement that has since been followed up by other impressive research results, and you have deservedly received many honours for your work. For example, in 2010 you were named "World Dane of the Year", because you had emphatically and lastingly set Denmark on the map of the world with your superb research. You have won the Rigmor and Carl Holst Knudsen Science Prize, which is one of Denmark's finest and oldest research prizes, and you have also received many other honours.

Your qualities are valued very highly at Aarhus University, and as one of Denmark's most brilliant and significant researchers you do the University great honour.

For these reasons, it is a great pleasure to me to name you Distinguished Alumnus of Aarhus University for 2011.