Twenty innovative research projects launched through Domain Science-KLEIN

28 November 2019

The NWO Domain Board Science has awarded twenty applications in the Open Competition Domain Science-KLEIN. The themes vary from research into new algorithms for the analysis of gigantic networks to the energy-efficient conversion of nitrogen. KLEIN grants are intended for innovative, high-quality, fundamental research and/or studies involving matters of scientific urgency.

Distribution of KLEIN grants

In this third KLEIN round, a total of 59 applications were evaluated, 27 of which were KLEIN-1, 14 were KLEIN-2, 1 were KLEIN-0 and 17 were KLEIN-1 applications with preferential treatment. The NWO Domain Science Board decided to approve the 15 highest ranked applications and 5 additional applications through the preferential treatment scheme. In total, the board has approved 3 KLEIN-2 applications and 17 KLEIN-1 applications, of which 7 with requested preferential treatment. The board instituted the preferential treatment scheme to simplify the acquisition of funding for starting researchers.

The following applications have been approved (in alphabetical order, by author):

EXAMINE - Evolutionary eXplainable Artificial Medical INtelligence Engine
Prof. Peter Bosman & Dr Tanja Alderliesten (CWI/LUMC)
Artificial intelligence is transforming the world. New and popular technologies such as deep learning are very powerful but difficult to explain. Because physicians want to understand what an AI prediction is based on, this may be preventing them from using this technology for medical applications. We are now building new forms of AI that are based on comprehensible models. This requires new, powerful and versatile optimization algorithms that we are developing based on the state-of-the-art in model-based evolutionary algorithms. We will be testing the resulting system, EXAMINE (Evolutionary eXplainable Artificial Medical INtelligence Engine) on a recent and unique clinical data set of gynaecological cancer patients.

Insight into More Efficient Plasma Conversion from Vibrational Energy Diffusion Modelling
Dr Paola Diomede (DIFFER)
The role of molecular vibration in the plasma-assisted conversion of molecules into useful compounds is still unclear. In this project, a new computational technique for the description of molecular vibration will be developed in synergy with experimental measurements. This will provide fundamental insights into the regulation of reaction mechanisms, in particular for the energy-efficient plasma-assisted conversion of nitrogen.

The Dutch Wadden Sea as an event-driven system: long-term consequences for exchange (LOCO-EX)
Dr Theo Gerkema & Dr Matias Duran Matute (NIOZ/TUe)
In collaboration with German colleagues from IOW, a long-term survey of the water flows in the Wadden Sea was conducted between 1980 and 2015 to quantify the exchange of flows between tidal basins and between the Wadden Sea and the North Sea under the influence of a wide variety of wind force conditions. Occasional events such as storms can have a major effect on the average state of the system during the course of a year. This unique multiannual survey will provide us with the first real insights into the long-term variability of the system, which is of essential importance for our understanding of the ecology of the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site.

Self-tuned topological states in semiconductor quantum wells
Dr Srijit Goswami (TUD)
Majoranas are exotic particles that could one day be used to build powerful quantum computers. Several experimental parameters must be finely tuned to create Majoranas, which is what currently makes it extremely challenging to study even a single Majorana particle. This project will use large two-dimensional systems to develop new kinds of Majoranas which are self-tuned and insensitive to microscopic influences in the environment. This will allow for the simultaneous creation of large arrays of identical Majoranas on a single chip, and will be used to perform experiments that demonstrate their practical feasibility for use in quantum computation.

Time-resolved dynamics of glutamate transporters
Dr Albert Guskov (RUG)
In this study, we will make a molecular movie about changes that take place in a protein that are essential for the normal functioning of signal transmissions in our nerves. We will do this by combining advanced time-dependent crystallography (which allows observations of movements of single atoms) with recent advances in photopharmacology (which produces prototypes of future medications that can be activated by light). The movie will help us to understand how such proteins work and will also contribute to the development of these light-activated drugs.

Treewidth Parameterizations of Network Construction Problems in Phylogenetics
Dr Leo van Iersel (TUD)
Relationships between species can be described with a complex network. But could you identify and piece together such a network using DNA data? If the network is a tree, then the answer is yes. In this research, we will try to discover how we can reconstruct general networks using an underlying tree structure.

Parameterized Algorithms and Complexity for the Analysis of Networks (PACAN)
Dr Erik Jan van Leeuwen (UU)
Networks form the foundation of many systems around us, such as the internet, social networks and even the brain. Analyses of these networks provide very valuable insights, but the rapidly increasing size of the networks makes it increasingly difficult to conduct these analyses with any kind of speed. This research will try to discover new, parameterized algorithms for analysing the gigantic networks of the future by developing and using new and more effective models of network structures. This will result in an algorithmic foundation for network sciences, with applications that will be also useful for a wide range of fields outside of computer science.

Plasticity of synapse nanostructure: dissecting the dynamic nanoscale organization of neuronal synapses
Dr Harold MacGillavry (UU)
The transfer of signals between nerve cells in our brains is regulated by specialised contact points, the synapses. Synapses have a dynamic structure that is essential for the functioning of the brain. In fact, disruptions in the structure and the dynamics of synapses are often at the root of neuronal disorders. Synapses are made up of various proteins that are carefully arranged to ensure signals can be transferred quickly and efficiently. Using advanced microscopy techniques, we will study how these building blocks are arranged and then rearranged when the activity of synapses increases or decreases. The research will provide insight into how nerve cells transmit and store information.

