26 Utrecht based researchers receive Veni
Young researchers receive grant to further develop research ideas
Almost 30 Utrecht based researchers receive a Veni grant from NWO this year. The grant (250.000) gives them the opportunity to further develop their own research ideas the following three years. Almost half of the grants are for the faculty of science: as many as ten young scientists were awarded a Veni there. In addition six researchers from the faculty of Humanities receive a grant, two from the faculty of Geosciences, one person from the faculty of Law, Economics and Governance, three scientist from the UMC Utrecht, two researchers from the Prinses Máxima Centrum and two scientists from the Hubrecht Institute.
From one hundred plastic yoghurt containers to Rabies
Meet the Utrecht based laureates
Improving public accountability through an individual approach
This Veni grant is an amazing acknowledgement of the research I not only find incredibly important, but also very enjoyable to do.
According to assistant professor Sjors Overman, it is a strange experience to hear the news about receiving a big grant during a global pandemic. “Because we are all working from home, my family and I celebrated the news together, but I haven’t yet with my colleagues. Hopefully there will be a moment in the next three years to do so. It is an amazing acknowledgement of the research I not only find incredibly important, but also very enjoyable to do.” Overman will use the grant to do research on public accountability. “When someone enquires after accountability, this should evoke a feeling of responsibility, but in truth it instead usually leads to negative emotions such as fear and frustrations. These emotions obstruct good work and hinder public value.”
Putting polymer under strain for more recycling gain
In preparation for this project I have collected over a hundred plastic yoghurt containers to use in my experiments. They serve as a constant reminder to the growing mountain of waste
Plastic waste is an important ecological problem, requiring new solutions; traditional recycling methods lead to loss of value. In this research project, Ina Vollmer will lay the groundwork for a new recycling method that will avoid loss of value. She will do this using fundamental insight on the controlled breakdown of plastic under strain. “In preparation for this project I have collected over a hundred plastic yoghurt containers to use in my experiments,” Vollmer says. “They serve as a constant reminder to the growing mountain of waste, and with this grant I will truly be able to do something about it.”
Uncovering the role of lipids on proteins involved in neurological diseases
This Veni grant gives an enormous boost to developing my research into the role of lipids on proteins.
Proteins in the brain that play a role in neurological diseases are modified with fatty acids. The function of these modifications on proteins is mostly unknown. With this Veni grant, Marc Baggelaar aims to uncover the role of these fatty attachments to discover new therapeutic strategies for the treatment of neurological diseases.
Robust nickel catalysts for cleaner hydrogen production
I believe that producing cheap and sustainable hydrogen is crucial for our future, which is what my project is all about. I am looking forward to starting this amazing adventure!
“It is a huge honour to receive this Veni grant,” researcher Matteo Monai says. “It is so very exciting to be able to realise my research idea!” In his research project, Monai aims to develop new, better catalysts to transform low-value molecules, such as CO2 and CH4, into H2 and CO by reforming reactions in a circular economy scheme. To put it simply, Monai researches ways to develop cheap and sustainable hydrogen. “I believe that producing cheap and sustainable hydrogen is crucial for our future, which is what my project is all about. I am looking forward to starting this amazing adventure!”
How the past influences conflicts between wildlife and humans
The Veni funding gives me the opportunity to better understand the complexity of conflicts between wildlife and humans, and to identify novel solutions that would benefit both nature and people.
“My research is shaped by my motivation to work towards a sustainable future,” says Ine Dorresteijn. “Especially to help harmonise biodiversity conservation and human well-being. A particular challenge in this context is when wildlife and humans run into conflict over livestock predation and damage to crops. I have worked with subsistence farmers in Ethiopia where such conflicts contribute to food insecurity and poverty. The Veni funding gives me the opportunity to better understand the complexity of conflicts between wildlife and humans, and to closely work with local Ethiopian communities to identify novel solutions that would benefit both nature and people.”
How do seeds survive drying?
I am very happy that my Veni proposal on how seeds survive drying has been honoured.
