No fewer than seven people at TU/e will receive a Vidi grant this year from research funding body NWO, supporting their research with up to 800,000 euros. Three of them are connected with the interfaculty Institute for Complex Molecular Systems (ICMS): Patricia Dankers and Tom de Greef (both also at the Department of Biomedical Engineering) and Björn Baumeier (Mathematics and Computer Science). The other recipients are Tom Oomen (Mechanical Engineering), Alex Alvarado (Electrical Engineering), Daniël Lakens (IE&IS) and Job Beckers (Applied Physics).
Daniël Lakens is an assistant professor at Human-Technology Interaction. Here, he does social-psychological research, but is increasingly occupied with the methodology and reliability of science in itself. Until recently, he was still involved in a large international project in which notable psychological studies were repeated. Last year NWO decided, partly due to his insistence, to release three million euros for studies of this kind. With the Vidi that Lakens will now receive, he is keen to research how psychologists can generate empirical knowledge as efficiently as possible, taking account of both statistical aspects and the resources and aims of researchers. He hopes this will lead to recommendations that will make psychological research both more reliable and more efficient.
Tom de Greef, associate professor at Computational Biology, wants to use DNA in order to measure the interaction between cells and proteins. In many processes in the human body, such as the formation of tumors and tissue regeneration, interactions between cells and free-roaming proteins play an important role. As these interactions take place at the nanoscale, they are very difficult to quantify. In his Vidi project, De Greef now wants to make a kind of ‘nano-slide gauge’ based on DNA, with which he can accurately measure these interactions. The insight he hopes in this way to gain may be important to the development of new medicines. In 2015 De Greef previously won a prestigious ERC Starting Grant of 1.8 million euros for related research.
Patricia Dankers, associate professor in the groups Bio-Organic Chemistry, and Soft Tissue Biomechanics & Engineering, also intends to use her Vidi for biomedical research. She wants to endow plastic implants with biological properties, so that they can, as it were, ‘talk’ to the body’s cells. It is expected that medical implants equipped with what are called bioactive signals will be better able to function under mechanical loads, and will be more quickly able to ensure the formation of the right type of tissue. Dankers, who has two doctorates to her name, was last year appointed as a board member of the Young Academy – a KNAW platform for elite young scientists. Like De Greef, she has also received an ERC Starting Grant.
The third ICMS member, Björn Baumeier, is also an assistant professor at the Centre for Analysis, Scientific Computing and Applications (CASA). Since 2015 the German has been occupied with the multiscale modeling of electronic processes in what is called soft material. With his Vidi he is keen to develop new computer simulation techniques in order to understand how and why electrons travel through spiral molecular structures – knowledge that may be valuable in the development of bio-sensors, organic LEDS, and splitting water using sunlight to create clean fuels.
Tom Oomen, assistant professor at Control Systems Technology, works on self-learning control systems for use in complex equipment such as scanners and printers. With his Vidi grant, Oomen, who was nominated only last year by the Dutch edition of New Scientist for the title of Science Talent 2016, is keen to make it possible for such high-tech machines to themselves calculate the optimum control of their moving parts from the abundance of data that modern equipment collects with inbuilt sensors. This would enable them, for example, to automatically compensate for deviations due to wear. This strategy should lead to even faster and more accurate machines.
Another Vidi has been awarded to the Chilean assistant professor Alex Alvarado, of the Signal Processing Systems group. With the quantity of digital data transmitted increasing every decade by a factor ranging from ten to a hundred, the maximum capacity of even fiber-optic cables is fast approaching. Alvarado is therefore keen to use sophisticated mathematics to determine the maximum amount of information that can be transported by fiber optics, and how we can organize the data transport such that the use of this capacity can also be optimized. This requires new models that describe the non-linear behavior in fiber optics at strong luminous powers. Alvarado will also test his models in the laboratory.
The last Vidi at TU/e for this round is for Job Beckers, employed in the Elementary Processes in Gas Discharges group. The assistant professor is keen to research how particles measuring a few nanometers charge in plasma environments. This will involve the use of quantum dots that change color when charging, thereby functioning as a measuring device for the charging processes, and thus for the related plasma physics processes. Plasma expert Beckers’ earlier developments include a portable plasma filter designed to remove the unpleasant odors from ostomy bags.