Laureates each receive 800,000 euros to set up research projects

Fourteen Utrecht-based researchers receive Vidi grant

This year, Fourteen Utrecht-based researchers each receive an NWO Vidi scholarship of 800,000 euros. The laureates are going to use this money to develop their own, innovative research projects. The Vidi's are meant for excellent researchers who have obtained their doctorates and have subsequently successfully been conducting research for a number of years. 

The Vidi laureates will do research on a variety of subjects including how stress makes you gravitate towards junk food, and how biodiversity and fire contribute to carbon storage in the soil. Seven of the laureates are UMC Utrecht researchers, four are part of the Faculty of Science, two of the Faculty of Geosciences, and one of the Faculty of Humanities.

The laureates

Dr. Tim Baarslag, Faculty of Science: Coordinating multi-deal bilateral negotiations

The Vidi funding allows me to do truly fundamental research into the mathematics behind complex negotiations

Negotiations that are too complex for humans to oversee could be left to computers in the future. An example is negotiations between companies about purchases that take place simultaneously. Automated procurement systems hold great promise for businesses, but they also require algorithms with a brand-new responsibility: performing several interconnected negotiations at the same time. Tim Baarslag will develop these new algorithms as well as suitable applications. He works as a scientific staff member at Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica, and assistant professor at Utrecht University. Baarslag: “The Vidi funding allows me to do truly fundamental research into the mathematics behind complex negotiations that take place simultaneously and influence each other.”

Dr. Robert-Jan Bleichrodt, Science: Feed me: optimal feeding of mushrooms by improving the nutrient supplying rooting system

I will study which network architecture results in optimal nutrient transport to mushrooms and how this is regulated.

Mushrooms provide a sustainable alternative for meat consumption. Researcher Robert-Jan Bleichrodt has found a link between the architecture of the fungal network that feeds the mushrooms and mushroom yield. “I will study which network architecture results in optimal nutrient transport to mushrooms and how this is regulated, which should improve mushroom yield.”

Dr. Nora Elisa Chisari, Science: Galaxy alignments answer fundamental questions about the Universe

This project will help uncover information about how our Universe began, what it is made of, and how galaxies were formed.

Galaxies are sensitive to tides across the Universe, like the ones that make the oceans on the Earth rise. In this striking phenomenon, there is a wealth of information hiding about how our Universe began, what it is made of, and how galaxies were formed. In this project, researchers will help uncover this wealth of information.
Earlier this year, Chisari received another grant to collaborate with students on developing activities for the public to inform them about light pollution and its negative effects on biodiversity in the city and its surroundings.

Dr. Freddy Rabouw, Science: Quantum cutting sunlight with Yb3+-doped perovskite

This project will develop strategies for more efficient quantum cutting, which will inspire new technologies for sustainable energy production.

Blue and ultraviolet sunlight are highly energetic. Current technologies to harvest sunlight cannot use this energy efficiently. “Quantum cutting”, the conversion of blue and ultraviolet light into infrared, can change this. This project will develop strategies for more efficient quantum cutting, which will inspire new technologies for sustainable energy production.

Last year, Rabouw received the Heineken Young Scientists Award in the category Natural Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), for his research on new materials to generate light, for example for solar cells or display screens.

Dr. Lieke Stelling, Humanities: Discovering Europe through Early Modern Literary Bestsellers

This project offers a modest contribution to exploring the question: ‘what does Europe mean?’

What does Europe mean? The focus of this research project is on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a period that witnessed the Reformation, which tore apart the fabric of European society, but also saw the emergence of an incipient secular understanding of Europe as a diverse community. This is apparent from Stelling's main sources: the popular stories of the era. Moreover, many of these works, including Cervantes’ Don Quixote and More’s Utopia, were circulated and consumed in different ways across the entire continent. As such, they also contributed themselves to the idea of Europe as a shared cultural community. 

Dr. Mariska te Beest, Geosciences: How biodiversity and fire contribute to carbon storage in Afromontane grasslands

This research is important to find solutions that contribute to both biodiversity conservation and climate mitigation.

The world is experiencing a major biodiversity and climate crisis. Biodiversity is declining and the climate is getting warmer. The irony is that biodiversity can actually be an important partner in our fight against climate change. Mariska te Beest will investigate this proposition in Afromontane grasslands, one of the most underestimated biodiversity hotspot worldwide. These grasslands are under severe threat from intensified land use, including afforestation projects for climate change mitigation.

“In this Vidi project I will study how grassland diversity and fire contribute to effective carbon storage in the soil. Fire plays an important role in this, both for maintaining biodiversity and for soil carbon stabilization. My research is important to find solutions that contribute to both biodiversity conservation and climate mitigation.”

Dr. Birka Wicke, Geosciences: A shared responsibility to decarbonize land use: Modelling emissions of commodities, companies and countries

With my research I want to contribute to the achievement of the Paris climate agreement.

Complex product chains from producer to consumer lead to shared responsibility in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially those from land use. In her Vidi project, Associate Professor Birka Wicke will identify and quantify the role of companies and countries in causing emissions from land use in agriculture and forestry. In particular, she will look at the actors indirectly linked to these emissions through the supply chain and the consumption of agricultural products, and who are currently not co-responsible for reducing emissions. "This Vidi project allows me to bring natural and social sciences together to develop new approaches to how the responsibility for emissions can be more fairly distributed among different actors. In doing so, I want to contribute to the achievement of the Paris climate agreement."

For the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, Wicke previously wrote the blog 'Responsibility for CO2 emissions does not end at the national border' on this topic.