Most seeds survive the loss of almost all their water during development. For this survival their cells must be efficiently protected against irreversible drying damages. The aim of this project is to elucidate how the accumulation of protective proteins indispensable to survive drying is controlled during seed development. “The fact that NWO supports my research with a Veni grant, shows I am on the right path. Additionally, it is an amazing chance to continue carrying out exciting research with a broad societal impact.”
Tropical forests in the Anthropocene
I am very pleased that I am getting the chance to continue developing my research on topical forests’ resistance
Tropical forests are being disturbed by fires and deforestation. These disturbances are reinforced, because they undermine forests’ abilities to contribute to rainfall. Arie Staal’s research will focus on this ability in a variety of climate and deforestation scenarios. In doing this, it can be determined how and where forest restoration in the tropics and tropical forests’ resistance can be improved. This is important both for preventing and mitigating the consequences of climate change. “I am very pleased that I am getting the chance to continue developing my research on topical forests’ resistance at the Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development,” says Staal. “Here I can combine my experience with existing expertise, to be able to contribute to our knowledge on the resistance of System Earth in the Anthropocene.”
How Rabies virus enters our nervous system and how to combat this
Every year, tens of thousands of people die from rabies infections. With this Veni grant I will be able to study how the Rabies virus infects our nervous system.
The disease Rabies, caused by the Rabies virus, causes tens of thousands of deaths per year, mostly children in developing countries. “It would help if there were better treatment,” researcher Matti Pronker says. In his project, the three-dimensional structure of the viral protein responsible for host cell attachment will be determined. Knowledge of the structure will allow development of improved therapy. Pronker: “I am very happy with the Veni grant. It makes it possible for me to study how the Rabies virus infects our nervous system and how this can be prevented. Hopefully this research will contribute to the WHO-goal to eradicate rabies in 2030.”
Computing exotic geometric objects
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to carry out my research in an environment as rich as the Utrecht and Dutch math communities
Mathematics Abelian varieties are intricate geometric objects at the intersection of algebraic geometry, number theory and modern cryptography. Marseglia will develop algorithms and run them on computers to systematically study such varieties and to produce exotic examples that were not computable before. Marseglia: "I am thrilled to have the opportunity to carry out my research in an environment as rich as the Utrecht and Dutch math communities."
A charming witness of a little bang
I want to understand how nature works, down to the details.
Particles collide and produce a soup of quarks and gluons. Moments after the Big Bang, the Universe was in this new state of matter, called the Quark-Gluon Plasma. Particles lose energy when traversing it, but physicists do not understand how. Henrique Correia Zanoli’s research will study how particles move in this soup. “I want to understand how nature works, down to the details,” says Correia Zanoli. “It is such a privilege to get the chance to work on my own ideas because of the Veni grant.”
Updating and downdating: the orthographic interference of late-medieval Irish scribes in early-medieval texts
There is increasing evidence that late medieval copyists drastically changed the spelling of ancient texts so that they seemed even older and more difficult than they already were. However, it is unclear why they did this.
Although most people shudder when you drop the word 'spelling', it is a very fascinating subject that can tell us a lot about the way people have dealt with written texts over the centuries. From Ireland, for example, there is increasing evidence that late medieval copyists drastically changed the spelling of ancient texts so that they seemed even older and more difficult than they already were. However, it is unclear why they did this and also how good they were at it, and this is exactly what Nike Stam will be investigating in this Veni project. It is important to get to the bottom of this because otherwise, as scholars, we cannot distinguish with certainty between texts that are really old and texts that have been made older by their copyists. "It is a great honour for me to work on this project with a Veni scholarship and I am incredibly looking forward to it."
The platformisation of primary education: public values at risk
Forced home schooling during the lockdown gave an enormous boost to the already advanced digitisation of Dutch primary education. My project investigates the impact of digitisation on educational values.
