Welcome to the 2022 Villum Young Investigators

16 talented researchers in the technical and natural sciences are to receive grants totalling DKK 102 million that will allow them to pursue their ideas and establish their own research groups at Danish universities

The Villum Young Investigator programme (YIP) focuses on attracting and retaining talented young Danish and international researchers at Danish universities. The aim is to support the development of high-level international research environments in the universities.

VILLUM FONDEN will open the next call for the programme 6 April 2022. Read more about the programme

“It is gratifying that these young researchers are now afforded the opportunity to develop their own impressive ideas. Many have the backing of their host institutions and have excellent career prospects. This bodes well for Danish research,” says Thomas Bjørnholm, Executive Chief Scientific Officer of VILLUM FONDEN.

The Villum Young Investigator Programme focuses on attracting research stars of the future. Recipients are Danish and foreign researchers affiliated with a Danish research institution. The programme allows them to join a research community featuring networks and seminars on issues such as research management.

VILLUM FONDEN first awarded grants as part of this programme in 2012 and since then has supported a total of 200 young and talented researchers with grants amounting to a combined DKK 1.4 billion.

See the video Ten years with the Villum Young Investigator Programme.

At sea, on land, in the air

With grants in the region of DKK 6-8 million, this year’s cohort of 16 VILLUM Young Investigators is ready to make its contribution to the research of the technical and natural sciences and to make their mark on the future. Common to all the researchers are towering ambitions and research areas that it can be challenging to get to grips with. Their gazes are directed at everything great and small both on Earth and in the universe – from Earth-like planets to microscopic airborne particles (aerosols).

One research project dives beneath the surface of the sea to find genomic insights into evolutionary novelties in seahorses, pipefishes and seadragons. Another project remains on land and seeks to develop a bio-inspired multifunctional building composite that couples the sustainability of self-healing concrete with the responsive nature of self-sensing materials to communicate its own health in real-time.

The eye of the needle

VILLUM FONDEN received 123 applications for the programme. The gender distribution among applicants was 80 per cent men and 20 per cent women, while the distribution among grantees was 75 per cent men and 25 per cent women.

The 16 researchers who made it through the eye of the needle have gone through a process of academic evaluation and interviews with the foundation’s scientific committee as well as final approval by the foundation’s board.

The new Villum Young Investigators are based in four Danish universities: the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University and University of Southern Denmark.

Meet the 16 Villum Young Investigators

Meet the new Villum Young Investigators in the video.

Below you can read their abstracts - click on the researcher’s name to see more.

Berislav Buca
University of Copenhagen, Niels Bohr Institute, DKK 8m


Complex dynamics of non-stationary quantum matter

Understanding how complexity emerges from the comparatively simple microscopic laws is a fundamental problem in physics. The project aims to develop a quantum theory that will form a starting point for such an understanding. The research will include theoretical discovery of new kinds of quantum complex matter and theoretical study of potential novel quantum technologies (e.g. for ultra-coherent magnetic field generation for MRI). The grant will fund the recipient, one postdoc and one PhD student.

Thomas Christensen
Technical University of Denmark, DTU Photonics, DKK 8m


Symmetry-guided discovery of topological photonics

The understanding and design of confined states of light is central to the field of photonics. Recently, concepts of band topology have opened a new paradigm for achieving this goal. This project will develop new theoretical and computational tools that leverage symmetry analysis to comprehensively explore and exploit this new design space for photonic structures. The grant will fund the recipient, one postdoc, one PhD student and exchange with international collaborators.

Andrea Crovetto
Technical University of Denmark, DTU Nanolab, DKK 6m


Inorganic Phosphosulfides for Optoelectronics (OPTOPUS)

The discovery of a new semiconductor with specific optical and electrical properties would improve the efficiency of various key energy processes such as the production of electricity, fuel, and light. In the OPTOPUS project, we will combine high-throughput experiments and simulations to search for this “dream” semiconductor in a yet-unexplored family of compounds: Phosphosulfides. The grant will fund one PhD student and one postdoc.

Maarten Goesten
Aarhus University, Department of Chemistry, DKK 6m


Chemical Design of Superconductors

More than 100 years after its discovery, superconductivity has remained an elusive phenomenon. This is hampering the development of new and better superconducting materials, required in the frame of a renewable-energy economy. This project investigates the hypothesis that superconductivity can be understood via the concept of chemical bonding. In exploring this conjecture, the aim is a theoretical framework from which new materials can be designed. The grant will fund one PhD student and two postdocs.

Sira Gratz
Aarhus University, Department of Mathematics, DKK 8m


Cluster algebras and invariants

Cluster algebras and their combinatorics have emerged as an important feature throughout mathematics. The project addresses the fundamental question: How can we formally compare their various guises? We will exploit the answer to both advance our understanding of cluster algebras and for explicit computation of important examples from geometry and topology. The grant will allow the recruitment of two postdocs and one PhD student.

Mia Sloth Lundkvist
Aarhus University, Department of Physics and Astronomy, DKK 6m


Insights on the prevalence of Earth-like planets

Estimating how common Earth-like planets are, currently requires extrapolation from a population of larger and warmer planets – the warm super-Earths. An outstanding issue with this approach is
that the mechanisms responsible for shaping the population of warm super-Earths are not wellunderstood. My research will change this by studying the process of evaporation that is expected to
be dominant in sculpting the warm super-Earths. The grant will fund the recipient, one postdoc and one PhD student.

