Researchers from the university and Radboud university medical center continued to benefit from grants from the European Research Council and NWO’s Talent Programme in 2021. Other honours in this selection of awards and grants awarded in 2021 were the special Stevin Prize for Professor Bart Jacobs and the honorary doctorates.
Three ERC Starting Grants
Three Radboud University scientists were awarded Starting Grants by the European Research Council (ERC). Tim Kietzmann (Donders Institute) will study vision in a more natural setting, Willem Velema (Faculty of Science) will study the function of RNA in cells, and Rogier Kievit (Donders Institute) will study cognitive dynamics in children. The ERC Starting Grants help young researchers build their own research groups. The grants can be worth up to €1.5 million per project.
NWO Talent Programme: Vici, Vidi, Veni
The Talent Programme from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) has three tiers. The highest is the Vici grant (€1.5 million), which helps very experienced researchers (usually professors) continue developing an innovative line of research. For a more junior class of talent, there is the Vidi programme, with 78 grants (€0.8 million) awarded in 2021. Finally, 89 promising young scholars were awarded a Veni grant (maximum €0.3 million). The results for the university and Radboud university medical center in 2021: three Vicis, eleven Vidis and eight Venis.
Vici grants. Eliane Seegers (Social Sciences) will use her Vici grant to research opportunities and challenges in comprehension of digital texts. Are children digital natives for whom this is not a problem, or can they no longer focus their attention, preventing deep reading comprehension.
Michiel Vermeulen (Molecular Biology, Faculty of Science) will research modifications of RNA molecules that play a vital role in regulating gene expression in health and disease.
Dirk Lefeber (Professor of Glycosylation Disorders in Neurology at Radboud university medical center) wants to unravel why sugar metabolism differs between organs: this process should be the same in our entire body, but it seems to proceed differently in the brain and muscles. Understanding this will open doors to more targeted treatments.
Vidi grants. Three researchers from the medical faculty at Radboud university medical center were awarded Vidi grants in 2021 : Sandra Heskamp is studying a new treatment method for therapy-resistant cancer cells, and Rick Helmich is studying the influence of stress on the course of Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s plays a role in two other Vidis: Geert Litjens wants to build bridges between medical specialties to improve treatment , while Lennart Verhagen (Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour) will use focused ultrasound to stimulate the human brain and treat brain disorders.
The Donders Institute has four awardees: besides Verhagen, Vitória Piai will investigate how people search for words in their brains, Linda Geerligs will study the accumulation of knowledge in the older brain, and Marloes Henckens will research the role of trauma memory in developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Finally, four Radboud University researchers were awarded Vidi grants. Mathematician Magdalena Kedziorek wants to deepen understanding of commutative operations in the world of geometric forms with symmetries, and biologist Sarian Kosten will investigate how bioturbators drive greenhouse gas emissions from shallow inland waters. Bart Mennink (Digital Security) will dive deeper into the world of cryptography. The fourth Vidi goes to a researcher from the Centre for International Conflict – Analysis & Management (CICAM): Romain Malejacq will study the attitudes of commanders and how they contribute to the outcomes of civil wars.
Veni grants. With the eight Veni grants, early career scientists from Nijmegen will research topics like using exercise to slow the progress of Parkinson’s disease, the genetic complexity of psychiatric disorders, the footprints of fear memories in the brain, and the impact of viruses on the emission of greenhouse gases by soils. The eight awardees are ecologist Paula Dalcin Martins, biologists M. van Dop and Suzan Stelloo, and five researchers from Radboud university medical center: Margo Dona, Lily Verhagen, Sirwan Darweesh, Marieke Klein and Kübra Gülmez-Karaca.
Four NWO Open Competition grants
Four research projects from Radboud University and Radboud university medical center were awarded Open Competition grants in the Social Sciences and Humanities domain by the NWO. The funds (up to €0.8 million) allow researchers to carry out research into a subject of their own choosing with no thematic constraints.
Professors Roshan Cools and David Norris (Donders Institute) will use high-resolution brain scans to better understand the effects of cognitive enhancing brain pills, especially commonly used dopamine pills. Radboud language researchers Catia Cucchiarini and Helmer Strik will work on a project that uses advanced speech technology and learning analytics for personalised reading education. Professor of Theoretical Linguistics Helen de Hoop will lead a project to explore the impact of using informal or polite pronouns of address across languages. Finally, Professors Ivan Toni and Karin Roelofs (Donders Institute) will investigate the control mechanisms of social-emotional regulation.
