Five Vici grants for VU Amsterdam and VUmc

No fewer than five professors at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam have each been awarded a Vici grant (each worth one and a half a million euros) by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The grants are intended to fund their research for the next five years.

02/23/2018 | 12:00 AM

Vici is one of the largest personal scientific grants in the Netherlands. Researchers can use it to develop their own innovative line of research and to build up a research group.

Sierge DumoulinSerge Dumoulin, a Professor at VU Amsterdam who is also affiliated with the Spinoza Center for Neuroimaging, will use his grant over the next five years to conduct research into the dynamics of the human brain and to provide opportunities for new PhD students.
We live in a dynamic world. Our brains need to be dynamic to cope with a changing environment and changing tasks. At the same time, they must be stable, to ensure that brain functions are maintained throughout our lives. The scientists will explore a core brain function, then construct a theoretical framework for human brain dynamics. Sight is the dominant human sense. A fundamental characteristic of neurons (brain cells) is that they only process a limited part of the visual environment. This part is also known as the population receptive field (PRF). PRFs are an essential neural aspect of perception, but there is controversy about how the underlying circuits work.
Halleh GhorashiHalleh Ghorashi is Professor of Diversity and Integration at the Department of Sociology. She was awarded a Vici grant for her research into how the social sciences contribute to the realization of the democratic ideal, in terms of equality and of the inclusion of refugees. What is the potential and what are the limitations for engaged science within different national and institutional (academic) contexts? These research questions are spotlighted in this comparative, qualitative research project spanning South Africa, the United States and the Netherlands. When she left Iran for the Netherlands thirty years ago, Prof. Ghorashi’s dream was to become an engaged scientist. This prestigious award will enable her to continue pursuing her dream, in even greater depth.
Paola Gori GiorgiPaola Gori-Giorgi, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry, was awarded a Vici grant for her research into a new quantum-mechanical approach to describe ‘Van der Waals interactions’ between molecules. The Vici grant offers Prof. Gori-Giorgi sufficient resources to appoint two postdocs and two PhD students, and to purchase a computer cluster for the purpose of this research. Computer simulations are currently being used to select drugs and new materials for experiments in the lab, making drug and materials research faster and more efficient. While computer simulations are already being widely used for many chemical, biochemical and biomedical processes, there are still many unsolved issues that severely limit their reliability. Due to the nature of quantum particles and to the interaction between electrons, quantum-mechanical calculations are the most demanding aspect of these computer simulations. By developing a new mathematical approach to describe Van der Waal’s interactions in quantum mechanics, Gori-Giorgi hopes to make computer simulations in chemistry and materials science more reliable, affordable and energy efficient.
Albert MenkveldAlbert Menkveld, Professor of Finance, was awarded his Vici grant for a research project entitled ‘Financial Technology’s (FinTech’s) Disruptive Impact on Financial Markets: The Social Costs and Benefits of an Emerging New Architecture’. The financial markets are experiencing a period of rapid change, due to the impact of FinTech. Robots not only facilitate trade, they are increasingly doing the actual trading. Prof. Menkveld plans to investigate this evolving new architecture to see whether it is indeed better (in social terms) and, more importantly, to identify new systemic risks and find out how they can be avoided. Albert Menkveld has previously been awarded Veni and Vidi grants by the NWO.
Jolanda van VeldenJolanda van der Velden, Professor of Physiology at VU University Medical Center Amsterdam (VUmc), was awarded her Vici grant for a research project entitled ‘Combating Toxic Protein in Hereditary Heart Diseases’. Prof. Van der Velden explains that ‘A large number of people carry a genetic defect in their DNA that causes them to develop heart disease at a young age. These individuals develop enlarged hearts (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy), that cannot relax properly. We plan to test various medicines that may be able to prevent or inhibit this heart disease. In this study, we are cooperating with various specialists from physiology, cardiology and imaging at VUmc, the Academic Medical Center (AMC) and Erasmus MC in an effort to better understand this complex disease.’ ‘My work in is pure research, so I generally don’t get to meet any patients myself. In recent years, however, I have had increasingly frequent contacts with a number of patients. This has given me a better understanding of the problems associated with this disease. This grant will allow us to take another step towards developing a better treatment. We will be using a very robust combination of techniques, which gives our study a unique position within this area of research. We can make really rapid progress!” says Van der Velden.

Vici grants form part of the NWO’s Innovational Research Incentives Scheme, which also includes Veni and Vidi grants. Vici funding is intended for highly experienced researchers who have successfully demonstrated an ability to develop their own innovative line of research and who can act as coaches for young researchers. Vici offers researchers an opportunity to build their own research groups. A total of 35 Vici grants have been awarded.