Andreas Pavlogiannis
Aarhus University, Department of Computer Science, DKK 6m


Algorithmic Verification of Modern-Day Concurrency

Computers play a central role in modern society, but failures can have devastating effects. For this reason, software analysis is vital for responsible software development, yet modern systems are extremely difficult to analyse at scale. The project will develop new theoretical and practical foundations for the analysis of modern software, towards a provably trustworthy digital society. The grant will fund two PhD students and one postdoc, as well as collaborations with international peers.

Du Pei
University of Southern Denmark, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, DKK 6m


New Invariants in Low-Dimensional Topology via Quantum Field Theory

This project aims to deepen the connection between geometry and physics by investigating shapes in three and four dimensions using quantum field theory and string theory. This will lead to, on the geometry side, novel tools to tackle important open problems in low-dimensional topology and, on the physics side, new insights toward quantum phases of matter, global properties of string theory, dynamics of quantum gravity and quantum computation. This grant will fund one PhD student and one postdoc.

Navid Ranjbar
Technical University of Denmark, DTU Civil Engineering, DKK 6m

Alive Concrete

Civil infrastructures are susceptible to losing their designed functions as they deteriorate by ageing and natural disasters. Failing to detect early-warning signals is a serious threat to our safety and economy. This project aims to develop a multifunctional building composite that couples the sustainability of self-healing concrete and the responsive nature of self-sensing materials to communicate real-time its health condition. The grant will fund the recipient, one postdoc, and one PhD student

Lars Rishøj
Technical University of Denmark, DTU Photonics, DKK 6m


From instability to order via dissipative light matter interaction

In this project, a new method is explored for enhancing the quality of laser beams in optical fibers, more specifically, improving the stability of beams with an unstable transverse intensity distribution. Additionally, fundamental power limitations will be investigated. This will enable high-power fiber lasers at arbitrary wavelengths, desirable for applications within industrial manufacturing and biological imaging. The grant funds two PhD students, one postdoc, and equipment.

Bernadette Rosati
Aarhus University, Department of Chemistry, DKK 6m


OceANIC – Aerosol Ageing and Interactions with Radiation and Clouds

Microscopic particles, termed aerosols, are everywhere in our atmosphere and play a crucial role for the climate. This project strives to assess the changes in the particles’ optical properties during their lifetime in the atmosphere and implications for cloud formation. The Oceanic project will particularly scrutinize marine particles that make up the largest natural aerosol mass globally. The grant will allow the recruitment of two PhD students, one postdoc and purchasing of new equipment.

Rasmus Damtoft Siersbæk
University of Southern Denmark, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, DKK 6m


Transcriptional regulation at single-cell resolution

Transcription is the fundamental cellular process of reading the genetic information in our DNA. This process is tightly regulated by complex protein networks to determine the function of the cell. In this project, we will develop a technology allowing us to investigate how different types of proteins work together within individual cells to regulate transcription and thereby determine cell function. This grant will fund one PhD student and one postdoc as well as cover operating expenses.

Josefin Stiller
University of Copenhagen, Department of Biology, DKK 6m


Genomic insights into evolutionary novelties in seahorses, pipefishes and seadragons

The project will investigate the genomic changes associated with traits that evolved repeatedly in distantly related species. The team will use comparative genomics and population genetics to reconstruct the molecular evolution of syngnathids, one of the most distinctive groups of fishes which show a suite of both new and repeatedly evolved traits. The funds will be used to train one PhD student and one postdoc, to generate data and conduct fieldwork.

Andreas Westergaard-Nielsen
University of Copenhagen, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, DKK 6m


AVOCA – Arctic biogenic volatile organic compounds from above

The warming Arctic climate is currently accelerating releases of volatile organic compounds from several Arctic plants. This increase can affect further climate change. We know little about the total amount released from land ecosystems, and therefore the net effects. This project is dedicated to find out where and how much is released, by combining manual sampling, drones, and satellite data. The grant funds two postdocs and one PhD student as well as instruments and fieldwork.

Yi Yu
Technical University of Denmark, DTU Photonics, DKK 6m


Nanolaser based on extremely confined nonradiative state (EXTREME)

A fundamental problem of photonic integrated circuits, hindering their large-scale application, is that their size is orders of magnitude larger than electronic integrated circuits. This project aims to exploit a new type of optical state - extremely confined nonradiative state, and to use such a state to construct lasers at the nanoscale to address this fundamental challenge for chip-scale computing and communication. The grant will fund one PhD student, one postdoc, and equipment.

Shuai Wei
Aarhus University, Department of Chemistry, DKK 6m


Capture the Second Critical Point in the No-man’s Land of Semiconducting Materials

The project will explore a mysterious short-lived amorphous state of semiconducting materials to hunt for a special phase transformation, where all properties are suddenly “blown up” to incredibly large values. With world’s most powerful X-ray sources, we will ”snapshot” atomic motion in less than one trillionth of a second to capture new phase transformations. The finding may be exploited for future superfast computer memory technologies. The grant will fund one PhD student, one postdoc, and new equipment.

Spring celebration

The 16 Villum Young Investigators will be celebrated on 4 May 2022 in connection with VILLUM FONDEN’s presentation of the Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award in Science and Technology. The recipient of this award is normally celebrated on 23 January, which is the birthday of the foundation’s founder Villum Kann Rasmussen (1909-93), but the event itself has been postponed due to the current coronavirus-related restrictions.

Press photos

The photos and the collage can be used in regards to publicity of the programme. 

Download the press photos and videos with the Villum Young Investigators 2022. 

Michel M.H. Kristensen
Senior Adviser, Head of Programme, VILLUM FONDEN
+ 45 29 41 78 89
Anna Høxbro Bak
Communications Adviser, THE VELUX FOUNDATIONS
+45 22 64 03 55