Utrecht researchers involved in seven NWO ENW Groot projects

Utrecht researchers are involved in seven out of twenty NWO Open Competition ENW Groot projects. In four of these projects, an Utrecht researcher is the main applicant. The projects each receive a grant of up to 3 million euros.

With these grants, the NWO domain Science stimulates curiosity-driven, non-programmed fundamental research. Grants within the NWO Open Competition ENW Groot programme are intended for consortia in which research groups create added value through collaboration. Of a total of 92 pre-proposals, thirty consortia were allowed to further elaborate their proposal. The domain board has now awarded 20 project proposals funding, as a result of which an award rate of 21.7 percent was achieved.

Utrecht researchers are main applicants of four projects:

How does a cell decide which direction to take?

Single Cell Analysis of Animal Development
Sander van den Heuvel (co-applicant: Kirsten ten Tusscher)

The cells of our body all contain an identical and complete manual for our life processes and body functions. Despite this identical genetic information, cells develop in highly divergent directions; some remain stem cells while others become, for instance, specialized neurons or muscle cells. How does a cell decide which direction to take? A team of world-leading researchers with divergent expertise will collaborate closely to answer this question. Starting from detailed molecular characterizations of individual cells in developing tissues, a predictive computer model will be created, which ultimately will reveal opportunities for improved tissue regeneration and cancer treatment.

We will use a breakthrough approach to investigate the formation, presence, and distribution of nanoplastics in aquatic environments.

Nanoplastics: Origin, Structure and Fate
Bert Weckhuysen (co-applicants: Erik van Sebille, Florian Meirer)

Troubling images, showcasing the large amount of plastic litter that contaminates our waters and threatens wildlife, have become a regular focus of the popular media. Not everyone realizes that we cannot account for a very large fraction of the plastic that escapes into the ocean. A significant portion of this “missing plastic” is hypothesized to result from the degradation of plastics and are named nanoplastics. A multidisciplinary team will now use a breakthrough approach to investigate the formation, presence, and distribution of nanoplastics in aquatic environments. They will study size, structure, and composition of nanoplastics, their transport across the ocean, as well as their interplay with and impact on the Earth’s aquatic microbiome. The reactivity of nanoplastics will also be assessed, allowing to investigate potential degradation pathways, including those involving microbial interactions.

Photonic crystals enhance the interaction of light with matter in an unprecedented way.

Self-Assembled Icosahedral Photonic Quasicrystals with a Band Gap for Visible Light
Alfons van Blaaderen (co-applicants: Allard Mosk, Laura Filion)

Photonic crystals are important for many research areas and applications because they enhance the interaction of light with matter in an unprecedented way. Here we plan to make both periodic and quasi-periodic photonic crystals by using colloidal self-assembly, an inherently scalable and inexpensive approach. These crystals will have a so-called photonic bandgap for visible light, the equivalent of an electronic bandgap for electrons. The study of such structures, and how they can influence light, will not only provide new fundamental knowledge about quasicrystals but will also have applications in e.g. data manipulation, lighting, sensing and photocatalysis.

What does the ice loss of Antarctica imply for water levels at the Dutch coast?

State and fate of Antarctica’s gatekeepers: a High Resolution approach for Ice ShElf instability (HiRISE)
Bert Wouters (TUD/UU; co-applicants: Carleen Tijm-Reijmer, Willem Jan van de Berg)

Antarctica is the single largest unknown in the current projectons of sea level rise. For a large part, this is due to the uncertainty of how ice shelves will evolve in a changing climate. To reduce this uncertainty, we combine field measurements, satellite data and climate models to chart the current state of Antarctica’s ice shelves with high resolution and accuracy. This knowledge will then be exploited to improve our estimates of how the stability of the ice shelves will change in the coming centuries, in which way this impacts the ice loss of Antarctica and what this implies for water levels at the Dutch coast. Read more about this project in the TU Delft news item.


In addition, Utrecht researchers are involved in three more successful applications:

  • The Active Matter Physics of Collective Metastasis (main applicant: Dr. E.H.J. Danen (UL); Utrecht co-applicant: Dr. J. de Rooij)
  • Driving quantum phase transitions in topological correlated matter (TopCore) (main applicant: Dr. E. van Heumen (UvA); Utrecht co-applicant: Prof.dr. C. de Morais Smith)
  • Unwiring beneficial functions and regulatory networks in the endophytic microbiome (main applicant: Prof. dr. J.M. Raaijmakers (Netherlands Institute of Ecology); Utrecht co-applicants: Prof.dr.ir. C.M.J. Pieterse, Dr. S.C.M. van Wees)