Forced home schooling during the lockdown gave an enormous boost to the already advanced digitisation of Dutch primary education. Educational platforms of private tech companies are increasingly taking control of the organisation of public primary education and are using their platforms to connect new values to learning, such as flexibility, personalisation and quantification. The project of Niels Kerssens investigates the impact of digitisation on educational values in Dutch primary education and studies how to preserve public values such as equality, social connectedness, autonomy and security in the use of digital education platforms. Kerssens: "The Veni is an exceptional opportunity to contribute to the well-considered and responsible use of educational technology at a time when education is accelerating digitisation. It is my intention to quickly make research results useful to education professionals."
(In)flammable Cities: How fire risks and prevention transformed the Low Countries (1200-1650)
Pre-industrial cities were plagued by fires due to widespread presence of combustible materials and use of open fire. I will investigate how Dutch cities adapted their socio-political organisation and environment to reduce these risks.
Fire plagued pre-industrial cities due to widespread presence of combustible materials and use of open fire. This Veni-project from Janna Coomans investigates how Netherlandish cities adapted their socio-political organization and built environment to mitigate these risks. This provides insight into both the impact of environmental hazards themselves and preventative practices to reduce them.
Ecologies of Violence: Affirmations of Life in Arab Cultural production
My research will answer the question how life is upheld in a state of unlivability
In 2012, the United Nations declared that the Gaza strip will be “unlivable” by 2020. How is life upheld in a state of unlivability, both human and environmental? Layal Ftouni: "My research focusses on creative practices (novels, poetry, film, contemporary art) emerging from Syria and Occupied Palestine. And explores art’s capacity to affirm life beyond the legal and political adjudication of what it means to be ‘human’ today. “I am beyond thrilled to receive the Veni award. I'm very excited that, now, I can devote the time and attention this research demands."
Hot history of the Antarctic ice sheet
Antarctic ice sheet changes are the most uncertain factor in long-term projections of sea level rise. I am going to acquire knowledge about this through computer simulations.
Antarctic ice sheet changes are currently the most uncertain factor in long-term sea-level rise projections. To enhance knowledge of Antarctic ice sheet volume changes in a warmer climate, researcher Lennart Stap will produce computer simulations of the Miocene (23-14 million years ago). During this time, the ice volume was highly variable.
What are you saying? Language as predictor of psychosis in the 22q11.2 deletion syndrome
Language has a great impact on a person's life, it shapes and connects.
The 22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11DS) is a unique model for studying psychosis risk. There are strong indications that psychosis is foreshadowed by atypical language characteristics. This project from Tessel Boerma investigates language in relation to (pre)psychotic symptoms in 22q11DS, supporting our understanding of developmental mechanisms and early identification of this devastating mental illness.
Sweet Gut O’ Mine
The Veni grant enables me to explore how sugar molecules fulfill important functions in the intestine and how they are involved in colorectal cancer development.
The inside of the human gut is covered with a thick layer of sugar molecules. This layer is hard to access, making research into its biological role difficult. For this project from Christian Büll mini-guts with a controllable sugar layer will be developed, to study the functions of sugars in normal gut development, colitis and cancer.
Calculating Derivatives of Complex Computer Programs
I am going to use my research to lay the foundations for future machine learning applications.
Practically all machine learning applications require calculating derivatives of computer programs. However, a correct and efficient calculation is currently only possible for simple and limiting programming languages. This project will develop the mathematics and algorithms necessary to calculate derivatives of advanced programs, laying the foundation for future machine learning applications. According to Vákár it's a subject he has been fascinated by for years. "Therefore I'm grateful to receive this Veni grant!" For his research project Vákár will collaborate with colleagues in New York, Oxford, Edinburgh and Utrecht.
Coalitions across Differences: A Study of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners
My research matters because it can teach us how these expansive coalitions can emerge in the struggles for social and economic justice, despite the differences across groups.
