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Quantum particles and bacteria without cell walls: KLEIN grant for Beenakker and Claessen

Are Weyl particles the ideal conductors? Do cells without a cell wall play a role in chronic Tuberculosis infections? Carlo Beenakker and Dennis Claessen want to answer these questions. They both received a KLEIN grant from the NWO. With these grants, NWO wants to stimulate innovative, fundamental research.

Superconducting quantum particles

In some materials, electrons move as if they have no mass. They behave in the same way as light particles (photons), which are also massless. These massless electrons are called Weyl particles and are superconducting. 'I want to investigate how this property in combination with a magnetic field can contribute to the transport of charge and energy,' says Beenakker. 'The magnetic field penetrates a superconducting material in the form of thin wires, or rather "tubes", through which a Weyl particle can move like light particles through a fiber optic cable.' The expectation is that these tubes are therefore ideal conductors of heat and electricity. Beenakker: 'For the time being, this research is exploratory and not directly focused on applications. In the future, we may be able to use ideal conductors in electronics'.

Bacteria without a cell wall

Claessen is investigating tuberculosis, one of the most deadly diseases in the world for which still no effective treatment is available. How can the responsible bacteria survive  in our bodies so long? There are strong indications that the loss of the cell wall plays a key role in this,' he says. 'The cell wall is an important landmark for our immune system. A bacterium without a cell wall can therefore circumvent the defence system. And then also in a form that is insensitive to the most important antibiotics that we normally use.'

Claessen wants to find out whether the tuberculosis bacteria indeed use cell wallless cells to hide in their host. 'We are therefore going to imitate  cells without a cellwall and test them for immune recognition and other properties.' If this type of cell is indeed at the root of the poor treatment options, researchers can very specifically develop a new therapy that combats the formation of this type of cell. Claessen: 'The big question is, of course, where these cells are located in the body. We hope to be able to address this during this project. Since the project lasts four years, we will not do much in terms of therapy right now. In particular, we will investigate whether the formation of these cells is an explanation for the persistence of this bacterium. The treatment will be for a future project.

Science KLEIN grant

The Board of the NWO domain Exact and Natural Sciences has accepted fourteen applications in the Open Competition Science KLEIN, of which four for starting researchers. The subjects range from the study of mathematical optimisation methods to research into the origin of hormone action in plants. KLEIN grants are intended for curiosity-driven, unbound fundamental research of high quality and/or scientific urgency. The KLEIN grant offers researchers the opportunity to develop creative, risky ideas and to create scientific innovations that can form the basis for the research themes of the future. Click here to view the other applications that have been awarded a grant.

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