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ERC grants for four Leiden scientists

Four scientists from Leiden University have each been awarded a Starting Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). This grant, worth up to two million euros, gives researchers the opportunity to head up a research team for five years.

Michaël Peyrot: Tocharian

Peyrot conducts research on Tocharian, an ancient language that was spoken from about 500 to 1000 AD in north-west China. Tocharian is related to Indo-European languages such as  Dutch, English, Latin, Greek and Sanskrit, and, like these languages, it has its origin in the Eastern European steppes. In his ‘The Tocharian Trek’ research project, Peyrot investigates how the ancestors of the speakers of Tocharian made the long trek to China.

Milan Allan: Quantum materials

Quantum materials sometimes demonstrate mysterious effects. Their electrons exhibit collective behaviour, like a flock of birds, for example, but are susceptible to the magic of quantum mechanics. With his ERC grant, Allan can now study quantum materials using STM microscopy to find out how electrons 'melt'. Understanding quantum mechanics is one of the holy grails in physics. To give an example from the recent past, it was a better understanding of the quantum mechanical characteristics of silicon that led to the computer revolution.

Read more about Milan Allan's research in this article.

Daniela Kraft: Microparticles

Kraft's ERC grant has been awarded for her research on the behaviour of so-called colloids: particles of one-millionth of a metre. They occur in the battlefield of the micro-world,in which a continuous storm rages of chaotic, dancing molecules. Kraft turns this eternal movement to her advantage by allowing colloids to form structures themselves. During earlier research Kraft was able to generate a number of basic structures,allowing colloids to pass over one another like joints. The ultimate aim is to create micro-robots that build themselves. 

Read more about Daniela Kraft's research in this article.

Thomas Sharp: Electron microscopy

Sharp wants to use his grant to find a way of activating the immune system to destroy cancer cells for example. He uses so-called DNA nano-templates: three-dimensional constructions of pieces of DNA on which he can make a very precise construction of proteins. He uses these minuscule constructions and proteins to activate an essential part of the immune system: the complement system. It may be that this part of the immune system can be applied later to destroy cancer cells.