UU benefitted

‘Farewell gift’ from Minister Dijkgraaf: 174 million euros for five research groups

robbert dijkgraaf foto DUB
Photo: DUB

Now that a new cabinet has been formed, Robbert Dijkgraaf's announcement feels a bit like a farewell present. The outgoing Minister of Education has met with five groups of researchers that will receive 30 to 40 million euros over the next ten years. The Dutch Research Council finds that these five consortia have collaborated successfully in the past and proven to be amongst the world’s best. The funds, also known as Summit Grants, can be used to force scientific breakthroughs and train successors.

The first Summit Grants are going to projects researching the origin of life (40 million euros), the impact of climate change (30.6 million) and the fundamental limits of physics and quantum mechanics (35.4 million). Another 37.5 million are going to a consortium of medical-technical researchers looking to better understand how the body regenerates itself. They hope to aid these regenerative processes with lifelike, "intelligent" implants.

Eleven researchers from Utrecht University have been given one of these grants. Delft has ten and Groningen has five. The universities of Wageningen, Twente, Rotterdam and Amsterdam have been granted summit grants as well.

UU involved in three projects
UU researchers are involved in three of the five projects. In two of these projects, the main applicant is a Utrecht-based professor. Research project Embracer (which stands for Earth systeM feedBack ReseArch CentRe) studies the chance of acceleration of climate change. The Professor of Paleoceanography Appy Sluijs is the main applicant and climate researchers Michiel van den Broeke, Anna von der Heydt, Jack Middelburg and Stefan Schouten are co-applicants. A total of 23 researchers from various disciplines will work on his project over the next ten years. Embracer received 30.6 million euros from NWO.

Marianne Verhaar, Professor of Experimental Nephrology, applied on behalf of the DRIVE-RM project alongside four other scientists, including UU professors Jos Malda and Jeroen Bakkers. UU researchers in the field of regenerative medicine are working together with scientists from UMC Utrecht, the Hubrecht Laboratory and the universities of Eindhoven and Maastricht to look for ways to treat chronic diseases by stimulating the body to repair itself. The project received 37.5 million euros.

Socion is the last project in which UU scientists are involved. Scientists from Groningen, Amsterdam and Utrecht will conduct interdisciplinary research into social cohesion. That "societal fabric" seems to be deteriorating more and more because communities are falling apart polarisation is increasing. UU professors Naomi Ellemers, Tanja van der Lippe and Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk are among the applicants for the project, which will receive 30.6 million euros.

Dijkgraaf is happy about the grants. Dutch scientists do well internationally because they collaborate a lot, he says, but also “because there is funding that, just like science, is geared towards the long term”.

One of Dijkgraaf’s goals was to bring peace of mind to the world of research and education. This includes financial peace of mind. The money that is now going to the five research groups in the form of the first-ever Summit Grant is partly intended to reduce stress about applying for research money. 

It’s for this goal that the government set up the Research and Science Fund in 2022, containing five billion euros for ten years. The new coalition wants to cut this by 1.1 billion, it announced last week, alongside other cuts in higher education and research. Those plans hurt him, he said in the House of Representatives.

Upon ceremoniously presenting the grants today, Dijkgraaf will also shine the spotlight on the recipients in the Gravity programme. In March, seven research groups were awarded a total of 160 million for five to ten years of research into various medical conditions, cybersecurity, and the defence systems of plants.