Dr. Martijn Froeling, Imaging and Oncology division, UMC Utrecht: The muscle quality index: simplification of multidimensional quantitative MRI

My ambition with the project is to change the way we analyze and interpret MRI data

This project by a team including Martijn Froeling, assistant professor at the Imaging and Oncology division, links quantitative MRI measurements of muscles to muscle function. This will lead to a better evaluation of disease progression and therapy in muscle diseases. Martijn says the following about this: “We all use our muscles to function in our everyday lives. However, in patients suffering from one of the more than 600 different muscle diseases, their muscle function is impaired. This significantly reduces their quality of life. Fortunately, there are treatments under development that slow disease progression, and these should be evaluated carefully to be sure they are appropriate for the patient. Quantitative MRI parameters are sensitive to detecting changes in muscle and can provide an abundance of information. Although sensitive, they often lack specificity and are not linked to muscle function. My ambition with the project is to change the way we analyze and interpret MRI data so that it fits into the clinical care of individual patients with a wide range of muscle diseases.”

Dr. Aniek Janssen, Laboratories, Pharmacy and Biomedical Genetics division, UMC Utrecht: Repair of solidly packed DNA

This grant allows my research group to start growing and doing more detailed research in the coming years. It will ultimately contribute to a better understanding of how cancer develops.

Assistant professor Aniek Janssen will use the Vidi grant to understand how different pieces of DNA are repaired. Previously Aniek received an ERC Starting Grant for her research on how our cells protect themselves from DNA damage. Aniek: “This grant allows my research group to start growing and doing more detailed research in the coming years. It will ultimately contribute to a better understanding of how cancer develops.”

Dr. Frank Meye, Brain division, UMC Utrecht: Vet lastig: Fat is tricky: Why stress draws you towards junk food

Our lab is very excited to take on the challenge of better understanding these important processes!

Stress often leads to an increased intake of fatty and sugary foods. This happens because stress on the one hand makes such food even more attractive, and on the other reduces our self-control. This cocktail of effects contributes to the current obesity problem and also plays an important role in several psychiatric disorders. Assistant professor Frank Meye researches how stress alters the strength of connections in the brain involved in decision-making, and how this can lead to impulsive eating behavior. He also investigates how this process can be reversed for the better by targeted manipulation of brain activity. Frank: “This Vidi grant plays a crucial role in further forming my research group that aims to understand how stress leads to plastic changes in the brain, and how this plays a role in multiple disease processes. It's great that this application has been granted, as our lab is very excited to take on the challenge of better understanding these important processes!”

Dr. Sanne Peters, Julius Center UMC Utrecht: Gender differences in heart disease explaine

This Vidi grant allows me, together with my research team, to take important steps in preventing and treating heart disease in both men and women in the best possible way!

There are distinct differences between men and women when it comes to coronary heart diseases. For example, the extent to which major risk factors such as smoking and diabetes increase the risk of coronary heart disease is greater in women than in men. Women are also less frequently treated according to medical guidelines. It is unclear where these gender differences come from. This hinders the translation into clinical practice. Sanne Peters, associate professor at the Julius Center and Senior Lecturer at the George Institute, UK, uses clever epidemiological methods to find explanations for the male-female differences in heart disease. “This Vidi grant allows me to continue my research on male-female differences and, together with my research team, take important steps in preventing and treating heart disease in both men and women in the best possible way!”

Dr. Maria Rodriguez Colman, Laboratories, Pharmacy and Biomedical Genetics division, UMC Utrecht: The importance of metabolism in (cancer) stem cells

This grant will allow me to further expand my team and together make important contributions to the fundamental understanding of cancer and metabolism

Assistant professor Maria Rodriguez Colman receives the Vidi grant to research the role of metabolism in stem cell regulation and differentiation in healthy and diseased intestinal tissue, primarily in intestinal cancer. “In my group we seek to understand how metabolism regulates the intestinal function and in particular how it contributes to the development of intestinal tumors and resistance to chemotherapy. Before this, I traveled all over the world to follow my passion for research. At the Center for Molecular Medicine in the UMC Utrecht, I found the right place to establish my research on metabolism, stem cells and cancer. This grant will allow me to further expand my team and together make important contributions to the fundamental understanding of cancer and metabolism,” says Maria.

Dr. Alessandro Sbrizzi, Imaging and Oncology division, UMC Utrecht: Spectro-Dynamic MRI

I hope to prove that Spectro-Dynamic MRI can also work in the human body

Associate professor Alessando Sbrizzi is developing a new kind of MRI that allows characterizing the movement of human organs at high resolution in 3D space and time. Potential clinical applications include better musculoskeletal examinations, and diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular diseases. About this he says: “This Vidi grant gives me the opportunity to carry out more research into a new dynamic imaging method I have devised, namely Spectro-Dynamic MRI. This is an innovation that combines mathematics, physics, machine learning and MRI. I have had promising initial results from simple phantom setups. With this, I hope to prove that Spectro-Dynamic MRI can also work in the human body.” It can lead to better diagnosis, prevention and therapy of socially relevant diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and musculoskeletal disorders.

Dr. Hugo Snippert, Laboratories, Pharmacy and Biomedical Genetics division, UMC Utrecht: Colon cancer: when good turns into bad

Better understanding, recognition and risk assessment of early metastasis ensure that each patient can receive a more tailored treatment

With the Vidi grant, associate professor Hugo Snippert, Oncode researcher at the Center for Molecular Medicine at the UMC Utrecht, will investigate how prematurely metastatic colon cancers develop. Better understanding, recognition and risk assessment of early metastasis ensure that each patient can receive a more tailored treatment. Earlier this month, the article appeared in Nature Genetics in which Hugo and his research group mapped out the rate and pattern of genetic changes in tumors for the first time.

More information

NWO Vidi-grants 2021