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Gravitation for societal resilience in crises, cybersecurity & plant sensation

26 March 2024
Three projects involving VU researchers have been awarded the Gravitation grant from the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science. These projects focus on investigating societal resilience during crises, cybersecurity, and plant sensation.

1) Resilience during crises
Societies are increasingly affected by floods, pandemics, and terrorist attacks. These crises not only threaten the well-being and security of a society but also its cohesion and unity. Over the coming years, a team of researchers from five universities, operating under the name Adapt! and funded with a €23 million grant, will investigate the cultural, socio-economic, and policy capacities needed to address such crises.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some communities drifted apart while others remained resilient. What exactly causes this divergence? The Adapt! team will explore this, thanks to the prestigious Gravitation grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). "The pandemic made it clear that the core values of open societies, such as freedom, equality, and solidarity, can be eroded," says Adapt! leader and historian Beatrice de Graaf (Utrecht University). "We want to understand how to prevent this erosion and how societies can better respond to a crisis."

"By combining disciplines, we learn what works," say public administration expert Arjen Boin (Leiden University), psychologist Paul van Lange, and philosopher-theologian Rik Peels (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam).

2) Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity is often portrayed as an educational problem or a lack of resources, with blame shifted onto users, system administrators, or budget holders who limit system management capabilities. Many difficult problems, however, remain unsolved because they require coordinated scientific research. The 'Challenges in Cyber Security' project thus brings together top researchers from the hard science sector in the field of cybersecurity. The project is awarded €21.5 million over a period of ten years and is led by TU/e. Herbert Bos, professor of computer systems security at VU, is involved.

3) Plant sensation
Biologists have known for roughly a hundred years that plants can 'feel' touch. Think of carnivorous plants that close their leaves when they sense prey. But how this works exactly at the cellular level, without brains or nerves, remains unclear. In the new 'Green Tissue Engineering' project, researchers from Wageningen, Utrecht, Nijmegen, Eindhoven, Groningen, Amsterdam (VU), and Leiden will collaborate on this. Wageningen biochemists Joris Sprakel and Dolf Weijers lead the consortium. Gijs Wuite, professor of physics of life processes at VU, is involved.

About Gravitation
Gravitation is a government initiative to support research by top scientist groups in the Netherlands to excel globally. Researchers must conduct innovative and influential research in their field. The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science has asked the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research to carry out the selection procedure for this funding program. See the NWO announcement here.

Gravitation is intended for consortia of scientists conducting innovative and influential scientific research within their field. The aim is to stimulate research programs to achieve breakthroughs of international significance.