Open Mind grants for out-of-the-box research

8 November 2018

Five daring research proposals receive an Open Mind funding of 50,000 euros from NWO. The grants were awarded during TEKNOWLOGY, NWO's innovation festival The winning proposals were selected by a jury, led by Ionica Smeets.

NWO awards five Open Mind grants of 50,000 euros for socially relevant and out-of-the-box research. The winning research proposals range from robot-assistance for dentist students to an underground shield that protects old buildings from earthquakes.

Microbes against desertification

One of the Open Mind grants goes to Dr Martine van der Ploeg and Prof Gerlinde de Deyn, both affiliated with Wageningen University & Research. The researchers propose to use microbes against desertification. The current approach against desertification, for example planting trees or combating erosion, does not appear to be sufficient to fully restore the soil. The solution probably lies in microbes that were present in the soil when it was still healthy. By returning these microbes to the top layer of such a withered area, as well as nutrients, it should be possible to reverse desertification.

Measuring glucose, comfortably

Diabetics should no longer have to measure their glucose by pricking blood. Perhaps it could be a lot more comfortable, for example by measuring glucose values in sweat. For that idea, Dr. Elizabeth von Hauff, who works at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, wins an Open Mind-grant. Von Hauff proposes to combine two existing measuring techniques into a new, very sensitive glucose meter that can measure continuously without pricking. This new technique will not suffer from fluctuations in pH, temperature and composition - which makes it suitable for measuring glucose in anything other than blood.

Smart parasite detector for animals

About 3 million animals die annually in Africa from the animal variant of sleeping sickness, also called nagana. However, diagnosing a nagana infection is very cumbersome and time consuming. That method should be improved, according to Tope Agbana and Gleb Vdovin from Delft University of Technology. They win an Open Mind grant for their proposal to develop a portable measuring device that can quickly and easily detect nagana at an early stage. This is done by optically screening blood samples from animals and releasing an algorithm on those images that recognises nagana symptoms. The device must be so simple that livestock farmers can operate it themselves.

Micrograins protect buildings from earthquakes

How do you protect monumental buildings from earthquakes? Changing the construction is not desirable, because you then affect the building. And support is not desirable either. The solution lies in the ground on which the building stands, thinks Dr Vanessa Magnanimo of University of Twente. By microscopically introducing small granules into the soil, you can create a kind of shield against earthquake waves. Magnanimo proposes using machine learning to determine the ideal 'grain recipe' for every conceivable type of soil.

Robot-assistance for dental student

Pulling teeth and molars is done on a conveyor belt, but strangely enough there is no method by which students can learn how to do it. They have to learn it in practice. This causes stress for both the student and the person in the dentist's chair, who as a 'guinea pig' undergoes a more painful treatment. It would be nice if dentists learned the best way to remove teeth during their training. To determine the best way, robots can offer help, according to Dr Jens Kober (Delft University of Technology) and Tom van Riet (Amsterdam Academic Medical Centre). With a smart robot arm full of sensors, they want to practice on dentures and dentures of body donors. The data that emerges from this should show what the best drawing method is, and can then be used to make instructional animations for students. Kober and Van Riet can develop this idea with an Open Mind grant.

Source: NWO