€4.4 million for innovative and urgent research via Domain Science - KLEIN

3 July 2019

The Board of the NWO Domain Science has awarded ten applications in the NWO Open Competition Domain Science - KLEIN. The topics involved vary from the study of mathematical optimisation methods to research into the origin of hormone action in plants. KLEIN grants are intended for innovative, high-quality, fundamental research and/or studies involving matters of scientific urgency. In addition, four applications from new permanent members of staff and tenure trackers have been approved through a preferential treatment scheme. This scheme is intended to help researchers who are just starting out on their career, by making it easier for them to acquire funding.

The following applications have been approved

(in alphabetical order, by author):

Quantum Hall physics in a Weyl superconductor
Prof. Carlo Beenakker (Leiden University)
As they pass through certain materials, electrons behave as if they have no mass. These "Weyl particles", as they are known, are named after the physicist who first predicted the possibility of massless particles a century ago. This project will investigate how, by combining superconductivity and a magnetic field, Weyl particles can contribute to the transport of charge and energy. The magnetic field penetrates the superconductor, in the form of thin "wires". These wires are expected to be perfect conductors of heat and electricity.

Mechanics of Moist Brushes
Dr Sissi de Beer (University of Twente)
Coatings made up of soft nanoscopic hairs enable us to give materials new, advanced functions. For instance, in the future it might be possible to use these coatings to find out whether packaged food is spoiled. When designing such coatings, it is important to understand how they will behave when pressed and bent in humid environments, and in a range of other conditions. This is important because it determines the user experience.  The researcher plans to combine molecular dynamics simulations with physical experiments, to gain a fundamental understanding of the coatings’ hardness in moist air. This would be a major step forward in the development of such functional coatings.

Colluding price algorithms
Dr Arnoud den Boer (University of Amsterdam)
These days, it is increasing common for products’ sales prices to be determined by self-learning, pricing algorithms. These algorithms are basically designed to compete with each other. But could they also learn that colluding with one another (to keep prices at artificially inflated levels) ultimately yields more profit? In this research project, we will show that this is indeed possible, and that competition law needs to be amended, to counter cartel formation by algorithms.

Are bacteria without cell walls involved in chronic tuberculosis infections?
Dr Dennis Claessen (Leiden University)
Tuberculosis is one of the most deadly diseases in the world, and there is still no effective treatment. It is still not clear how the causative bacteria are able to survive in our body for extended periods of time. There is strong evidence to suggest that the loss of the bacterial cell wall could be a major factor in this regard. The cell wall is an important recognition element for our immune system. By shedding it, the bacterium would be able to bypass the immune system. Also, these "naked" cells would not be susceptible to the main antibiotics normally used to combat this deadly disease.

How animal-mediated mutualistic microbiomes modulate the environmental sensitivity of savanna carbon dynamics
Prof. Hans Cornelissen (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
African savannas are important to the global carbon cycle and, therefore, for the global climate. Changes in climate (especially in terms of precipitation) and land use (such as illegal hunting and clearance by burning) threaten to undermine the basic functions of this ecosystem. This project will explore the mechanisms by which symbioses between microorganisms and their hosts (fungi and bacteria in termite nests or in the stomachs of large grazers) influence the susceptibility of a savanna's carbon cycle to changes such as these. The hypothesis is that the breakdown of plant material in the stomachs of grazers and in termite nests is strongly buffered against variations in the external environment. This is all well and good, but only if these symbioses are able to survive in the savannas of the future.

Anatomical and functional dissection of cerebellar vermis-fastigial nucleus module in delay eyeblink conditioning
Dr Zhenyu Gao (Erasmus MC)
One of the most important issues in neuroscience concerns the way in which our brain receives sensory input from the body, processes it, and then produces the right motor output. This study will make use of Pavlovian "eyeblink" conditioning, a behavioural model that is ideal for studying the cerebellar mechanisms involved in sensorimotor learning. In this project, the researchers will investigate the exact role of a previously neglected cerebellar route involved in "eyeblink" conditioning. If this goal is achieved, the results will reveal the existence of a new cerebellar pathway involved in learning and in performing a well-defined cerebellar learning task. This could potentially add important new information to the conceptual framework associated with sensorimotor learning in the cerebellum.

Cellular decision-making in the control of small GTPases: GTP hydrolysis vs. Ubiquitylation
Dr Peter Hordijk (AMC)
Cells, too, make choices and decisions. This project will study cells (taken from the walls of blood vessels) that exhibit the ability to choose. The choice in question involves two different ways of controlling small regulatory proteins (Rho GTPases). This is important, because these proteins mediate contacts between endothelial cells. It is this which ultimately determines the formation, permeability and proper functioning of blood vessels. There has been no previous research on this topic. The project should, therefore, generate new ideas and models about how, where and when cells make molecular choices, and how those choices impact the way they function.

