Thirteen Utrecht-based researchers receive Vidi grant

Researchers each receive 800.000 Euros to develop innovative line of research

The Dutch Research Council has awarded thirteen experienced, Utrecht-based researchers a Vidi grant worth 800,000 euros. The grant enables them to develop their own innovative line of research and set up their own research group in the coming five years. The grants are intended for experienced researchers who have been conducting successful research for several years after their PhD defense. 

Thirteen of the 97 laureates in this round are from UU and UMC Utrecht. Five of the laureates do research at the Faculty of Science, one at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, three at the Faculty of Geosciences, one at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences and three at the UMC Utrecht. Besides the thirteen Vidi grants for Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht, there is also one laureate from the Hubrecht Institute, one laureate from the Princess Máxima Centrum and two laureates from NIOZ.

Dr. Gijs Heuts, Faculty of Science: Hopf algebras and periodic homotopy theory

The Vidi grant helps us build a new bridge between geometry and algebra.

Heuts and his team are studying a new type of algebra called Hopf algebras to describe geometric shapes in high dimensions. Just like a prism breaks a white beam of light into the colors it consists of, these types of shapes can be split into parts corresponding to different frequencies. These and other global properties of geometric shapes in high dimensions can be described using homotopy theory. Hopf algebra’s provide a new way of studying homotopy theory and of combining geometrics and algebra.

Dr. Valentijn Karemaker, Faculty of Science: Geometric p-structures in families of abelian varieties and Drinfeld modules

I’m very happy with the opportunities this Vidi grant provides me to dive further into this topic. By developing new geometric constructions, we can solve important problems in arithmetic geometry in this project.

Valentijn Karemaker researches abelian varieties. These are geometric objects studied in number theory. Over a finite field of characteristic p, the points on an abelian variety of p-power order have an interesting structure. Therefore, Karemaker investigates how this structure varies in families of abelian varieties. She also studies similar structures on Drinfeld modules, which may be viewed as function field analogues of abelian varieties.

Dr. Alvaro del Pino Gomez, Faculty of Science: Flexibility and rigidity of tangent distributions

This project aims to provide a global classification of distributions, which is largely unexplored territory. Recent developments have shown that there is a pretty exciting way forward.

This project will study a family of mathematical objects known as distributions. They first appeared in the classical works of gemeters like Marius Sophus Lie, Élie Cartan, and many others, in order to study partial differential equations. Over time, these early ideas consolidated into whole fields within mathematics.

The goal of this project is to classify distributions and understand their global features. To do so, Alvaro Del Pino Gómez will develop constructive arguments (to produce new examples of distributions) and invariants (quantities that allow us to tell distributions apart). This will require for bridges between disparate mathematical areas to be built.

Dr. Abigail Nieves Delgado, Faculty of Science: Microbiome Research and Race in the ‘Local South’

This project will help us to decide when it is useful to use racial categories in human microbiome research and when it causes harm.

The microbiome is the community of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on and in our bodies. Scientific research shows that the composition of the microbiome changes depending on our environment, habits, and genes. The composition of the microbiome influences human health. Different human groups exhibit different microbial groups, which is why racial classifications are playing an increasingly crucial role in this research field. Abigail Nieves Delgado investigates, from the perspective of history and philosophy of science, when it is legitimate to refer to race and when it is not, by examining how health-related microbiome research is conducted in South Africa and Latin America.

Dr. Balthasar Heesters, Faculty of Science: Antibody selection, rules of the game

It is surprising how little we know about the rules of antibody selection, the central mechanism of protective immunity and autoimmune diseases.

Antibodies constantly improve during disease. The body achieves this by producing many antibodies and then selecting the best ones. However, the rules governing this selection process, set by specialized support cells, remain a mystery. In this pioneering research, Balthasar Heesters and his team aim to unveil these rules, as understanding them is crucial to breaking them. By mastering the laws of this immunological game, the researchers strive to conquer diseases and revolutionize vaccination efforts.

Dr. Riccardo Levato, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine: Time Dynamics in Bioprinting: Steering Organoid Maturation and Therapeutic Stem Cell Manufacturing (TIMESTAMP)

With this Vidi project, I will develop a new technology to gradually guide the maturation of cells into tissues after printing.

Donor tissues and cells for transplantation are life-saving, but scarce and often not available for many patients. Printing living cells is a first step to build human tissues in the lab, but to date, printed cells do not fully mimic the function of our body parts. With this Vidi project, I will develop a new technology to accompany and guide cell maturation into tissues gradually over time after printing, to offer a new solution for biomedical and healthcare research. I am excited for the support of NWO, as the Vidi funding will help me investigate new technologies at the boundary between photonics, biology and chemistry, and their impact on medicine.