En route to the molecular quantum world: state-to-state inelastic collisions in the Wigner regime
Prof. Sebastiaan van de Meerakker (RU)
Various natural processes display very different behaviour at extremely low temperatures than at room temperature. Under these extremely low temperatures, the laws of quantum mechanics dictate that matter will behave like waves instead of particles. We will develop methods to encourage molecules to collide at extremely low temperatures of 1 mK. The resultant, bizarre phenomena have been predicted in theory but never observed experimentally. We will make these effects visible using special laser detection and imaging methods.

Probing environments of black holes: constraining magnetic fields and energy dissipation in strong gravity via polarization
Dr Monika Moscibrodzka (RU)
Our research project focuses on addressing fundamental and unresolved problems relating to the physics of black holes. The simulations will provide us with theoretical insights into how black holes interact with their environment. Ultimately, we want to understand the role these black holes play in the evolution of their galaxies, and thus in the evolution of matter in the universe as a whole.

Giving chirality a helping hand: non-equilibrium routes towards molecules of single handedness
Dr Willem Noorduin (AMOLF)
Just like your hands, some molecules are different in their mirror image. These mirror-image molecules can have dramatically different effects: while the one hand is an effective drug, its mirror image may be highly toxic. Unfortunately, it is often very difficult to filter out only the desired hand. We will develop new methods that make it easier to do this.

Inflating autophagosomes with lipids
Prof. Fulvio Reggiori (UMCG)
Autophagy is a degradation process that allows cells to remove unwanted and potentially toxic substances. In this research we will investigate the functioning of this molecular switch so we can develop the knowledge required to control it and deploy autophagy for the benefit of human health.

Designer enzymes with unnatural amino acids as catalytic residue for new-to-nature catalysis
Prof. Gerard Roelfes (RUG)
Biocatalysis (catalysis by enzymes) will make an important contribution to the transition to more sustainable chemical engineering. Enzymes are fantastic catalysts, but their chemical repertoire is limited compared to the enormous number of other reactions available to the chemist. In this project we will create new enzymes to catalyse reactions that do not occur in nature. To this end, we will use a new design concept in which catalytic, active, non-natural amino acids are built into natural proteins using a technique that allows us to expand the genetic code. The enzymes we design will then be perfected in the laboratory by the process of evolution.

Elemental Sulfur Disproportionation: pathways and application
Dr Irene Sánchez-Andrea (WUR)
We will study microbial sulfur disproportionation, a common process in nature that is responsible for critical but currently poorly understood stages of the sulfur cycle. In disproportionation, sulfur molecules serve as a source and sink of electrons and are thereby partitioned into sulfate and sulfide. We will identify the little-known pathways and enzymes involved in disproportionation. Sulfur disproportionation can be used for the bioremediation of waters polluted with metals. The sulfides react with the metals, removing them from water flows.

Linking species diversity to microbial ecosystem functionality
Dr Sijmen Schoustra (WUR)
Ecosystems are combinations of many species that together achieve a certain functionality and stability. The prevailing theory predicts that specific mechanisms are behind this, but this theory has never been tested in an extensive experimental study. We are using an ecosystem of microbes, present in a traditionally fermented Zambian dairy product, that is complex enough to allow for such a study. Using modern molecular analysis techniques, we will try to ascertain whether this theory on the stability of ecosystems is correct.

The mechanism of USP1 activation
Prof. Titia Sixma (NKI)
The regulation of ubiquitin signals for protein modification depends on the target protein to which the ubiquitin is attached. In this research, we will use quantitative and structural biological methods to learn how the target protein PCNA regulates the activity of USP1 after DNA damage.

Role of Semaphorin3A in perineuronal net-mediated learning and memory
Prof. Joost Verhaagen & Prof. C.I. (Chris) De Zeeuw (NIN/NIN)
Why is it that young brains are very capable of learning new things and even repairing themselves after brain damage, while in an aging brain these abilities decrease dramatically? We test the hypothesis that it is the perineuronal nets (PNN) that limit the plasticity of the brain, focussing on a unique component of the PNN: the axon guidance protein Semaforin3A. The knowledge we gain may help to improve the brain's capacity to learn and to recover from damage.

Solving unsolvable problems
Dr Marcel Vonk (UvA)
The mathematical problems that physicists encounter can rarely be solved precisely. Often, numerical techniques are used, but these do not always lead to a good understanding of the constructed solution. The new mathematical technique of resurgence provides a better instrument for solving such problems while preserving the structure of the problem. In this project, the resurgence technique will be developed further and applied to unresolved questions about the origin of the universe.

How do dendrites coordinate adjacent excitatory and inhibitory inputs?
Dr Corette Wierenga (UU)
In order to process information properly, brain cells receive both excitatory and inhibitory signals. We have recently discovered that brain cells can finely tune the amounts of excitatory and inhibitory signals to each other through the localised release of signalling molecules. This research aims to determine how brain cells combine various signals to activate this feedback system and which molecular processes underlie it. Knowledge of these mechanisms can teach us how our brains learn from previous experiences and how to restore the adaptive capacity of the diseased brain.

Ion-Transport Phenomena in Structured Colloidal Networks
Dr Jeffery Wood (UT)
This research focuses on the electrical behaviour of ion-selective colloidal networks. We will use electrical, concentration and flow measurements to learn how ion transport in 3D colloidal crystal networks takes place. We can even overcome the limitations of existing ion transport processes by regulating the charge density of the materials of 3D colloidal crystal networks at the nanoscale. This work can lead to new and better methods of power generation and seawater desalination.

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,, +31 (0)70 344 07 58.


Source: NWO