All together now: molecular mechanism of the myelin inhibitors at the membrane
Dr Bert Janssen (Utrecht University)
The cells in our bodies communicate and interact with one another, and this has an impact on tissue development and function. The researchers aim to clarify the details of a signalling system that influences the way the human brain functions. This may point the way to treatments that will boost the recovery of damaged nervous systems.

Mathematical Optimization Methods in Extremal Geometry
Dr Fernando Mário de Oliveira Filho (Delft University of Technology)
What is the best way to pack oranges into a crate? In mathematics, this question is known as the 'sphere-stacking problem' – how much space can we fill with identically-sized, non-overlapping spheres? Some are seeking strategies that provide lower limits, while others are probing for upper limits or obstructions. The aim of this project is to study geometric problems, such as the sphere-stacking problem, and to use optimisation methods to derive better upper limits for geometric constructions of this kind. This approach involves the use of computing power (via optimization) to tackle mathematical problems, in much the same way as it is used in areas such as logistics.

Managing turbulence – the key to workable nuclear fusion
Dr Josefine Proll (Eindhoven University of Technology)
Energy from nuclear fusion is CO2-free, safe, and inexhaustible, but extremely difficult to achieve. The biggest problem of all is the turbulence that dissipates heat from the reactor. New computer models, running on advanced supercomputers, are now pointing the way to a reactor design in which such turbulence does not occur.  This approach could lead to fusion reactors that are both smaller and more efficient than anything we have today. And above all: feasible.

Optical control over the blinking behaviour of colloidal quantum dots
Dr Freddy Rabouw (Utrecht University)
Quantum dots are nanocrystals that emit bright fluorescent light in all the colours of the rainbow. The only problem is that this fluorescence is not stable. It blinks on and off, seemingly at random. This precludes the use of quantum dots in many applications, such as TVs. On the other hand, blinking makes quantum dots particularly well suited to the microscopy techniques used in biomedical research, for example. The aim of this project is to bring the random on-off blinking of quantum dot fluorescence under control. To this end, the researchers propose to develop new techniques, in which the quantum dots are simultaneously illuminated by several lasers.

Do geobiological processes influence the formation of carbonate molecules at low temperatures?
Dr Mónica Sánchez-Román (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
Carbonate minerals are common on Earth, but they have also been found on Mars and in meteorites. The chemistry of inorganically formed carbonates reflects the environmental conditions that existed when they were deposited. However, microorganisms sometimes produce carbonates that are radically different from those synthesized in a purely chemical context. As a result, these carbonates function as a biological fingerprint. The researcher plans to investigate potential biological fingerprints in carbonates, based on their chemical composition. She hopes that this approach will enable her to demonstrate the existence of microbial activity on Earth and Mars in ancient times.

Hormonal archaeology – seeking the origin of hormone action in plants
Prof. Dolf Weijers (Wageningen University & Research)
The cellular responses triggered by hormones in plants, animals and humans are often very complex. This is due to the large number of proteins involved, a cocktail that often varies from one cell type – and one tissue type – to another. By fine-tuning the use of different proteins involved in the hormonal response, a single hormone can trigger a wide range of unique and distinct responses in various cells and tissues. This complexity arose from simpler hormonal responses in the course of evolution. In many cases, however, little is known about how a given hormonal response originated, or about the evolutionary route taken to achieve such complexity. This project will investigate primitive algae for clues to the ancient origins of the complex response to auxin (a plant hormone).

The Mahler measure: a lasting symphony
Prof. Wadim Zudilin (Radboud University, Nijmegen)
This project will tackle age-old problems relating to one of the basic concepts of number theory – height. It characterises the "magnitude" of algebraic numbers and functions. The proposed avenues of research, which exhibit great diversity and depth, will tackle key problems in number theory. However, they also form a unique mathematical environment, one that combines the power of different areas of mathematics (such as algebraic geometry, K theory, mathematical physics, probability theory, special functions, and computational mathematics).

About the NWO Open Competition Domain Science - KLEIN

KLEIN grants are intended for realising curiosity-driven, fundamental research of high quality and/or scientific urgency. The KLEIN grant offers researchers the possibility to elaborate creative and risky ideas and to realise scientific innovations that can form the basis for the research themes of the future. There are three categories of KLEIN grants: KLEIN-1 (1 scientific position), KLEIN-2 (2 scientific positions in collaboration) and KLEIN-0 (investments) that are assessed in competition with each other.

A preferential treatment scheme is available to make it easier for researchers who are just starting out on their career (new permanent members of staff and tenure trackers) to acquire funding. This only applies to KLEIN-1 applications.

You can submit applications to NWO Open Competition Domain Science - KLEIN at any time.


For more information about NWO Open Competition Domain Science - KLEIN, please contact Margot Snel, enw-klein@nwo.nl, +31-(0)70 344 07 58.

Source: NWO