Dr. ir. Niko Wanders, Faculty of Geosciences: Recover – Unravelling and forecasting the drivers of drought recovery and termination 

With this Vidi, I am going to find out why some droughts last two weeks and others last several years.

Droughts become more frequent and have a more significant impact. This causes a shift in the question asked by society from “How often does a drought occur?” to “How long does the current drought last and how long will it take to recover from it?”. Within the Recover project I’ll develop models that can predict how long drought last and how we can mitigate their impact using adaptive water management.

Dr. Iryna Susha, Faculty of Geosciences: DATA ALLY: Business-to-Government Data Sharing for Societal Challenges 

How can governments make decisions on societal challenges when much of relevant data is in the hands of companies?

To address complex societal challenges, like the climate crisis or pandemics, governments need to make evidence-based decisions based of best available data. Due to the rapid growth of tech companies, much of relevant data is now held by the private sector. This project investigates how to rebalance the ‘data asymmetry’ between governments and businesses and how the shared private sector data is used in government decisions on societal issues.

Dr. Michiel van Meeteren, Faculty of Geosciences: Academic Impact Strategies for Long-term Engagement (AISLE): Institutional work in Dutch human geography and planning (1945-1999)

We will explore the long-term impact of geographical thinking on 20th-century Dutch society and learn from our predecessors how to nurture foundations for academic impact.

AISLE generates new insights into how social-scientific work, specifically in human geography and planning, impacts both science and society. The project analyses the science-society interface by developing a biographical approach that allows for weighing the impact of the full career of 40 professors and their research groups for the period 1945-1999. Combining classic archival and oral history methods with state-of-the-art digital methods to analyse large volumes of historical materials, AISLE will chart the societal and scientific merit of research, education and organisation. This will result in a deeper and broader understanding of the societal value of the social sciences.

Dr. Bella Struminskaya, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences: Big data needs big transparency

I want to develop an app that gives smartphone users control over which data can and cannot be shared.

Smartphones can collect data on a daily basis about the activities and behaviour of their users, data that is extremely interesting for researchers to better understand society. But when sharing this data, people are concerned about their privacy. Statistician at Utrecht University Bella Struminskaya wants to develop an app that gives smartphone users control over which data can and cannot be shared.

Alex Bhogal, UMC Utrecht: The Brain State Profile: a neuroimaging framework to elucidate the foundations of brain plasticity

The brain has an amazing ability to reorganise circuits in response to injury.

The brain has an amazing ability to reorganize circuitry in reaction to injury. However, the foundations of this brain plasticity remain largely unknown, and so we so far failed to therapeutically use plasticity. This project aims to use the most advanced neuroimaging methods available to develop a framework to identify the critical factors that enable (or limit) brain plasticity. This system will be applied in a longitudinal study looking at patients recovering from stroke-related brain injury who have a high potential to demonstrate brain plasticity.

Dr. Karin Jongsma, UMC Utrecht: The ethics of collaboration between physicians and medical artificial intelligence

Under what ethical conditions can collaboration between physician and AI be valuable for medical decision-making?

Physicians increasingly work with medical artificial intelligence (AI). It seems desirable that they collaborate in some form, but we do not fully understand what is meant by this human-AI collaboration in medicine: Is it like a collaboration between a boss and his employee, like a police officer and a police dog or like two partners in a business? This project explores how we should understand and ethically steer these collaborations between human and AI in medical decision-making.

Prof. dr. Maeike Zijlmans, UMC Utrecht: The ins and outs of the epileptic source to guide epilepsy surgery

Epilepsy is not only annoying because of the seizures, but also affects the functioning of the healthy brain.

1 in 100 people suffer from epilepsy. Epilepsy that starts focally in the brain can be cured by surgery and this can save people from having a lifelong disease. The surgeon needs to know exactly where the epilepsy is coming from. The researcher believes this can be achieved by recording the electric signal with special electrode grids directly from the brain's surface and with specific signal analysis including artificial intelligence. Epilepsy is not just seizures, but also effects healthy brain functioning. The researcher will increase understanding about the interaction between diseased and healthy brain through the electrical signal. A step towards the future is a new recording method that will try to capture this electrical epileptic signal signature from the outside.

Hubrecht Institute, Prinses Máxima Centrum and NIOZ