Villum Experiment: 52 bold research ideas

VILLUM FONDEN awards DKK 98.5 million in grants to 52 bold research projects within the technical and natural sciences.

For the third year running, VILLUM FONDEN has selected innovative research projects to receive funding as part of the Villum Experiment programme.

The programme, according to science director Thomas Bjørnholm, seeks to reward scientists who question conventional thinking.

“The bold idea that you might not dare to mention aloud may challenge acclaimed research even though it doesn’t fit into the conventional peer-review funding system,” Bjørnholm says.

The 52 grant recipients were chosen from amongst 400 applicants, ranging in position from postdoc to full professor.

Applicants are affiliated with the Technical University of Denmark, the University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University, the University of Southern Denmark and Aalborg University and hail from 16 different countries.

Read more about the projects by following the link at the end of this article.

Villum Experiment funds exceptional science and technology research projects that challenge norms and have the potential to fundamentally alter our approach to important topics in science and technology.

Batteries from rust, bubbles in ice

One of the projects, proposed by Wolff-Ragnar Kieback, of the Technical University of Denmark, will look into whether common materials, such as rust and seawater, can be used to store energy from renewable sources. The research could lead to the development of new types of batteries that can store large quantities of energy generated by solar panels or wind turbines.

Another project, proposed by Rikke Louise Meyer, of Aarhus University, will test the hypothesis that DNA can store peptides and other small molecules. The research could shed light on how microbial communities behave, while also suggesting new ways to exploit DNA’s myriad functions.

A third, proposed by Anders Svensson, of the University of Copenhagen, involves listening to bubbles in Greenland’s ice cap. The sound the bubbles make when broken gives an indication of how much air is trapped in the ice, itself an indicator of the altitude at which the ice was formed. The results of the project may make it possible to measure changes in the height of the ice cap during the past 10,000 years and, in so doing, give us a better understanding of how Greenland’s climate has changed.

DKK 98.5 million for 52 bold ideas

Aalborg University

Mads Koustrup Jørgensen, Assistant Professor, Non-biological wastewater treatment with thermocatalytic membrane for simultaneous filtration and pollutant degradation, DKK 2 million

Aarhus University

Ada Pastor, Researcher,  Nitrogen in rocks: an overlooked nutrient source in Arctic aquatic ecosystems, DKK 2 million

Chengfang Pang, Postdoc, Shaping Nanoparticle-Microbial Interactions to Modify the Mechanisms of Antimicrobial Resistance (NanoShapMicro), DKK 2 million

Magnus Kjærgaard, Assistant Professor, Self-assembled protein droplets as reaction platforms for biotechnology, DKK 2 million

Maximilian Stritzinger, Associate Professor, lektor, Cosmography of Laniakea: Type Ia supernovae, Peculiar Velocities & Dark Matter, DKK 2 million

Nicola Lanata, Assistant Professor, Simulating strongly correlated materials by combining quantum theory with machine learning, DKK 2 million

Rikke Louise Meyer, Associate Professor, The secret life of DNA, DKK 2 million

Victoria Antoci, Dr., Exploring the interplay between hot stars and exoplanets - A new spectrograph prototype for a unique nano-sat mission, DKK 2 million

Yonghui Zeng, Research Fellow,  Link Phototrophy and Methanotrophy in Glacial Bacteria, DKK 2 million

Technical University of Denmark

Astri Bjørnetun Haugen, PhD, The microplatelet machine, DKK 2 million

Bingdong Chang, PhD, Adding extra dimensions to dielectric nanostructures – revolutionary building blocks for nanophotonics, DKK 1.8 million

Carlos León Sobrino, Dr., CRISPR-cas mediated silencing as an intelligent and iterative screening tool for bacterial engineering., DKK 1.7 million

Christian Pedersen, Professor, Mid-infrared, hyperspectral, super resolution microscope, DKK 2 million

Emil Damgaard Jensen, Postdoc, FusTech: Cell-cell fusion technology between eukaryotic kingdoms, DKK 2 million

Gregor Fischer, Associate professor, Automated, digitally controlled installation of reinforcement in 3-D printed concrete structures, DKK 2 million

Hitesh Kumar Sahoo, Researcher, Handshaking of light and sound: enabling on-chip silicon light source and optical amplifier, DKK 2 million

Juanita Bocquel, Postdoc, Quantum Sensing of a Biological Compass, DKK 1.9 million

Kim Lau Nielsen, Associate Professor, Micron-scale Crashworthiness (MicronCrash), DKK 2 million

Kristian Mølhave, Associate Professor, A Microscopic View on Aerosols and Climate Change, DKK 2 million

Kristoffer Haldrup, Senior Researcher, Phonon Photography, DKK 1.9 million

Manuel Pinelo,Associate Professor , Creating multiple microenvironments within the same reactor setup for sequential enzymatic reactions at industrial level, DKK 1.2 million

Murat Nulati Yesibolati, Postdoc, Watch a Brownian dance at the nanoscale: live-imaging and quantification of complex nanostructure motion in 3D, DKK 1.9 million

Nicolas Stenger, Associate Professor, phd, A single-photon emitter at mid-infrared frequencies, DKK 1.9 million

Nini Pryds, Professor, Epitaxial oxide heterostructures: New design of Energy-Efficient spintronic Devices (NEED), DKK 2 million

Piotr de Silva, Assistant Professor, Combining machine learning and human understanding for accelerated discovery of molecular materials, DKK 2 million

Thomas Olsen, PhD, Farming functionality: "Sowing two-dimensonal metals in ferroelectrics", DKK 1.7 million

Timothy Booth, Associate Professor, IonGate - Bio-inspired synthetic active transport membranes based on van der Waals heterostructures, DKK 2 million

