24 researchers from Utrecht awarded a NWO Veni grant worth 250,000 euros

The Dutch Research Council  (NWO) has awarded a Veni grant up to 250,000 euros to 24 highly promising young scientists from Utrecht University, UMC Utrecht, the NIOZ and the Hubrecht Institute. Veni offers promising young scientists the opportunity to further develop their own research ideas for three years. NWO selects researchers based on the quality of the researcher, the innovative nature of the research, the expected scientific impact of the research proposal and possibilities for knowledge utilization.

  • Unleashing the canine genome to reveal new genes involved in human diseases  

 Dr. H. (Hille) Fieten, Faculty of veterinary medicine

Dogs display genetic diseases closely resembling human hereditary diseases. Genetic studies in inbred dogs have more power compared to human genetic studies. I will identify disease-causing genes in inbred dogs and subsequently test them in humans. Results will improve diagnostics and prognostics of hereditary diseases in both man and dogs.

  • Learning meaning from structure

Dr. M. (Meaghan) Fowlie, Faculty of Humanities

Personal digital assistants like Siri highlight the possibilities and challenges of building a computer that interacts with people using natural language. This research will create computer algorithms that automatically find sentence meanings by combining state-of-the-art ”deep learning” techniques from computer science with linguistic work on structure and meaning of sentences.

  • Green building blocks

Dr. ing. D.L.J. (Daniël) Broere, Faculty of Science - Debye Institute for Nanomaterials Science

Nearly all chemical building blocks come from fossil resources, which are running out. Plant waste contains similar building blocks but has them trapped in complex structures. The researcher will develop catalysts that can utilize these plant waste-derived building blocks. 

  • Blocking communication of tumour cells to stop cancer progression 

 Dr O.G. (Olivier) de Jong, University Medical Center Utrecht, Laboratory of Clinical Chemistry and Haematology.

Tumour cells are able to manipulate healthy tissues to support their growth and metastasis by delivery of RNA molecules via extracellular vesicles. Using a newly developed assay this research aims to unravel the mechanisms and pathways underlying this process, and uncover novel therapeutic targets to halt cancer progression.

  • Uncovering dopamine signaling in our brain

Dr. B.C. (Bart) Jongbloets, Faculty of Science – Biology Department

Chemical signals in our brain, like dopamine, impact drug addicts’ cravings. To intervene with these cravings, researchers need to understand where and how dopamine affects the brain. Using innovative microscopy techniques in understudied brain regions, this project reveals where dopamine signaling occurs and how these signals influence brain cell networks.

  • Social networks in a rapidly changing world

Dr. A.I. (Allert) Bijleveld, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research– Department of Coastal Systems

Many animals live in groups and are engaged in networks of social interactions. How social networks facilitate social learning in the wild is largely unknown. This project aims at understanding how personality and the environment interact to facilitate social learning in wild populations and increase resilience to rapid environmental change.

  • What do u mean? Socially intelligent language processing

Dr. D. (Dong) Nguyen, Faculty of Science

Automatically analyzing human language plays a key role in many Artificial Intelligence systems. The researcher will develop new techniques to make computers understand the social aspects of language. The project will lead to more effective systems to automatically analyze and generate human language and new methods to study social phenomena.  

  • What does not drown will be eroded away: predicting global river delta change in the 21st century  

Dr. Ir. J.H. (Jaap) Nienhuis, Faculty of Geosciences​ 

River deltas are expected to drown and erode because of sea-level rise, subsidence, and reduced river sediment supply. Where and how fast deltas will change is still unknown. This research proposes a new framework and will predict change for all 10,000 river deltas globally. Read more about this research.

  • Resilience of the Greenland snow buffer

Dr B.P.Y. (Brice) Noël, Faculty of Science- Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht (IMAU)

Multi-year snow (firn) currently buffers almost half of the meltwater produced at the Greenland ice sheet surface. This project explores how this buffer capacity evolves in a future warmer climate, potentially leading to tipping points  in ice sheet mass loss. 

  • A new way to look at sugar structures

Dr. K.R. (Karli) Reiding, Faculty of Science

The function of antibodies within our immune system is highly influenced by their sugar coating, but it remains complicated to study the precise structure of these sugars. Using mass spectrometry, chemical derivatization and synthetic sugars, the researcher will develop methods to finally distinguish the different sugar structures on our antibodies.

  • Improved projections of future Antarctic surface melt rates

Dr J.M. (Melchior) van Wessem, Faculty of Science - Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht (IMAU)

Uncertainties in sea-level rise projections largely come from the role of surface meltwater in affecting Antarctic deglaciation. In this project I use a polar climate model to simulate the complex interactions of the UU -atmosphere and underlying snow layer to better simulate contemporary and future meltwater production.

  • Dangerous Liaisons

Dr K.M.A. (Katharine) Fortin,  Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance - The Netherlands Institute of Human Rights

Civilians in territory under the control of armed groups are in an especially precarious legal situation. This legal project focuses on civilian protection in rebel-held territory, exploring the idea that civilians are not only victims of war, but also able to play an active role in their own protection.

