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ERC Starting Grants for five young Leiden researchers

Five researchers from Leiden University have been awarded a Starting Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). This grant of on average 1.5m euros enables researchers who show potential to start their own project, lead a research team and implement their best ideas.

Anna Dlabacova (Humanities)

The Dutch Book of Hours (c. 1380-1550) is unique in Europe: in no other vernacular have so many manuscripts and early editions of this type of prayer book survived. This first large-scale research into this extraordinary heritage will attempt to reveal the ecosystem in which these books were created and used. A new approach that will consider all aspects of the prayer book –from copyist or printer to user and religious ritual – will make fundamental research possible into the role of prayer books in late medieval society.  A new understanding will thus arise of the pre-Reformation world in which the Dutch Book of Hours flourished.

Jordi Tura Brugués (Leiden Institute of Physics)

Quantum technologies have set remarkable milestones in the last years. Despite this progress, the quantum devices we currently have are too imperfect to run textbook quantum algorithms, yet they hold great potential. The FINE-TEA-SQUAD (First Near-Term Applications of Quantum Devices) project proposes a radically new vision: to develop a unifying framework that will yield the first practical applications of NISQ (noisy, intermediate-scale quantum) devices. 

Jörg Gross (Psychology)

This project will investigate social dilemmas in which groups are faced with a shared problem that they can solve either through cooperation or alone. The researchers will investigate this by asking groups of participants to play an abstract ‘game’ and analysing their decisions. These ‘games’ are designed to imitate real-world problems like climate change, the pandemic, or other social situations that require cooperation but also offer the incentive of free-riding (taking advantage of the cooperation between others) or being self-reliant.

Cooperation problems are often seen as a dilemma between cooperation and free-riding, but we can also try to solve shared problems individually. Such self-reliance can lead to a breakdown of cooperation. Gross wants to investigate how self-reliance influences group dynamics in social dilemma situations. 

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Bas Hensen (Leiden Institute of Physics)

Despite numerous efforts, we have not been able to combine two of the most successful theories in physics, quantum mechanics and general relativity, into a consistent theory of quantum gravity. To find out if this is possible at all, we can first try to answer the following question: Can quantum entanglement, a purely quantum mechanical phenomenon, be created through gravity, an interaction described by general relativity? If so, we must be able to combine the two theories. If not, something fundamental is missing in quantum mechanics.

The questions abve are central to Bas Hensen’s research. He will develop a new technology platform that will make it possible to experimentally test it: a microscopic superconducting sphere, levitating above a specially designed chip. The chip will facilitate control over the sphere’s motion down to the quantum level, including entangling the motion with single electron spins. All this in a special refrigerator, operating near a temperature of absolute zero.

Pingtao Ding (Institute of Biology Leiden)

Plant diseases are widespread and constitute a major threat to food production. Pingtao Ding and his team will look to improve strategies for protecting crops from diseases. They will explore the molecular mechanisms in different plant cell types, among different plant species and against different pathogens. In this project, Pingtao aims at advancing the fundamental understanding of the regulatory mechanisms of genes that are key to the plant immune system. His long-term goal is to develop robust tools to control plant pathogens and revolutionize plant protection strategies. Read more about this research project.

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