Update: Utrecht represented on all six Gravitation awards for groundbreaking research

Leading scientists from Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht will join all six projects awarded funding under the prestigious NWO Gravitation Programme for groundbreaking fundamental research, attracting a total of 100 million euros.


A consortium that will conduct research into the exposome will receive an amount of 17.4 million euros. The principal project applicant is Professor Roel Vermeulen.

Utrecht researchers are co-applicants in three other consortiums, while Professor Iris Engelhard is one of the research leaders in the New Science of Mental Disorders programme and Frank Dignum, Linda van der Gaag and Henry Prakken are among the research leaders in Hybrid Intelligence (HI): augmenting human intellect.


The Dutch government uses the Gravitation programme to stimulate excellent research. Gravitation is intended for scientific consortia that have the potential to develop into world leaders within their discipline. The focus of the research projects is on excellent and innovative research.

List of projects awarded funding:

BRAINSCAPES: A Roadmap from Neurogenetics to Neurobiology

Main applicant: Prof. D. Posthuma (VU)
Co-applicants: Prof. A.B. Smit (VU), Prof. H.D. Mansvelder (VU), Prof. E.M. Hol (UU)Prof. R.J. Pasterkamp (UU), Prof. B. Lelieveldt (UL)
Institution acting as official secretary: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Amount awarded: 19.6 million euros

Recent genetic studies have provided unprecedented insight into the genes involved in brain disorders. The next step is to use this knowledge to acquire mechanistic disease insights. In BRAINSCAPES we will develop novel analytic and experimental tools to study the functional consequences of risk genes on the function of specific cells, their circuits and functional output. We aim to provide insights into the molecular and cellular basis of complex brain disorders, which can be used to design novel treatments.

Harnessing the second genome of plants. Microbial imprinting for crop resilience (MiCRop)

Main applicant: Prof. H.J. Bouwmeester (UvA)
Co-applicants: Prof. M. Dicke (WUR), Prof. E.T. Kiers (VU), Prof. C.M.J. Pieterse (UU), Prof. J.M. Raaijmakers (NIOO-KNAW), Prof. C.S. Testerink (WUR)
Institution acting as official secretary: University of Amsterdam
Amount awarded: 20.3 million euros

Plants recruit and nurture billions of microbes on their roots. In return, the root microbiome supports the plant by improving the uptake of nutrients, enhancing tolerance to environmental stress and providing protection against pests and diseases. MiCRop will unlock how plants under stress recruit these beneficial root microbes. We will harness the yet unknown plant and microbial traits that facilitate this interaction, and translate their potential for the development of next-generation, stress-resilient crops that require fewer fertilisers and pesticides.

New Science of Mental Disorders

Main applicant: Prof. A.T.M. Jansen (UM)
Co-applicants: Prof. M. Kindt (UvA), Prof. R.W.H.J. Wiers (UvA), Prof. B.M. Elzinga (UL), Prof. A.J. Roefs (UM), Prof. A. Evers (UL)
Research leaders: Prof. I.M. Engelhard (UU), amongst others
Institution acting as official secretary: University of Amsterdam
Amount awarded: 19.3 million euros

Worldwide, one in four adults and one in ten children suffer from mental illness at any given moment. Mental illnesses cause considerable suffering, and our best treatments only work for about 40% of patients. We think that mental illnesses reflect dynamic and complex networks of interacting symptoms. The proposal is to study the complex dynamics of these networks, the transdiagnostic processes that drive the connectivity between symptoms, and the effect of network-based interventions tailored for the individual patient.


Main applicant: Prof. R.C.H. Vermeulen (UU and UMCU)
Co-applicants: Prof. M.P. Kwan (UU), Prof. T. Hankemeier (UL), Prof. A.P. Zhernakova (RUG), Prof. J.W.J. Beulens (VU), Prof. D..E. Grobbee (UMCU)
Institution acting as official secretary: Utrecht University
Amount awarded: 17.4 million euros

Where you live and work, what you eat and drink, how often you exercise, and other choices that you make in your daily life influence your health. Whether or not you develop certain chronic diseases is in fact conditional upon these factors for seventy percent. The combination of these factors is called the exposome. Much remains to be discovered about the exposome, and therefore about the development of chronic diseases. In the Exposome-NL project, we will apply innovative techniques to examine which factors of the exposome are important for health and how these work.

Hybrid Intelligence (HI): augmenting human intellect

Main applicant: Prof. F.A.H. van Harmelen (VU)
Co-applicants: Prof. M. de Rijke (UvA), Prof. C.M.J. Jonker (TUD), Prof. M. Welling (UvA), Prof. L.C. Verbrugge (RUG), Prof. P.Th.J.M. Vossen (VU)
Research leaders: Dr. F.P.M. Dignum (UU)Prof. L.C. van der Gaag (UU)Prof. H. Prakken (UU), amongst others
Institution acting as official secretary: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Amount awarded: 19.0 million euros

Hybrid Intelligence (HI) combines human and artificial intelligence. Six Dutch universities will develop theories and methods for intelligent systems that cooperate with humans, that adapt to dynamic circumstances and that can explain their actions.   Ethical and legal values, such as transparency, accountability and trust, will be taken into account during the design of such HI systems. We will demonstrate applications of HI systems in healthcare, education and science to show the potential of artificial intelligence to amplify human intelligence instead of replacing it.

Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies

Main applicant: Prof. P.A.E. Brey (UT)
Co-applicants: Prof. I.R. van de Poel (TUD), Prof. I.A.M. Robeyns (UU; on behalf of the Ethics Institute), Prof. S. Roeser (TUD), Prof. P.P.C.C. Verbeek (UT), Prof. W.A. IJsselsteijn (TUE)
Research leaders: Prof. M. Duwell (UU), amongst others
Institution acting as official secretary: University of Twente
Amount awarded: 17.9 million euros

This philosophical research programme will develop new approaches to deal with social and ethical challenges brought about by emerging socially disruptive technologies (SDTs), such as robots, artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and climate technology. SDTs will change society, culture and everyday life, and also challenge some of our most basic concepts and values. We will innovate the ethics of technology so that we can critically evaluate and guide the development and introduction of these technologies.