Thanks to the NWO Talent Program Veni, in the next three years Gianmaria Colpani will research the inspiring story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), a solidarity group active in London during the historic miners’ strike of 1984-1985. "I will dig into multiple archives and I will interview former members of LGSM as well as other activists involved in the solidarity movement for the miners at the time", according to Colpani. "In this way, I will study not only the coalition between LGSM and the miners, but also the network of political relations that LGSM established with other women’s, lesbian, and black groups during that one-year-long struggle against the authoritarian government of Margaret Thatcher. The story of LGSM shows that struggles for social and economic justice require effective coalitions, sometimes among unlikely bedfellows. This story matters because it can teach us how these expansive coalitions can emerge across differences, which is a very urgent matter today across Europe, in the United States, and globally."
MR-based measurements of ‘Tissue ElectroMagnetic Properties in radiation Oncology (TEMPO)’: A predictive tool for early-stage assessment of radiotherapy treatments.
I am going to research a new MRI method that will enable personalised adaptive radiotherapy treatments.
This research from Stefano Mandija develops a new MRI methodology to accurately measure the electromagnetic properties of cancer tissues. The applicability of this research will be tested for diagnosis and response evaluation of brain tumor radiotherapy treatments. This will open a new window into personalized, adaptive radiotherapy treatments while improving their cost/efficiency.
Local production is crucial for brain cells
With my research I want to gain new insights into the functioning of neurons and neurodegenerative diseases.
Neuronal endings can be far distant from their cell bodies and therefore have to regulate their own local protein production, a process crucial for neuronal function. Researcher Max Koppers will use innovative molecular techniques to study regulation of this local protein production thereby gaining new insights into neuronal health and disease. Koppers: "This NWO Veni grant gives me the opportunity to work in the excellent environment of the department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Biophysics. Here, I can develop my own research line where I can further investigate the exciting topic of the local production of proteins in neurons. This research can provide important insights into the functioning of neurons and neurodegenerative diseases."
No need to wait? Predicting brain cancer therapy response with metabolic MRI
I am going to develop an MRI techniques that will determine the effect of therapy response in brain cancer
Early evaluation of therapy response in brain cancer is crucial for clinical decision making. A change in tumor morphology is a late event and therefore unsatisfactory for this goal. In this research Eva Wiegers will use novel metabolic MRI techniques to measure therapy-induced changes in biochemical processes, ultimately aimed to improve patient-specific therapy outcome.
Early embryonic development at single-cell resolution
I am going to develop a technique to measure in individual cells how cells follow different fates throughout developmental time.
The study of how genes are regulated during the first days of embryonic development has multiple applications in the field of stem cell research and regenerative medicine. This research from Isabel Misteli Guerreiro will use a novel single-cell technique to uncover how cells follow different fates throughout developmental time. "This Veni grant provides me with three years of funding to perform this very challenging project and it is a stepping stone into my own independent research.”
How are cardiovascular diseases prevented and treated in patients with chronic kidney disease?
I am going to develop an MRI scan that will determine the effect of treating a brain tumour biochemically.
Cardiovascular disease is a frequent complication in patients with chronic kidney disease. Yet, evidence on the best treatment approach to prevent CVD is limited. This project from Robin Vernooij studies in routine clinical practice the adherence to guidelines, the registration of care, and the treatment effects.
Radioresistance of pediatric brain stem tumors: a role for the tumor microenvironment?
I am going to research a aggressive pediatric brain stem tumor in children and whether the outgrowth of
resistant tumours can be prevented
Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is an aggressive pediatric brain stem tumor. DIPG is incurable because of the development of radioresistance. This project from Anoek Zomer studies the changes in the tumor microenvironment during radiotherapy, and whether tumor recurrence can be prevented by interfering with the tumor microenvironment.
Fingerprints in blood
I use mutations as “fingerprints” to trace human hematopoietic stem cells, and to understand how blood is made.
Hematopoietic stem cells are the source of lifelong blood production. Their identity and the mechanisms by which they generate all mature blood cell types remain elusive. This project by Mirjam Belderbos uses naturally occurring DNA mutations as “fingerprints” to trace human hematopoietic stem cells, and to understand how blood is made.