  • Will the kids be alright? Predicting emotional development in adolescence

Dr C. J. (Caspar) van Lissa, Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences – Methodology & Statistics

Adolescence is an important phase for learning to deal with emotions, but not all youth do so successfully. Some experience emotional problems, which undermine their relationships and mental health. I combine pedagogics and machine learning to predict which youth are at-risk for emotional problems, and investigate what role parents play.

  • Why is everybody watching me?! Working towards a novel model to explain social anxiety in adolescence

Dr S.A. (Stefanie) Nelemans, Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences— Department of Youth and Family

Social anxiety strongly hampers adolescent development. But what characteristics make some adolescents vulnerable to develop social anxiety? And why is social anxiety so persistent over time? I address these questions focusing on a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors and integrate the novel insights into an innovative theoretical model.

  • A Game of Thrones? Order and survival strategies of the Dutch Republic and Swiss Cantons!

Dr C.A. (Annemieke) Romein, Faculty of Humanities

European monarchies and city-states have long attracted researchers’ attention. Conversely, this study teaches us how federation-states legitimised their authority, by focussing on providing good governance, order, and safety. Crucially, new rules had to be understandable and remember-able for everyone; and privileges and interests of groups had to be considered.

  • Germany’s climate science in an age of war and peace, 1871-1945

Dr. R-J. B. (Robert-Jan) Wille, Faculty of Science – Freudenthal Institute

This project analyzes the making of a European community of climate scientists as a consequence of Imperial Germany’s investment in both a national meteorology after 1871 and an international and colonial weather balloon program after 1900. Two World Wars did not stop its expansion but even catalyzed it further.

  • Deciphering nature’s messages to improve gene therapy

Dr. S.A.A. (Sander) Kooijmans, University Medical Center Utrecht

Cells in the human body communicate through tiny lipid particles containing genetic information. The researchers will investigate what information is carried by these particles and how it is exchanged between cells. This will possibly enable their use as natural carriers of novel medicines for incurable diseases.

  • Molecular mousetraps for the treatment of innate immunity disorders​

Dr. ing. S. (Steven) de Maat, Utrecht University

The enzymes of our immune system must be activated to perform their function, but if they work too hard, it can cause disease. The researcher will create molecular mousetraps to stop these enzymes. This new therapy strategy can be used to treat disorders of the immune system and other diseases.

  • Efficient imaging of tissue-microstructure with MRI

Dr. ir. C.M.W. (Chantal) Tax, UU - Utrecht University​

MRI gives information on the structure of the microscopic building-blocks of living tissue. Combining different MRI techniques can give a more complete picture, but the measurements become more time-consuming and complex. The researcher will design methods to collect the most relevant MRI measurement-information in the shortest possible time.

  • Sweeping asthma with brush cells​

Dr. J.H.J. Bernink - Hubrecht Institute​

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the conducting airways. Yet it is the epithelial cell layer that is primarily exposed to aeroallergens. Here a subset of the epithelial cells, called brush cells, will be investigated how they respond, and how they instruct the immune system following allergen exposure.

  • ‘The ischemic fingerprint’: A predictive model to grade the viability and reversibility of ischemic brain injury  

Dr. A.A. (Alex) Bhogal, University Medical Center Utrecht

The mechanisms and metabolic consequences of ischemic brain injury are difficult to investigate using regular brain scans. With this proposal researchers will develop a novel MRI technology, ‘The Ischemic Fingerprint’, which uses advanced MRI imaging techniques to assess the viability and endurance of brain tissue suffering from ischemic injury.

  • Exposing expansions in the genetics of brain diseases

Dr. W. van Rheenen, UMC Utrecht, Neurology

Genes greatly determine our risk of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and brain diseases. Certain genetic variation, “repeat expansions”, can cause brain diseases, but are hard to study and therefore often conveniently ignored. Using new methods, this research investigates repeat expansions in brain diseases using large groups of patients and brain tissues.

  • Early detection of Alzheimer's with language characteristics​

Dr. J.M.J. Vonk, UMC Utrecht, Julius Center​

Biological markers of Alzheimer’s pathology do not relate one-to-one with eventual clinical symptoms of cognitive impairment. Thus, there is a need for early cognitive markers. This project investigates a new score of a widely used neuropsychological test using language features to identify the earliest cognitive changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Arithmetic properties of varieties over finite fields  

Dr. V.Z. (Valentijn) Karemaker, UU - Mathematics

Varieties over finite fields are geometric objects studied in number theory. We ask how many points a given variety has, and how many varieties exist with a given number of points. This proposal studies these questions for three classes of varieties: abelian varieties, K3 surfaces, and Drinfeld modules.


The Veni is awarded by NWO every year. A total of 1,151 researchers submitted an admissible research proposal for funding. 166 of these have now been granted in the Netherlands. That comes down to an award rate of 14%. The submissions were assessed by means of peer review by external experts from the disciplines concerned. In this Veni funding round, NWO is investing a total of 41,5 million euros in free and curiosity-driven research. Together with Vidi and Vici, Veni is part of NWO’s Talent Scheme. Veni is aimed at excellent researchers who have recently obtained their doctorate. Researchers in the Talent Scheme are free to submit their own subject for funding. NWO thus encourages curiosity-driven and innovative research. NWO selects researchers based on the quality of the researcher, the innovative character of the research, the expected scientific impact of the research proposal and the possibilities for knowledge use.