The National Research Agenda
Professor of Public Administration Jan-Kees Helderman is involved in one of the three projects awarded funding from the ‘Vernieuwing van Toezicht’ (innovation of supervision) programme of the National Research Agenda (NWA). This project, led by Erasmus University, will focus on integrating the knowledge and experiences of vulnerable citizens in the services they receive. In this project, Helderman will focus on youth care. The NWA aims to bring scientists together with citizens to contribute to tomorrow’s society through innovative projects.
University welcomes refugee scientist thanks to Hestia programme
Thanks to the Hestia – Impulse for Refugees in Science programme from the Dutch Research Council (NWO), the university was able to welcome Eritrean social geographer Dawit Tesfay Haile. He will conduct research at Nijmegen School of Management about the everyday challenges faced by Eritrean refugees in the Netherlands and Germany. How do migrants deal with the tension of expectations: on the one hand, the expectations and ethical pressure of the migration policy, and on the other hand, the expectations of their social networks and the diaspora community?
This year, Hestia – Impulse for Refugees in Science gave ten refugee academics the opportunity to continue their academic career in the Netherlands. By linking up with ongoing Dutch research projects, these newcomers were supported in building a network and can expand and disseminate their knowledge and skills.
Ammodo Science Award for Floris de Lange
Floris de Lange, Professor of Predictive Perception and Cognition at the Donders Institute at Radboud University, received the 2021 Ammodo Science Award. De Lange is one of the eight recipients of the biannual award. Each receives a sum of €300,000 that they can use to explore new paths in fundamental research.
By measuring brain activity very precisely, De Lange determines how information ‘flows’ through the brain. Among other things, he has shown that our brain works like a prediction machine. By actively predicting the future, computing power can be saved to process information that deviates from expectations. That makes the brain more energy-efficient. He also discovered that precognition is located in a different layer of the brain than information from the senses.
Four new members of Academia Europaea
Radboud professors Teun Bousema (Epidemiology of Tropical Infectious Diseases), Enny Das (Communication and Persuasion), Judith Prins (Medical Psychology) and Jolanda de Vries (Translational Tumour Immunology) were appointed as new members of Academia Europaea in 2021. Academia Europaea is a European association of scientists who are among the best in the world. Academia Europaea boasts roughly two thousand top European scientists from across the entire range of sciences. Each year, the most engaging international candidates are selected. In 2021, 14 new members were appointed from the Netherlands.
Incentives for artificial intelligence research
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a field in which Radboud University excels. Based on the citation score, our AI researchers are number one in AI research in the Netherlands, and the university distinguishes itself with a strong focus on human-centred applications of AI.
The AI playing field on campus grew even larger in 2021. The ROBUST consortium has brought together 17 AI labs in the Netherlands, eight of which work in the healthcare field. Radboud university medical center leads five of these eight labs and a sixth is housed at Radboud University, so one-third of the consortium is based in Nijmegen. Each lab will receive ten PhD candidates, a permanent member of staff and support from scientific programmers.
ROBUST will carry out research over the next ten years with a total budget of more than €95 million (financed by the Dutch Research Council (NWO)). It is a large public-private programme involving 54 partners (21 knowledge institutions, including four universities of applied sciences, 23 companies and ten civil society organisations). Together, they will look for new AI applications in areas as diverse as the energy sector, railways, media, high-tech industry and healthcare. The research conducted at each lab will also address ethical and social issues.
The five AI labs on campus cover a broad spectrum of research. For instance, cardiologists will have a lab to work on a new technique that improves imaging of the heart’s coronary arteries. In the second lab, researchers will work with Siemens Healthineers to investigate how MRI images can be used even more intelligently. The third lab, a collaboration with German-based MeVis Medical Solutions, will further develop the software for CT lung cancer screening. That technology was developed at Radboud university medical center and is now used all over the world. Apart from upgrading the software, the lab is looking for new applications in other medical fields.
The two remaining labs on the Nijmegen campus associated with ROBUST are the existing AI labs Thira (medical imaging with AI) and AI for Health, which Google’s Verily will join. That lab works on innovations to create better and less expensive medical care, especially for people with Parkinson’s disease. The granting of funding for the ROBUST project represents a major boost for AI research, says Bram van Ginneken, Professor of Functional Image Analysis at Radboud university medical center: “The interconnectedness of world-class research at Radboud university medical center and Radboud University, combined with the strength of the companies, offers us the unique opportunity to further expand our leading international position in AI for health in Nijmegen.”
