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The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded Starting Grants to eight researchers from the UvA and Amsterdam UMC. The recipients are Ruth Carlitz, Harsha Devalla, Lorenz Eberhardt, Jorik van de Groep, Mazi Jalaal, Fernando P. Santos, Rachel Thijssen and Else Vogel. The Starting Grant is a personal grant of approximately 1.5 million euros. The grant offers talented academics support for their research for five years.

The UvA recipients

  • Dr Ruth Carlitz (Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research) Budgeting for the Future: Understanding the Allocation of Climate Finance in the Global South (ClimateFiGS)
    The impact of climate change is becoming increasingly hard to ignore — and is characterised by acute inequality. Wealthy countries produce the vast majority of global CO2 emissions, while poorer countries bear the brunt of the consequences. In response to this, wealthy countries have pledged to raise 100 billion dollars in ‘climate finance’ annually. Over the past 10 years, climate finance has almost doubled, but we have very little insight into how these funds are spent, and whether they reach their intended beneficiaries. Carlitz will examine climate finance from the perspective of governments and citizens in the Global South. By studying the driving forces behind decisions related to allocation and spending of climate finance, Carlitz hopes to generate knowledge that will help us understand how these funds can have the greatest possible impact.
  • Dr Harsha Devalla (Amsterdam UMC, location AMC): Unraveling pacemaker (dys)function using novel stem cell-derived human heart models (Beat-to-Beat)
    During an average lifetime, the heart beats almost 3 billion times. These rhythmic contractions are coordinated by the heart's pacemaker cells. However, the precise function and regulation of these cells is a mystery. Devalla and her team will therefore conduct research into the cell-cell interactions that determine pacemaker activity. This involves exploring the complex interplay between pacemaker cells and neurons. This interaction plays a crucial role in determining the rate of our heartbeat. Devalla’s team employs advanced techniques, using human induced pluripotent stem cells. These stem cells, made from both healthy individuals and patients with specific genetic abnormalities, are differentiated into pacemaker cells and neurons to mimic the brain-heart interaction. Understanding the fundamental aspects that regulate heart rate and rhythm could revolutionise the current therapeutic approach to arrhythmias caused by cardiovascular and/or neurological disorders.
  • Dr Lorenz Eberhardt (Institute for Theoretical Physics ITFA): New Handles for String Scattering Amplitudes (StringScat)
    String theory makes concrete predictions about the behaviour of gravity at very high energies. However, due to this theory’s enormous complexity, it continues to be difficult to unravel some of nature’s biggest mysteries such as the formation and evaporation of black holes. Eberhardt, an expert in theoretical high-energy physics and string theory, will apply new and innovative approaches to finally overcome the computational hurdles posed by this specific aspect of string theory.

    Eberhardt’s Starting Grant application was made from UNESCO.
  • Dr Jorik van de Groep (Institute of Physics): Excitonic 2D Metasurfaces for Active Multifunctional Flat Optics (ExMAM)
    Can light fields be manipulated by a single atomic layer? Lenses and filters currently in use are heavy, bulky and have a fixed functionality. At the same time, new emerging applications such as self-driving cars, optical communications and augmented reality require extremely compact optical elements with adjustable functionality to actively control light. Jorik van de Groep is working with fellow researchers on multifunctional optical coatings that consist of a layer that is only one atom thick and that can actively control light via an electronic signal, by using quantum mechanical effects in semiconductor materials.
  • Dr Mazi Jalaal (Institute of Physics): Understanding the Fluid Mechanics of Cyanobacterial Bloom Across Scales (FluMAB)
    Certain types of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) exhibit rapid and excessive growth in what is referred to as a cyanobacterial bloom in ponds, lakes and even seas and oceans. These blooms can be toxic and pose a serious threat to our drinking water, our health, animal life, and the economy. Jalaal, an expert in fluid mechanics and biological physics, will utilise innovative and interdisciplinary research to unravel how the blooming process emerges and scales up from a single cell to an entire lake.
  • Dr Fernando P. Santos (Informatics Institute): Responsible Link-Recommendations in Dynamic Environments (RE-LINK)
    Algorithms affect political polarisation, the way we cooperate, and the way we undertake collective action. We need a better understanding of how these algorithms work. Some of the most significant algorithms are the so-called link-recommendation algorithms, which recommend new connections to users. These have a strong impact on how social media platforms evolve. In the RE-LINK project, Fernando P. Santos and his team will develop innovative mathematical and computational models to gain more insight into how link-recommendations influence social dynamics. They will then proceed to develop algorithms that will keep short-term performance while leading to long-term social benefits.
  • Dr Rachel Thijssen (Amsterdam UMC, location AMC): Applying Novel Single-Cell Multiomics to Elucidate Leukaemia Cell Plasticity in Resistance to Targeted Therapy (SC-Plasticity)
    Thijssen conducts groundbreaking research into drug resistance in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). This form of leukemia is a serious malignant blood disease. Unfortunately, the disease returns after treatment in a large proportion of patients. Gaining insight into the causes of disease recurrence could lead to better and more specific treatment methods. Thijssen will investigate whether non-genetic mechanisms are responsible for drug resistance. To achieve this, she is developing an innovative method that simultaneously reads out the transcriptome, genome and epigenome per cell. This allows a very detailed picture to be obtained of a very heterogeneous tumour population. She hopes to discover the epigenetic mechanisms of drug resistance, which could lead to the development of new drugs for the treatment of leukemia.
  • Dr Else Vogel (Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research): Farm Animal Value-Scapes: Veterinarians and the Contrasting Values of European Livestock Production (VetValues)
    The European Union affords veterinarians an important role in safeguarding food safety, animal welfare and public health within the livestock sector. Vogel’s project will investigate how these – sometimes conflicting – values are negotiated in everyday veterinary practice. Comparative ethnographic research carried out in the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy will reveal how the livestock sector’s ‘value-scape’ is shaped by farmers, vets, the animals themselves, and regulatory and economic contexts. Vogel’s project will contribute theoretical insights on human-animal relations by learning from differences between livestock sectors and innovations within this industry. The research will also improve our understanding of the dilemmas associated with food transitions.
  • ARCNL laureates Institute of Physics
    There are two other laureates at the Institute of Physics: Dr Roland Bliem and Dr Bart Weber. They submitted the application from the Advanced Research Center for Nanolithography (ARCNL)/NWO. Bliem’s project is titled Resolving Surface Reactions in Plasma Catalysis: Towards Rational Catalyst Design (SURPLAS); and Weber’s is titled Chip Production without Friction (CHIPFRICTION).