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NWO Veni grants awarded to 14 UG researchers

05 November 2020

The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has awarded Veni grants worth up to €250,000 to a total of 14 UG and UMCG researchers. The grants provide the laureates with the opportunity to further develop their own research projects during a period of three years. The Veni laureates will conduct research on life around young stars, the mechanism behind solar-powered sea slugs, accurate predictions in exceptional economic conditions, improved proton therapy and sustainable funerals, to name a few.

The Veni grants, together with the Vidi and Vici grants, form part of the NWO Talent Programme. The Veni grants are aimed at excellent researchers who have recently obtained their doctorate. Under the Talent Programme, researchers are free to submit their own subjects for funding. The NWO thus encourages curiosity-driven and innovative research. The NWO selects researchers based on the quality of the researcher, the innovative character of their research, the expected scientific impact of their research proposal and the possibilities for knowledge utilization.

Alongside the Veni grants, five Vidi grants have also been awarded to experienced UG researchers, as announced by the NWO on Wednesday 4 November.

The 14 Veni laureates are: Dr Ivana Drienovská, Dr Elise Jerschabek Laetz, Dr Eelco Tromer, Dr Zoé Christoff, Dr Jana Declerq, Dr Christiaan van der Kwaak, Dr Tom Boot, Dr Brenda Mathijssen, Dr Björn Mitzinneck, Dr Patrick Deelen, Dr Anouk van der Hoorn-Klingenberg, Dr Claudia van Borkulo, Dr Veronica Allen and Dr Nichole Barry.

Dr Ivana Drienovská, Faculty of Medical Sciences — Expanding the enzyme universe: a closer look at unnatural amino acids

Genetically encoded unnatural amino acids represent a promising strategy toward designer catalysts. However, very few examples of such enzymes currently exist. This proposal aims to investigate a set of unnatural amino acids with high catalytic potential. If successful, it would allow a generation of enzymes for new-to-nature catalysis in a sustainable fashion.

Dr Elise Jerschabek Laetz, Faculty of Science and Engineering — Examining how solar-powered slugs steal chloroplasts and prevent starvation

Solar-powered sea slugs are an evolutionary enigma. They acquire the ability to photosynthesize by stealing functional chloroplasts from algae. The energy produced allows them to withstand starvation for an extended period. This research unravels the mechanisms behind this ability by examining chloroplast sequestration, retention and the energetic tradeoffs associated with hosting foreign organelles.

Dr Eelco Tromer, Faculty of Science and Engineering — Defying nuclear conventions: how parasites segregate chromosomes

An equal distribution of chromosomes during cell division is essential for the propagation of life. In unicellular parasites, this process evolved remarkably rapidly, resulting in unconventional mechanisms of chromosome segregation. This research aims to pinpoint molecular innovations within these systems in relatives of malaria parasites, hoping to uncover opportunities for new therapies.

Dr Zoé Christoff, Faculty of Science and Engineering - Social networks and democracy

How do social networks impact democracy? In the age of ‘fake news’, this question is societally more relevant than ever. This project develops a general theory of the interaction between networks and democracy, tests its results on the ‘liquid democracy’ voting system, and provides concrete recommendations that provably safeguard democracy.

Dr Jana Declercq, Faculty of Arts: Talking about chronic pain — the discursive construction of the body in pain clinic consultations

Our society conventionally views mind and body as separate entities. However, research shows that diseases – chronic ones in particular – consist of an interplay between body, mind and sociocultural aspects. This project researches the tension between these two perspectives that arises in communication between healthcare professionals and chronic pain patients in pain clinics.

Dr Christiaan van der Kwaak, Faculty of Economics and Business — Unconventional monetary policy and financial crises

Ever since the financial crisis, central banks have purchased government debt in previously unheard-of quantities. The literature has only studied the effects of such policies in mitigating financial crises. This research goes beyond this and examines whether such policies can generate new crises and, if so, how to prevent this.

Dr Tom Boot, Faculty of Economics and Business — Forecasting when it matters

Forecast accuracy is routinely measured on average over long time periods. In times of crises, major political shifts and unconventional policies – times when accurate forecasts matter most – these measures are uninformative. This project develops adaptive accuracy measures that lead to accurate forecasts in such extraordinary circumstances.

Dr Brenda Mathijssen, Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies — Sustainable funeral practices in a multicultural context

In many Western societies, ‘green’ funeral practices are emerging. Little is known about the cultural construction, meaning and diversity of these practices. This qualitative study examines how people of various ethnic and religious backgrounds understand natural burials, and offers critical insight into the role of nature in the formation of worldviews and meaning.

Dr Björn Mitzinneck, Faculty of Economics and Business — Collaboration models for the future: jointly getting the energy transition done

For the energy transition to succeed, quick implementation of sustainable technologies is essential. Organizing effective collaborations between municipalities, businesses and citizens can help. However, we lack knowledge on how such different partners can best work together for mutual benefit. This research investigates organizational structures and practices to balance everyone’s interests.

Dr Patrick Deelen, Faculty of Medical Sciences/UMCG — The shared focal point of common diseases and rare diseases

One million people in the Netherlands have a rare disease, but the genetic cause is known for only 30% of them. By integrating knowledge of the genetics of common diseases with gene networks, this research helps to predict which genes cause a rare disease and therefore enable diagnosis for more patients.

Dr Anouk van der Hoorn-Klingenberg, Faculty of Medical Sciences/UMCG — Saving the brain: improving proton therapy outcomes through innovating imaging

Radiotherapy that is used to to kill a brain tumour also damages the healthy brain tissue surrounding it. Patients suffer from cognitive problems as a result. Protons are expected to reduce the damage compared to photons, but some damage is unavoidable. Using novel MRI and PET scans, researchers will get an image of the damage for future proton therapy improvements.

Dr Claudia van Borkulo, Faculty of Medical Sciences/UMCG —

A multi-timescale network modelling framework: Integrating fast-changing mood states and slow-changing symptoms in mental disorders

To reduce the burden of depression, symptoms should be studied at the appropriate timescales. Current methods cannot handle variables with different measurement frequencies. This project aspires to develop a multi-timescale network modeling framework to cross current methodological borders, allowing healthcare professionals to simultaneously investigate symptoms at the time scales at which they evolve.

Dr Veronica Allen, Faculty of Science and Engineering — Following the molecules of life around young stars

Scientists are unsure as to how life began on Earth, but molecules from space may have helped. In this project, astronomers will use radio telescopes to find molecules of life around young stars and understand how they could have ended up in comets that may have brought them to early Earth.

Dr Nichole Barry, Faculty of Science and Engineering — Measuring the glow from our Cosmic Dawn

The birth of the first galaxies during the Cosmic Dawn is a mystery. Astronomers could theoretically observe the faint glow of interstellar hydrogen, but small precision errors in analysis prevent detection. By incorporating information from American, Australian and Dutch software, astronomers may be able to glimpse the Epoch of Reionization.

Last modified:23 November 2020 3.38 p.m.
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