The importance of AI on campus is also highlighted by AI projects in the OnePlanet Research Centre. These projects aim to make an impact on society with innovative techniques related to food and health. In cooperation with various AI partners on campus (and spin-offs beyond campus), OnePlanet is searching for promising projects, especially in the fields of cloud-based computing, neurotech and gut-brain interaction algorithms. The first concrete projects are expected in 2022. You can read more about OnePlanet here in this Annual Report.
Finally, AI research received a boost from the National Growth Fund. Ten projects received money from this fund in 2021, including AiNed, an investment programme designed to make the most of the potential of AI, so as to benefit the Dutch economy and society. Radboud University contributed to AiHub Oost NL, in which Radboud university medical center, Wageningen University and the University of Twente are also involved. This hub focuses on a wide range of applications, such as healthcare, energy and sustainability, and peace and justice.
Two new KNAW members
Jana Roithova, Professor of Spectroscopy and Catalysis, and Conny Aerts, Professor of Astrophysics, were appointed new members of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) in April 2021. 23 members were appointed in this round.
KNAW members, leading researchers from across all disciplines, are selected based on nominations from colleagues in and outside the academy. The academy has about 550 members and they are appointed for life.
Fleur Zeldenrust joins KNAW Young Academy
In 2021, Fleur Zeldenrust was appointed a member of the Young Academy (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences). Young Academy members are researchers from various disciplines who completed their PhD less than ten years ago and have proven themselves scientifically. Ten new members were appointed.
Zeldenrust is a computational neuroscientist at Radboud University’s Donders Institute. She studies how the brain works by looking at the computations it makes to be able to function. She does this using mathematical analyses and computer simulations and in collaboration with biologists, psychologists, computer scientists, mathematicians, physicists and other experts. She is a principal investigator in the EU’s SmartNets project, which studies how biological networks (such as networks of brain cells or a murmuration of starlings) function. As a member of the Young Academy, she is keen to work on improving the academic community and on connecting with the arts to show how real and artificial brains work.
KNAW Early Career Award for Chiara Beneduce
The Early Career Award from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) consists of €15,000 and a work of art. It is intended to provide support for Dutch researchers with innovative and original research concepts who have recently embarked on their careers. 12 awards were granted in this round.
Chiara Beneduce is a postdoctoral researcher in the History of Philosophy at Radboud University. Her research focuses on the relationship between natural philosophy and medicine in late medieval thought. Against this background, she sheds light on unknown aspects of medieval conceptions of the body, especially theories of generation and sense perception. Beneduce pairs her expertise in the history of philosophy and science with an interest in contemporary philosophy of science. Her combined study of pre-modern medical theories and present-day issues in the philosophy of medicine inspires her research agenda.
Bart Jacobs receives 2021 Stevin Prize
Bart Jacobs, Professor of Security, Privacy and Identity at Radboud University, received the 2021 Stevin Prize on 13 October. The Stevin Prize is the highest distinction in science for a researcher (or a combination of two or three researchers) in the Netherlands who has achieved exceptional success in knowledge exchange and impact for society. Jacobs is the first mathematician to receive the Stevin Prize, which is mainly the result of the applications and breadth of his research. The prize winners each receive €2.5 million to spend on scientific research and activities related to knowledge utilisation.
Jacobs was originally a mathematician and philosopher and has developed a wide range of knowledge. He is one of the internationally leading scientists in his original field: logic and theoretical computer science, about which he has published two reference books. He also does very practical work such as on PEP, a technique for the secure storage and exchange of (patient) data for medical research.
Jacobs was one of the developers of the IRMA app, a login app that is used in more and more places. In 2021, the European Commission adopted the ideas behind the app to develop a new European identity wallet. Jacobs’ critical commentary on the European Payment Service Directive PSD2 – which he called “a European strategic blunder” – led to a hearing in the Lower House and changed the debate. Jacobs is a founder of iHub, the Interdisciplinary Hub for Security, Privacy and Data Governance at Radboud University. This group brings together researchers from the humanities, social sciences, engineering and natural sciences to investigate pressing issues related to digital technology.
Honorary doctorate for Holger Fleischer
Professor Holger Fleischer (1965) was presented with an honorary doctorate during the university’s Founder's Day (Dies Natalis). He is the director of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law in Hamburg and professor at the Bucerius Law School in Hamburg. The honorary doctorate was presented to him by Professor Claartje Bulten.