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These are the seven Veni winners of the Faculty of Science

The Faculty of Science has received no less than seven Veni grants this year. Camila Correa, Max van Duijn, Stéphanie van der Pas, Sergii Pud, Mónica Varela Álvarez, Joseph Callingham, and Melissa McClure will receive a maximum of 250,000 euros to further develop their own research ideas over a three-year period.

Camila Correa (STRW) – Do dark matter particles interact with each other?

The nature of dark matter is a great unsolved mystery. Correa will use state-of-the-art simulations to analyse signatures of forces between dark matter particles on galaxies colliding, filling a major gap in our understanding of dark matter.

Max van Duijn (LIACS) – A telling story: how children develop as storytellers and mindreaders

Stories help us ‘mindread’ others: imagining how the world looks from their perspective. This project collects and analyses 500+ stories told by children of different ages using a dedicated smartphone app. This way, it reveals connections between the development of children’s competence as storytellers and their ability to understand and empathise with others’ inner lives. Results have important applications within linguistics, but also in the fields of developmental psychology and artificial intelligence. Last year, Van Duijn received a LUF grant for a pilot study. About that grant he said: ‘When it comes to applying for a Veni grant it is extremely helpful to have something tangible in advance. So I'm very pleased with the opportunity the Elise Mathilde Foundation and LUF have given me.’ 

Stéphanie van der Pas (MI) – Are you sure you didn't miss something?

Do vegetarians live longer because of their diet, or because they smoke less and exercise more? Establishing causality is a problem in many fields when an experiment is impossible. Van der Pas develops new statistical methods to draw more accurate causal conclusions from observational data. Earlier this year, Elsevier Weekblad proclaimed her one of the 30 greatest talents of 30 years or younger. She was also nominated for New Scientist Science Talent. In the video below she explains her research in detail (in Dutch).

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Sergii Pud (LION) – Molecular ping-pong to study proteins

Proteins are the building blocks of life and studying them provides the key to understand life and cure diseases. Pud will make a new tool for studying protein molecules one by one through engaging them in a game of molecular ping-pong and observing their behaviour in it.

Mónica Varela Álvarez (IBL) – Conquering the tuberculosis fortress

Drug-resistant tuberculosis is the most lethal airborne disease worldwide. The causative bacteria hide in compact conglomerates of cells that limit effectiveness of antibiotics and host immune responses. The aim of this project is developing new therapies able to attack this ‘tuberculosis fortress’ and increase the effectiveness of current anti-tuberculosis therapies.

Joseph Callingham (STRW)Life around a radio star*

Observatory astronomers can now easily identify planets outside our Solar System. However, it remains a mystery if such planets can host life. This project will conduct a radio survey of nearby stars to discover the type of space weather such planets experience, and whether those conditions allow such planets to be habitable.

Melissa McClure (STRW) – Jumpstarting life on terrestrial planets*

Interstellar ices hold the initial organic molecular ingredients of life. McClure will trace the evolution of ice chemistry as stars form, to determine the complexity of the molecules that are delivered to forming planets.

* Transfer to Leiden Observatory not yet officially confirmed 

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