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Vidi grants for eight researchers from Leiden University

Eight scientists from Leiden University have been awarded a grant by the Dutch Research Council (NWO). With this Vidi funding, the researchers can set up an innovative line of research and further expand their own research group over the next five years.

The Vidi grants of up to 800,000 euros are aimed at experienced researchers who have already conducted successful research for several years after obtaining their PhD. The Vidi, together with the Veni and Vici grants, is part of the NWO Talent Programme, which is aimed at stimulating innovation and curiosity in science. This year, a total of 97 researchers received a Vidi grant. The eight projects of Leiden scientists are described below.

Helpful fungi for functional soils - Emilia Hannula

Fungi are important to soil functions such as provision of food, maintenance of biodiversity, nutrient cycling and carbon storage. Currently, soils are degraded due to human activities and their functions lost. In this project I will study how fungal communities function and how fungal diversity affects multiple ecosystem functions. Further, I will study how we can enhance fungal communities based on their traits to restore soil functions.

Neutrinos from extreme black holes - Sjoert van Velzen

Neutrinos are ghostly particles. They fly unencumbered through most materials. Only very rarely we are able to catch the signal of a neutrino that originated from somewhere in the cosmos. This is possible thanks to enormous detectors, situated deep below the ice of the South Pole or near the bottom of the ocean. The origin of cosmic neutrinos is unknown. This project aims to solve this puzzle. We will combine observations of optical telescope and neutrino telescopes to test the possibility that black hole outbursts produce the majority of cosmic neutrinos.

Untangling protein aggregates in neurodegenerative disease - Anne Wentink

When proteins aggregate into fibres, this can lead to serious neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's. The cell can combat the aggregation process by means of molecular chaperones, which can actively dissolve fibres once formed. Despite its seemingly protective function, this chaperone action is also potentially harmful, breaking fibres down to fragments that can accelerate further protein aggregation and escape to infect neighbouring cells. Here, researchers develop new experimental tools to assess the risks associated with chaperone activity in neurodegenerative disease and develop synthetic chaperone-like biomolecules that mitigate these risks.

How slaves became citizens: The beginning of civil rights in the age of emancipation - Karwan Fatah-Black

How did enslaved people in the Dutch empire become citizens and what determined their success? By linking data from archival documents, this project will reconstruct multi-generational emancipatory efforts of enslaved people and their free descendants. We will study the informal citizenship that developed in the process and we want to discover if this proto-citizenship impacted their rights and conditions when slavery was abolished. By doing this we will be able to give a new and better explanation for the differences between post-slavery societies in developing equality for their citizens.

Studying the origins of ancient migrants - Jason Laffoon

Our geographic origins, the places where we were born and raised, play an important role in our sense of identity. As such, migrations have potentially profound impacts on both individuals and communities in the present and in the past. This project develops and applies new tools for investigating migrant origins from the archaeological record and focuses on better understanding migration histories amongst the Indigenous communities of the Caribbean region based on multiple isotope analyses of the physical remains of the migrants themselves. Laffoon and his team will research several fundamental aspects of migration and their implications at multiple scales.

Peace Palms. International Coalitions for Peace in the Era of Decolonization, 1918-1970 - Carolien Stolte

What brings American civil rights activists, European conscientious objectors, Indian Gandhians and African anti-imperialists together in a South-Indian ashram? This project investigates attempts at founding peace movements with a global reach. What do peace activists hope to achieve? This project asks how such peace coalitions emerged and explains their successes and failures. A broad consensus on the necessary preconditions for peace – decolonization and disarmament – in fact hid crucially different views existing inside and outside of the decolonizing world. How did this impact the ability of peace movements to organize internationally?

RISE: Resilience in Social environments - Anne-Laura van Harmelen

Childhood adversity (CA) is a strong predictor of adolescent mental health problems. Interventions aimed to reduce CA, or to strengthen resilience after CA, do not work very well because we currently do not know how CA makes young people vulnerable. In adolescence, the social world becomes increasingly more important for adolescent mental health. This project therefore studies how CA is related to the processing of social information and feedback, receiving social support, experiencing stress, and how this affects mental health. As such, this project will inform interventions and prevention efforts that aim to boost resilience for young people with CA. 

VACCINAGE: understanding reduced vaccine responses in older adults - Simon Jochems

As we age, our susceptibility to infections increases. At the same time, vaccinations that can protect against disease such as pneumonia are less effective in older adults. This project uses state-of-the-art immunological methods and unique sampling to identify the underlying causes, which can contribute to improving vaccine effectiveness in older adults.

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