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NWO awards seven Veni grants to Faculty of Science scientists

5 November 2020
Scientists Maximilian Beyer, Erik van der Kouwe, Yanhao Lin, Linda van de Burgwal, Jeanne Savage, Ivana Drienovska and Suzanne Klaver from the Faculty of Science have been awarded a Veni grant worth up to 250,000 euros each. With this grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) the scientists can further elaborate their own research ideas during a period of three years.

The seven scientists are investigating the following topics:

Weakly bound molecular ions to probe fundamental physics
Laser light and electric fields are used to generate a molecular ion and to keep it fixed in space. The ion can be visualized as two spheres connected by a spring. Maximilian Beyer (Atomic, Molecular and Laser Physics) will use a measurement of the vibrations of the spring to learn whether fundamental physical constants change over time.

Vulcan: forging vulnerable code to fight fire with fire
Vulnerabilities allow hackers to attack software. Researchers build defense mechanisms to keep hackers out, but we are unable to properly determine how effective they are. In this project, Erik van der Kouwe (Computer Science) will ‘forge’ vulnerable code himself to carefully test these defense mechanisms, thereby preventing real attacks.

Water storage in the deep Earth
Stishovite, a common mineral in the interior of the Earth, was traditionally considered to be a dry mineral, but recently water-bearing stishovite was synthesized. In his research, Yanhao Lin (Earth Sciences) will measure the maximum water solubility in stishovite by in situ high pressure-temperature experiments to constrain the Earth’s deep water cycle.

Being prepared for future outbreaks of Emerging Infectious Diseases
Outbreaks of Emerging Infectious Diseases offer opportunities ánd tensions for alignment between public health interventions and medical innovation. Collaboration with the Global South is essential for better responses in future outbreaks. In this study Linda van de Burgwal (Athena Institute) investigates the implications of collaborating between both processes, and between the Global North and South.

Multiple genetic pathways to alcohol misuse
Alcohol misuse is a highly heritable behaviour with enormous global health burden and societal costs, yet the specific genes involved remain elusive to detect. Jeanne Savage (Center for Neurogenomics and Cognitive Research) aims with this study to improve gene identification by considering the complexity of alcohol misuse and examining the possibility of multiple genetic pathways in its development.

Expanding the enzyme universe: a closer look at unnatural amino acids
Genetically encoded unnatural amino acids represent a promising strategy toward designer catalysts, however still very few examples exist. Ivana Drienovska (Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences) aims to investigate a set of unnatural amino acids with high catalytic potential. If successful, it would allow a generation of enzymes for new-to-nature catalysis in a sustainable fashion.

Uncovering the lepton generation gap: what’s the difference in their relationships?
A crucial foundation of particle physics is that the building blocks of the universe appear in three generations, which differ in mass, but interact identically. Recent experiments, however, question this fundamental principle of identical interactions. Suzanne Klaver (Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics, Nikhef) will investigate two generations of so-called leptons to interpret this unexpected behaviour. 

Veni grants
NWO has awarded a total of 162 highly promising young scientists a Veni grant. Together with Vidi and Vici, Veni is part of the NWO Talent Programme. Veni is aimed at excellent researchers who have recently obtained their doctorate. Researchers in the Talent Programme are free to submit their own subject for funding. A total of 1,127 researchers submitted an research proposal for funding in this Veni round.