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Novo Nordisk Foundation ready with support for wild research ideas in the natural and technical sciences

Novo Nordisk Foundation ready with support for wild research ideas in the natural and technical sciences

25 Jun 2020

This is the first time that the Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded grants under its new NERD (New Exploratory Research and Discovery) research programme aimed at ambitious and wild research ideas in the natural and technical sciences.

The Foundation has awarded eight grants of between DKK 10 million and DKK 13.7 million each for projects that will run for up to 7 years. The selection criteria and the long-term perspective of the projects help to make the NERD grants quite unique.

“The eight new NERD projects all take an original approach to fundamental questions in natural and technical science research. The long duration of the grants enables the researchers to embark on brand new, ambitious and long-term projects,” says Lene Oddershede, Senior Vice President, Natural & Technical Sciences, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

“In addition to the Foundation’s focus on creativity and excellence, we have had a selection criterion that caps the maximum funding an applicant has already received as a main applicant in existing projects. This is a whole new and interesting criterion both in Denmark and internationally that aims to provide space for ideas that are not already funded elsewhere and strives to accommodate grant recipients who actually have time to work in the laboratory themselves and become immersed in creating the main results,” adds Lene Oddershede.

All the projects have long-term application potential in the life sciences or biotechnology.

One project led by Alexander N. Zelikin, Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry, Aarhus University will develop artificial chemical receptors that will enable communication between cells, with potential applications in cell-based production within biomedicine and biotechnology.

Another project will provide new knowledge on the physical and chemical properties of water at the molecular level. Kristoffer Haldrup, Senior Researcher, Department of Physics, Technical University of Denmark will be taking an in-depth look at the secrets of water dynamics by using advanced X-ray methods. In the long term, the results will potentially optimize solar-energy harvesting.

Space for alternative projects and profiles
Another innovation of the NERD grants is the two-phase evaluation process for the projects. In the first phase, the programme evaluation committee only had access to the applicants’ project description, and the first round therefore solely focused on the originality and quality of the scientific idea. The identity of the applicant was not revealed until the second phase.

“Seeing the enormous wealth of ideas that Danish natural and technical science research has to offer is inspiring – from new graduates to well-established researchers. The applications have huge potential, and it has been exciting to follow how researchers from many disciplines have thought about how their field can offer basic research that can lead to long-term achievements in medical science and biotechnology,” says Bjørk Hammer, Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Aarhus University and Chair, Committee for the Natural and Technical Sciences.

The Foundation appears to have reached a new target group with the new programme, since about 60% of the applicants for NERD grants are applying to the Foundation for the first time, meaning that they have never been a main applicant for Foundation grants.

“The NERD programme gives us an opportunity to support researchers at all career levels. The first round shows that the intermediate level of associate professors and young full professors is especially well represented with many good ideas, great energy, high quality and originality. We are very much looking forward to following the new NERDs’ research achievements,” says Lene Oddershede.

The eight NERD projects

New Light on Proton Transfer: DKK 13,737,130
Bo Wegge Laursen, Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen

The project focuses on developing new fluorescent molecules that will enable deeper understanding of the exchange of protons in cells and tissue. Amongst other things, this will provide opportunities to reveal when cells malfunction as a result of disease.

Signalling and Internalizing Receptor Mimics: DKK 13,529,823
Alexander N. Zelikin, Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry, Aarhus University

The project aims to develop artificial chemical receptors as functional mimics of natural signalling and internalizing receptors. In doing so, it is possible to address the fundamental challenge of receptor mimicry. Results of this study will establish a platform for diverse applications such as cell-based production in biomedicine and biotechnology.

Spatial Frequency-sequential Probing to Capture Structural Details and Fast Dynamics in Organ-on-a-chip Systems: DKK 13,234,360
Emil Boye Kromann, Associate Professor, Department of Health Technology, Technical University of Denmark, Kongens Lyngby

The project will develop a new type of microscope that will enable detailed and dynamic marker-free imaging of individual cells in organ-on-a-chip systems. These coin-sized chips can host human cells and potentially simulate the activities of an entire organ. This will enable a platform for tailoring treatments to specific people, without using animal models.

Structure-property Relations of Disordered Electrode Materials for Rechargeable Batteries – DEMBATT: DKK 13,000,000
Dorthe Ravnsbæk, Associate Professor, Department of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy, University of Southern Denmark, Odense

The project focuses on developing better materials for rechargeable batteries and characterizing these materials using several new techniques. The aim is to obtain systematic understanding of the processes promoting disorder in battery electrodes, which is important for developing better batteries for the future.

Intracellular Mechanics and Diamond-based Sensing: DKK 12,539,717
Kirstine Berg-Sørensen, Associate Professor, Department of Health Technology, Technical University of Denmark, Kongens Lyngby

The project will develop, explore, and use diamond-based sensors for measurements inside individual living cells. The measurements will advance understanding of the interior of cells and how their functions change in disease.

Aqueous Solvation – Understanding Water as a Solvent and Reaction Partner via Ultrafast X-ray Experiments: DKK 11,958,970
Kristoffer Haldrup, Senior Researcher, Department of Physics, Technical University of Denmark, Kongens Lyngby

The project aims to obtain new fundamental insight into the physical and chemical properties of water at the molecular level by using advanced X-ray methods. The results will potentially optimize solar-energy harvesting.

Synthesis-driven Development of New Two-dimensional Materials – Redox-active Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Sheets: DKK 10,000,000
Mogens Brøndsted Nielsen, Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen

The project will develop a new method for building up layers of graphene, while introducing responsive molecular components that can tune the conducting and magnetic properties of graphene-based materials. The results may have applications in optimizing biosensors and solar-energy cells.

Phononic Quantum Sensors: DKK 10,000,000
Albert Schliesser, Professor, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen

The project will develop extremely sensitive quantum mechanical sensors based on vibrating membranes that enable the spin of individual electrons to be measured in real time. In the long term, the project may enable the development of extremely sensitive sensors, and the realization of magnetic resonance imaging at the molecular scale.

Further information

Christian Mostrup, Senior Programme Lead, +45 3067 4805, cims@novo.dk