Leiden University: ERC Advanced Grant for six Leiden researchers

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded an Advanced Grant to six Leiden researchers. It awards these significant grants to established principal investigators for ground-breaking, high-risk research.

This year’s grants have been awarded to three researchers from the Faculty of Science, two from the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences and one from the LUMC. They conduct research into the most diverse topics, from Iranian propaganda to the birth of galaxies. Below are the laureates, in alphabetic order.

Astronomer Ewine Van Dishoeck has made a valuable contribution to our knowledge about ‘interstellar clouds’, large clouds of gas and dust that are the birthplace of planets and stars. She has shown how molecules arise in these interstellar clouds and clump together to form the building blocks of complete planetary systems like our own solar system. Van Dishoeck’s research is highly important in determining whether life is possible on other planets. She won the Kavli prize for astrophysics, sometimes called the ‘Nobel Prize for astronomy’ in 2018 for her groundbreaking research.

Physicist Martin van Hecke is one of the most innovative researchers in the Netherlands. He studies the surprisingly complex behaviour of seemingly simple systems. Serious physics and everyday problems come together in his work. His work is an example of how fundamental and applied research can go hand in hand. In 2019 he developed ‘programmable origami’, for instance, which was published in Nature Physics.

Chemist Marc Koper studies the basis for a CO2-neutral future. He does so with the aid of electrochemistry, a once dry and boring branch of chemistry that is now booming. If we can make hydrogen from water and can convert CO2 into valuable materials and energy, this might just be the solution to our greatest environmental challenge: climate change.

Asghar Seyed-Ghorab studies medieval Persian poetry, looking at its modern-day reception, and how mystical concepts and philosophical terms are used in present-day popular culture and social media. He also researches how today’s Iranian leaders use these concepts as a buttress for the Islamic government and even to justify violence.

Professor Andrew Webb knows all about MRI scanners. With this Advanced Grant Webb aims to redesign MRI systems from the ground-up to increase their accessibility and applicability. Webb’s group is already working on a portable and affordable MRI system that will be used in Uganda for children with hydrocephalus. This grant will allow Webb and colleagues to develop affordable MRI systems for many other applications.

Hilde De Weerdt is Professor of Chinese History at the Leiden Institute for Area Studies. Her research has focused on Chinese political and intellectual history and the bureaucratic and educational infrastructures of Chinese empires such as the civil service examinations. In this project she will turn to a social history of material infrastructures including roads, bridges, and city walls. Professor De Weerdt has played a leading role in developing digital platforms for research in East Asian languages.

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