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4. Research for a more sustainable world

The university’s ambition to take the lead in contributing to the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals is also reflected in our research work. The following selection of projects in 2021 shows the added value of the breadth of our research and interdisciplinary opportunities.

Methane-eating microbes in Amsterdam canals

According to research by Radboud University and Utrecht University, published in Environmental Microbiology, Amsterdam’s canals emit relatively little methane. The low methane levels are probably largely caused by microbes on the canal walls, which offers interesting opportunities for follow-up research into reducing emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas. The idea is that a large version of such a canal wall could serve as a methane filter.

Freshwater fish threatened by warming water

The habitats of freshwater fish species are threatened by global warming, mainly due to rising water temperatures. With a global average increase of 3.2 degrees Celsius, more than half of the habitats of one-third of freshwater fish will be threatened. The number of species at risk is ten times smaller if warming is limited to 1.5 degrees. This is the conclusion of a study led by Radboud University, in collaboration with Utrecht University, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Leiden University and others. The results were published in Nature Communications.

Quantum brain paves the way for energy-efficient data storage

An intelligent material that learns by physically changing itself, similar to how the human brain works, could be the foundation of a new generation of energy-efficient computers. Physicists from Radboud University are working on such a ‘quantum brain’ and published their findings in Nature Nanotechnology. As the global demand for computing capacity grows, more energy-guzzling data centres are needed. “It’s clear that we have to find new strategies to store and process information in an energy-efficient way”, says Alexander Khajetoorians, Professor of Scanning Probe Microscopy at Radboud University and project leader of this research.

Better assessment of medicines’ environmental risks

Over the next six years, a large European research consortium with 25 partners will develop an instrument that can be used to improve the environmental risk assessment of medicines. The PREMIER project, led by Radboud University and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, is intended to shed light on substances in medicines, 1,500–1,800 of which have never been assessed before. This will enable policymakers, pharmaceutical companies, water managers, drinking water companies and hospitals to develop green alternatives or take environmental measures

Alarm about threat to seagrass meadows

Seagrasses play a key role in capturing CO2, and they protect our coastlines, provide a habitat for fish hatchlings, and improve marine biodiversity. But the global surface area of seagrasses has reduced by half over the past hundred years. In an article in Bioscience , researchers from Radboud University, among others, advocate for the recovery of seagrass meadows. The article argues for a large-scale approach to cultivating and sowing seagrass and other essential species to protect the coastal ecosystem.

Medical scholars issue urgent appeal about climate crisis

World leaders must work harder to combat climate change: that was the appeal in 230 medical science journals, including top journals like The Lancet, NEJM and the British Medical Journal. The Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde, the top medical journal in the Netherlands, was one initiator of this worldwide appeal. That journal’s editor-in-chief, Marcel Olde Rikkert, is Professor of Clinical Geriatrics at Radboud university medical center and was one drafter of the editorial commentary.

Marker Wadden offers abundant opportunities for nature

Now that the first five islands of the Marker Wadden have been developed, researchers are calling this innovative nature project a successful example of nature restoration, one in which plants, birds and fish flourish. A team of researchers from Radboud University, the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), the University of Groningen and the Dutch Society for Nature Conservation (Natuurmonumenten) worked on this research, which was published in Ecological Solutions and Evidence.

Large-scale restoration project for European wetlands

The EU Horizon 2020 Programme Green Deal granted €23 million of funding for a large-scale restoration project of Europe’s wetlands. WaterLANDS (Water-based solutions for carbon storage, people and wilderness) will restore wetland sites across Europe which have largely been decimated by human activity. In addition, the foundations will be laid for scalable protection across much wider areas. As part of the project, Radboud University researchers are conducting a meta-analysis that should identify factors of success and failure in past and ongoing restoration wetland projects.

Return of wolves and lynxes explained

What accounts for the comeback of wolves, lynxes and brown bears in Europe after they almost became extinct at the end of the last century? A study published in Diversity and Distributions gives a definitive answer. It is not the increasing protection measures in Europe that are playing the most significant role, but the cessation of agricultural activities, the reduction of forest degradation, the abandonment of the countryside and the reduction in hunting. Researchers from 11 European countries signed off on the findings, coordinated by Marta Cimatti from Sapienza University of Rome. She conducted this research during her stay at Radboud University.