Fifteen young researchers start their own research abroad with Rubicon grant

Fifteen recently graduated scholars can do their research at foreign research institutes thanks to a Rubicon grant from NWO and ZonMw. For many researchers, experience abroad is an important step in their career. The Rubicon programme gives young, highly promising researchers the opportunity to gain international research experience.

Those researchers will try to answer diverse and science-wide research questions. For example, Tirna Deb (University of Groningen) will be studying the mystery of the social life of galaxies. Ruy Kortbeek (University of Amsterdam) studies how plants regulate the production of compounds. And Maria Iovine (Radboud University) investigates why Roman academic culture did not lead to a scientific revolution in the 17th century.

Where to go and for how long?

All laureates from this round leave for the maximum allowed 24 months. Seven laureates are going to the United States, three to the United Kingdom and the remaining five researchers will be based in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Sweden for their research.

Features of the Rubicon programme

Thanks to the Rubicon grant these young researchers can do their research at a foreign institute that offers the best environment for their research. The size of the grant depends on the destination chosen and the duration of the stay. Each year, NWO and ZonMw can fund about 60 young researchers within Rubicon (for a total amount of 7 million euros allocated over three rounds). The awards in this news item concern the first round of 2023.

Facts and figures of this round

Budget: 2.4 million euros
Number of (admissible) submissions: 44
Gender ratio of submissions:  22 men, 22 women
Number of grants awarded (award rate): 15 (34.1%)
Gender ratio of awarded grants:  8 men, 7 women
Award rate among men: 36.4%
Award rate among women: 31.8%

Efficient collaboration and communication between yeast cells for optimal product formation
Ir. A.C.A. van Aalst -> TU Delft -> Denmark -> DTU -> 24 months

Yeast is used for many biotechnological processes that use renewable feedstocks for the production of fuels, food ingredients and medicines. To function optimally, growth of the yeast and product formation in these processes need to be accurately controlled. This proposal aims to develop new, generic methods to enable this.

Judaea and Nabataea: Relations between Jews and Arabs in Antiquity
Dr A. W. Aksu -> University of Groningen -> Belgium -> KU Leuven -> 24 months

Jews and Nabataeans (an early Arab group) lived side by side in the ancient Levant. However, we know little about how these groups related to each other. This project sheds new light on Jewish-Nabatean relations by examining the Nabataean Dead Sea Scrolls from the perspective of their materiality and contents.

Breaking barriers: Improving speech recognition for underrepresented languages and dialects
M. Bartelds, MA -> University of Groningen -> United States -> Stanford University -> 24 months

Recent advances in deep learning improved speech recognition performance for many languages. Unfortunately, the performance is low for underrepresented (minority and regional) languages and dialects. This project investigates the most effective approach to adapt deep learning-based systems to improve speech recognition performance for a broad range of languages and dialects.

Mathematics at the speed of light
Dr. A. Cordaro -> University of Amsterdam-AMOLF -> USA -> Harvard University -> 24 months

Optical processing offers a promising path to process data at the speed of light and at low powers. We propose using lithium niobate to perform on-chip time-domain signal processing. This technology could lead to the development of smaller, low-cost, and low-power hybrid optical-electronic computing chips.

The Social life of galaxies: Unfolding the Mystery of Galactic Interactions and Transformations in Different Environments
Dr. T. Deb -> University of Groningen -> United States of America -> Harvard University -> 24 months

Galaxies are very social astronomical objects, when migrating into a dense environment, they lose their gas, stop forming stars and sometimes merge together. However, the physics behind these transformations remain a mystery. Using observations from SMA, ALMA and MeerKAT telescopes, I will explore the mechanisms behind these enigmatic transformations.

Diodes for spin-polarized supercurrents
Dr. R. Fermin -> Leiden University -> United Kingdom -> University of Cambridge -> 24 months

Society faces the enormous challenge of reconciling the reduction of carbon emissions with an increasingly larger number of power-hungry data centers, driving our digital economy. The researcher will fundamentally investigate how spin-polarized supercurrents are rectified in superconducting diodes and so empower a new generation of energy-efficient computers and quantum technologies.

