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Three young researchers to top institutes abroad on Rubicon grants

11 January 2016

Three recent PhD graduates from the University of Groningen will be able to conduct research at top institutes abroad for two years thanks to the Rubicon programme organized by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The NWO Rubicon programme enables young researchers to acquire international research experience to help kick-start their academic careers.

A total of 81 applications for Rubicon grants were submitted to NWO in this round, of which 16 were approved. The awardees can use their Rubicon grant to finance up to 24 months of research. The amount of the grant depends on the chosen destination and the duration of the stay. The Rubicon programme was named after the river that Julius Caesar crossed before embarking on the series of victories that eventually led to the motto ‘veni, vidi, vici’.

Accepted proposals from University of Groningen/UMCG researchers:

  • Piet van den Berg, The evolution of human social heuristics
    Humans often make seemingly suboptimal decisions that conflict with predictions of standard biological and economic theory. Van den Berg suspects that this discrepancy is caused by the fact that current theory tends to focus on a single type of behaviour in one particular situation, thus ignoring that human behaviour evolved in a complex and dynamic world. In his view, we should expect evolution to produce heuristics: simple 'rules of thumb' that are robust across different situations. He therefore proposes to (1) develop models of the evolution of heuristics, and (2) test the predictions of these models in decision making experiments. Throughout, he will focus on heuristics for social interactions.
    Modelling the evolution of heuristics is challenging, because it necessitates the implementation of an open behavioural architecture that can respond to a variety of social and environmental conditions. Van den Berg will confront this with a pluralistic modelling approach using both neural networks and grammatical evolution. His experimental set-up will depart from the standard experimental paradigm in decision science, because subjects need to be confronted with 'fuzzy' decision situations. The project will develop a novel framework for human behaviour that can have considerable implications for the understanding and management of human decision-making in complex situations.
    Van den Berg will conduct his research at KU Leuven, Belgium (Lab of Socioecology and Social Evolution).
  • Jordi van Gestel, The evolution of bacterial multicellularity
    The evolution of multicellularity is one of the most remarkable evolutionary transitions and resulted in an unprecedented diversity of organismal forms and functions. It often remains difficult to trace the evolutionary origins of multicellularity, in part because necessary genomic data is lacking, but also because there is a limited understanding about the developmental processes that lead to multicellularity. This is particularly a problem for the eukaryotic model organisms that are typically used to study multicellularity. Van Gestel will study the evolution of multicellularity in one of the best-studied classes of bacteria, the Bacilli. The Bacilli express a simple form of multicellularity, which is nevertheless highly diverse. There is detailed understanding of the gene regulatory network (GRN) underlying multicellularity and there is ample of genomic data, with thousands of full genome sequences. Despite this wealth of information, there have been no studies on the evolution of multicellularity in the Bacilli. Using a unique combination of state-of-the-art experiments and bioinformatics, Van Gestel will compare the multicellular phenotypes of different Bacilli species and determine how evolutionary changes in the underlying GRN gave rise to these phenotypes. Given the magnitude of available data, the Bacilli can give an extraordinarily detailed account of the evolution of multicellularity. Van Gestel will conduct his research at University of Zürich, Switzerland (Andreas Wagner Laboratory, Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies).
  • Roel Tempelaar, Shedding light on singlet fission solar cells
    In standard solar cells, 70% of the energy from the sun is lost due to lack of absorption or heating effects. These losses prohibit the invention of better photovoltaic systems. Recently, a solution to this problem has been found: singlet fission. Accordingly, the absorbed energy is split into two smaller packets of energy that can be efficiently harvested. Although singlet fission has been shown to work as a proof-of-concept, its microscopic origin remains unclear. This hinders large-scale application in solar cell manufacturing. Tempelaar proposes to develop a new microscopic theory of singlet fission with the aim of unraveling the underlying physics. In particular, he will seek to address the important question how singlet fission can happen on a surprisingly fast timescale. Furthermore, a model will be constructed for simulations of ultrafast spectroscopy. As such, his findings can be held to comparison with recent and upcoming experiments on singlet fission. Unraveling the microscopic origin yields knowledge about the molecular properties that are responsible for the success of prototype singlet fission materials. This opens the way to deliberately design materials with superior fission efficiencies. At the same time, it expectedly reveals new fundamental physical principles which impact on functional materials in general. Tempelaar will conduct his research at Columbia University, USA (Department of Chemistry).
Last modified:20 January 2016 2.53 p.m.
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