Physics in the family.

vijf Beenakkers in de fysica

Three generations in physics. Clockwise from the oldest (far right) to the youngest (in the back): Jan, Kees, Carlo, Wim & Jan-Willem.


Beenakker (meaning butcher) is not a common family name in The Netherlands (about 100 individuals in the entire country, according to this database). The Web of Science lists a total of five Beenakkers who publish in physics journals, and all five are descendants of a single family living in Leiden around 1900.

The two oldest, my father Jan and his cousin Kees, represent the first generation of Beenakkers with a higher education. My grandfather had only been to elementary school, as was typical for the catholic minority to which this family belonged. While catholic worship was no longer prohibited, universities were still very much dominated by the protestant establishment that had founded them.

It must have been hard to enter a university as the first in your generation. Physics was an attractive point of entry, because it does not favor those who are well-connected in the upper class. For the second generation, including my cousin Wim and myself, religion had ceased to play a defining role in society. We chose physics solely because we liked it, and the same applies to my son Jan-Willem, who represents the third generation of Beenakkers in physics.

Carlo Beenakker