When Rome lost the Golden Age. Academic Cultures at the Dawn of the Enlightenment
Dr. M.F. Iovine -> Radboud University -> Italy -> Roma Tre University -> 24 months

17th-century Roman academies, literary and scientific, joined forces to harmonise mechanical philosophy, atomism, and alchemy in a Christian perspective. Had they succeeded, the Enlightenment would have been a much richer notion not inherently opposed to ‘religious obscurantism’. This study investigates the peculiar scientific revolution that Rome failed to make happen.

Effects of benzodiazepines on eye movements and memory for a virtual reality crime
Dr. L Kloft -> Maastricht University -> Germany -> Bonn University -> 24 months

Public summary Benzodiazepines are widely prescribed and used recreationally, but misuse impairs cognitive functioning and can lead to criminal behavior. This project uses eye movement measures to investigate the link between benzodiazepines, attention, and true and false memory for a simulated crime in virtual reality.

Defense compounds for crop protection
Dr. R.W.J. Kortbeek -> University of Amsterdam -> United States of America -> Purdue University -> 24 months

In nature, plants produce compounds that help them protect themselves against pest insects, fungi and harmful bacteria. The researcher is investigating how plants regulate the production of these compounds. The results of this research offer possibilities for growing food crops that are less dependent on synthetic pesticides.

Prevention of heart muscle degradation
R.G.C. Maas, MSc -> UMC Utrecht -> England -> Nottingham Biodiscovery Institute -> 24 months

When heart muscle cells fail, there is no way back. The researcher will investigate common patterns of heart muscle function and gene expression in stem-cell derived heart cells from different patients. Next, potential therapies will be tested to improve or even prevent heart muscle degradation in patients with heart failure.

Getting a picture of redox-related cell states
Dr. A. Sigaeva -> University of Groningen -> Sweden -> KTH Royal Institute of Technology -> 24 months

Like people, no two cells are the same, and they change over time. The researchers will use microscopes to capture the transient cell “moods”: the differences in cell metabolism under stress and during differentiation. This will help scientists to better understand how individual cells respond to normal and excessive stress.

Artificial intelligence-based blood flow analyses in radiological imaging in patients with an acute ischemic stroke
MD MSc MSc, H. van Voorst -> Amsterdam UMC, University of Amsterdam -> United States of America -> Stanford University -> 24 months

Even after endovascular treatment of acute ischemic stroke, a large number of patients have a poor outcome, presumably due to poor blood flow restoration. Artificial intelligence algorithms will be developed and evaluated to automatically analyze blood flow patterns in cerebral blood vessels visible in radiological imaging to guide further treatment.

Restoration of motor function after stroke
MSc. M. Wu -> Maastricht University -> United Kingdom -> University of Oxford -> 24 months

Millions of stroke survivors globally suffer from difficulties with movement, affecting activities of daily living. The researcher will develop an innovative, individualized, mechanistically 3 informed brain stimulation approach to improve stroke rehabilitation and test its effects on motor function and neurotransmitters.

Engineering proteinosomes for the construction of high-performance artificial antigenpresenting cells to enhance T-cell expansion
H. Yang MSc -> Eindhoven University of Technology -> United States -> Harvard University -> 24 months

Adoptive T-cell therapy (ACT) is a promising cancer treatment that requires a challenging expansion of patients’ specialized T cells to large numbers. The researcher will develop a unique class of biomimetic artificial cells to enable efficient T-cell expansion, thereby opening new avenues for effective cancer immunotherapy.

New light on the origin of X-ray variability in Galactic accreting black holes
Y. Zhang -> Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, University of Groningen -> USA -> Center for Astrophysics, Harvard University -> 24 months

Black holes in binary systems in our Galaxy emit X-rays varying on timescales of seconds to years, much faster than the timescale of star and galaxy evolution. I will use NASA’s NICER X-ray mission onboard the International Space Station to study these systems and unveil the origin of this variability.

In our ‘Granted!’ column, cognitive neuroscientist Nadine Dijkstra (Radboud University) reflects on the moment she heard she had been awarded a Rubicon grant to start her own research in London.

Read more of the story of neuroscientist Nadine Dijkstra here.