Inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, receives honorary doctorate from Ghent University

(18-02-2021) On Dies Natalis, which will be celebrated on 19 March this year, Ghent University will award an institutional honorary doctorate to Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

In addition, the University will, exceptionally, award two honorary institutional titles, alongside five further honorary doctorates awarded in honour of services to science.

An exceptional Dies Natalis

On- and offline. Always connected. This is how Ghent University opened the academic year in September. Because we had to, but also because we could. And we will keep this connection alive thanks to the online edition of Dies Natalis on19 March 2021.
The Dies Natalis celebrations in 2020 were postponed due to Corona. So this year’s edition will honour awardees who should have received their honorary doctorates last year. But there is more. Sir Tim Berners-Lee and geologist Iain Stewart, professor of Earth Sciences, will also receive honorary doctorates from Ghent University.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee is the inventor of the World Wide Web, the HTTP protocol and HTML, the markup language for web pages, based on ideas which he developed from 1989 onwards at CERN.

More information about the history of the creation and further development of the World Wide Web, the central role that Sir Tim played in this process, and also his extensive biography can be found on the pages of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) the organisation which Berners-Lee founded in 1994 and which still sets standards for the World Wide Web.

Two decades later, in awarding an honorary doctorate to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Ghent University is taking a step which in a way builds on the honorary doctorate it already awarded in 2000 to alumnus Robert Cailliau, who worked with Sir Tim Berners-Lee at CERN.

Indeed, there is also a current connection between Sir Tim and Ghent University, due to the collaboration between professor Ruben Verborgh (Faculty of Engineering and Architecture) with Sir Tim’s research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States) which developed Solid to give people control of their own data, and Inrupt, the startup at which Sir Tim is CTO; launched to build the ecosystem that supports it.

The rector is the promotor of this honorary doctorate.

"Years ago, Ruben, a young researcher from my research group came to find me. He said something about working with Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web. Well, he’ll never be able to do that, I thought. But he did. It led to a close, challenging and, above all, a very stimulating cooperation with an exceptional man and his team. Few people can truly say that they have had (and continue to have) such an impact on how we live as Tim Berners-Lee.” Rector Rik Van de Walle.

Milo Rau

In 2020, Ghent University was set to award an honorary doctorate to Milo Rau, the Swiss theatre director and artistic director of NTGent. It did not happen due to Corona, and so the university will now pay tribute to Rau for his social merits a year later than planned.

The rector is the promotor of this honorary doctorate, and has previously explained why he chose Milo Rau in a discussion with the theatre director.

Professor Iain Stewart

In honour of its 100th anniversary, the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering nominated Professor Iain Stewart. The centenary celebrations, planned for 2 October 2020, were also postponed due to Corona. For this reason, Professor Iain Stewart will now receive his honorary doctorate from Ghent University on Friday 19 March.

The faculty is honouring Iain Stewart not only as a scientist who has combined the topic of ‘Planet Earth’ with the work of his own faculty, but also as an expert who is able to present this theme to members of other disciplines, and to a wider public.

Honorary doctorates awarded by faculties

On Dies Natalis, Ghent University will also be awarding honorary doctorates in honour of services to science and research. This year, five faculties were able to make nominations for honorary doctors:

  • Faculty of Arts and Philosophy: Professor Dame Mary Beard (University of Cambridge, UK).
    Prof. Beard is known worldwide for her commitment to making classical culture accessible to a wide public.
  • Faculty of Law and Criminology: Professor John H. Knox (Wake Forest University, US).
    Prof. Knox was one of the first people to bridge the gap between environmental law and human rights. His publications on the topic are internationally renowned.
  • Faculty of Veterinary Medicine: Professor Katrin Hinrichs (Clinical Studies-New Bolton Center University of Pennsylvania, USA).
    Prof. Hinrichs does pioneering work in the field of techniques for assisted reproduction in horses.
  • Faculty of Bioscience Engineering: Professor Dave Goulson (University of Sussex, UK).
    Prof. Goulson is a specialist in ecology and the conservation of insects. He is deeply committed to science and society, to popularising research, and sharing the work with the society more widely.
  • Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences: Dr. Ajit, Baron Shetty (former CEO Janssen Pharmaceutica and chair of the Board of Directors of VIB).
    Dr. Shetty is not a researcher himself, but is a great facilitator of academic research in the pharmaceutical sciences. In addition, he has supported the development of research institutes in numerous ways.

Practical Information

The online tribute to the new recipients of honorary doctorates will happen on Friday 19 March, 2021, from 3-4 pm. It is not necessary to register.

Further information

Stephanie Lenoir
Ghent University Press Office
09 264 82 76