Seven ERC Consolidator Grants for Utrecht researchers

The European Research Council has awarded the latest ERC Consolidator Grants; six of them will go to Utrecht University and one to UMC Utrecht. Each ERC Consolidator Grant is worth two million euros and will enable a research group to do five years of research.

Almost half of the grants this year were awarded to the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, where three researchers received an ERC Consolidator Grant. The researchers explain what they intend to do with their grants below. 

Hester den Ruijter

What differences are there between men and women when it comes to the development of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which can ultimately lead to a heart attack?


Associate Professor of Experimental Cardiology Hester den Ruijter has received an ERC Consolidator Grant for her research into the molecular basis of arteriosclerosis in women. Within the UCARE study, she studies vascular tissue and looks at the differences between men and women when it comes to the development of arteriosclerosis, which can ultimately lead to a heart attack. So far, analyses have primarily studied male tissue. Now, Hester and her team are investigating which specifically female patterns are at play in arteriosclerosis. She hopes the study will enable the development of a risk test that can predict the development of cardiovascular diseases in women more effectively. 

Ellen Hamaker

By developing an interactive website, I hope that, in the future, researchers will be able to identify the most appropriate model more easily

Ellen Hamaker, professor of Longitudinal Data Analysis, plans to develop techniques and tools that will enable researchers to analyse the data that they have collected through smartphones and other wearables more effectively. One of the tools will be an interactive website. 'Scientists use statistical models to interpret their data. There are a great many possible models, but researchers generally tend to use the model that’s most commonly used within their discipline. That is not necessarily the model that is best suited to their data and research question. I want all researchers to be able to access the wide range of models available simply and easily. By developing an interactive website, I hope that, in the future, researchers will be able to identify the most appropriate model more easily.'

Stefan van der Stigchel

Among other things, I plan to find out, using virtual reality where appropriate, how much information people with memory loss store from the world that they see and how much they do not

Professor of Cognitive Psychology Stefan van der Stigchel wants to establish how much information from the world that people perceive is actually stored in the brain. 'It’s actually not very much,' says the Utrecht researcher. 'It doesn’t need to be stored, either, because most of it is directly accessible by looking. You let this information go; you don’t store it.' Van der Stigchel explains that the amount of information that is stored varies from one person to another. 'Especially if you look at people with memory problems. It’s more difficult for them to store information from the world around them. Among other things, I plan to find out, using virtual reality where appropriate, how much information they store from the world that they see and how much they do not.'

Sander Thomaes

Ask the average teenager whether they care about climate change and they’ll definitely say ‘yes’. But how do you get young people to behave in a more environmentally friendly way?

Professor of Developmental Psychology Sander Thomaes studies the behaviour of adolescents. He plans to use the grant from the ERC to focus his research on how secondary school students can be encouraged to behave in a way that is as environmentally friendly as possible. 'Ask the average teenager whether they care about climate change and they’ll definitely say "yes". But if you look at their behaviour, this often deviates from the ideal. To reduce this gap, we plan to set up an intervention to see if we can make young people’s behaviour more environmentally friendly by appealing to their sense of justice. For example, we will show an intervention group the chemicals that the clothing industry uses to make their clothes, and the impact that the discharge of these chemicals has on the health of people who live in the vicinity of the factory.'

Rutger Claassen

Companies are regulated by policy, but also influence the political arena themselves. Can this mixing of private activity with public responsibility be legitimate in a democratic state under the rule of law?

Companies are regulated by policy, but also influence the political arena themselves through their contacts with politicians and political parties. In addition, companies regularly fulfil public functions, such as the supply of public goods, the regulation of their own business activities or the combating of social problems such as damage to the environment. Also, societies increasingly expect companies to assume these roles.

Can this mixing of private activity with public responsibility be legitimate in a democratic state under the rule of law? Does this not give businesses too much political power? And are multinationals, for example, different in this regard to other businesses? These are key questions that the recently funded ERC project of Professor of Political Philosophy and Economic Ethics Rutger Claassen will be asking.

Bas Dutilh

Can we predict how the interaction between bacteriophages and bacteria will evolve under different conditions?

There are a billion times more viruses on earth than there are stars in the universe. The most numerous are the bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria. For as long as bacteria have existed, they have been embroiled in an evolutionary battle: bacteriophages infect bacteria and bacteria try to avoid infection. This global equilibrium is billions of years old and is perhaps the most complex system in existence. With ever more interest in bacteriophages in both fundamental and applied research, the key question is this: can we predict how the interaction between bacteriophages and bacteria will evolve under different conditions? With this ERC Consolidator Grant, Bas Dulith (Science) plans to measure the many factors that play a role in large DNA datasets from all over the world.

Ingmar Swart

Creating fractals atom-by-atom gives us a unique opportunity to study the properties of these exotic materials.

Together with three PhD candidates and a postdoc, Ingmar Swart (Science) plans to conduct research into fractals. Fractals are objects in which the same patterns occur again and again when you zoom in or out. Trees and the blood vessels in your body, for example, reveal ever more branches. Since fractals do not naturally occur on the shell of atoms and molecules, almost nothing is known about the properties of such materials. Creating fractals atom-by-atom gives Ingmar Swart’s research team a unique opportunity to study the properties of these exotic materials.