Wolff-Ragnar Kiebach, Senior Researcher, Can you build a battery from rust?, DKK 2 million

Xiaodan Zhang, Senior Researcher, Explore the strength limit of metals, DKK 2 million

Yubin Zhang, Senior Researcher, Bringing synchrotron micro-diffraction to the laboratory, DKK 1.9 million

University of Copenhagen

Anders Svensson, Associate Professor, The whisper of ancient air bubbles in polar ice, DKK 1.9 million

Aslak Grinsted, Associate Professor, Noble gases and Earths energy budget, DKK 2 million

Dmitri Mitcov, PhD, Spatial organization of chiral spins towards optically and electrically addressable qubits, DKK 2 million

Hans Thordal-Christensen, Professor, Two-to-tango – Durable plant disease resistance will require two mutations, DKK 2 million

Jonas Stenløkke Madsen, Assistant Professor (tenure track) BioRep-HGT: Bio-reporting horizontal gene transfer. An experimental tool that eliminates selection-dependency, DKK 1.7 million

Karsten Kristiansen, Professor, The origin of the vertebrate brain, DKK 2 million

Kasper Elgetti Brodersen, PhD Solving the Carbon Paradox in Marine Plants, DKK 2 million

Kristine Bohmann, Assistant Professor, DNAir - DNA in air for biodiversity monitoring, DKK 2 million

Lars Båstrup-Spohr, Assistant Professor, Plain of Jars – the world’s oldest man-made biological experiment, DKK 1.9 million

Martin Willemoës, Associate Professor, PCOG-Precursors for inserting complex O-linked glycans into synthetic glycopetides, DKK 1.6 million

Martin Wolfram, PhD., Autoproteolytic Amyloid: Implications for new avenues in disease intervention, DKK 1.5 million

Michael Broberg Palmgren, Professor, Why do plants lack sodium pumps - and would they benefit from having one?, DKK 2 million

Namiko Mitarai, Associate Professor, Bacteria approaching zero growth: Continuous or Discontinuous Phase Transition?, DKK 2 million

Per Amstrup Pedersen, Associate Professor, Tailoring yeast for human membrane protein structural biology; humanizing yeast membrane lipid composition, DKK 1.7 million

Sotirios Kampranis, Associate Professor, ANIMAL-FREE ANTIBODIES - Reshaping biological research by recapitulating antibody generation in yeast (AFab), DKK 2 million

Thomas Friborg, Associate Professor, Drone borne LiDAR and Artificial Intelligence for assessing carbon storage (MapCLand), DKK 1.9 million

Tom Dela Haije, Researcher, Unraveling the Stochastic Geometry of the Human Brain, DKK 1.6 million

Urvish Trivedi, PhD, Surveillance of microbial small talk using Trojan horses, DKK 1.8 million

University of Southern Denmark

Chenguang Lou, Assistant Professor, Direct in vitro selection of L-DNA aptamers,  DKK 2 million

Sebastian Hofferberth, Associate Professor, Darkness Illuminated - Dark Matter forces from light-atom experiments, DKK 2 million

Veit Schwämmle, Associate Professor, Artificial Intelligence to revolutionize Protein Mass Spectrometry, DKK 1.7 million

Warren Francis, Dr., The bacterium Gemmata obscuriglobus disguised as an early eukaryote, DKK 1.4 million

About Villum Experiment

Villum Experiment funds exceptional research projects in the technical and natural sciences that challenge norms and have the potential to fundamentally alter our approach to key questions.

The applicants are anonymous to the international panel of peer reviewers, which allows them to focus on the research proposal alone and give researchers freedom of scope in relation to their current academic standing.

This programme is advertised annually in an open competitive call for proposals. The grant is worth up to DKK 2 million and is for up to two years.

Read more about Villum Experiment here 

Anonymous applicants

In keeping with the spirit of the programme, Villum Experiment takes a different approach than other funding mechanisms when selecting grant recipients.

Applications are submitted anonymously and the proposed research is assessed by an international panel of 20 external experts without taking the applicants’ professional or academic qualifications into account.

“You need to make room for radical and bold research, as well as an alternative to peer-review when selecting who gets funding. We can use the anonymous selection process to help make sure the wild and offbeat ideas get tested,” Bjørnholm says.

“It takes a healthy dose of self-confidence to try something that goes against the standard way of assessing which projects – and which scientists – get funded and instead fund the projects that challenge the norm, but which may turn out to be the best idea. Some of the projects are bound not to lead anywhere, but it only takes one wild idea to change the world.”

Experimental programme

VILLUM FONDEN will continue to provide funding through the Villum Experiment programme for the foreseeable future. At the same time, it will be keeping a close eye on its outcomes.

A survey of grant recipients, according to Bjørnholm, indicates that being allowed to apply anonymously meant their ideas were considered seriously, and that without the grants they would never have been able to test them.

VILLUM FONDEN recently began a research project to evaluate the results of the anonymous application process. The project is currently in the data-collection phase. The final report is expected in 2024.

“It will take several years for us to know for sure whether the anonymity afforded by the programme actually does make more room for new ideas. But, because Villum Experiment is different than established programmes it is important for us to begin collecting data now, so we have it and can evaluate it in a few years and find out whether the programme lives up to its goal of giving unorthodox ideas the chance to become reality.”

Can we predict sudden climatic changes?

Applying for a Villum Experiment grant gave Peter Ditlevsen the chance to pursue a project without knowing where it was going to lead.

Technical and natural sciences

VILLUM FONDEN has the ambition to fund excellent research powered by the ideas that engage the researchers the most.

For further information please contact

Thomas Bjørnholm
Executive Chief Scientific Officer, professor, VILLUM FONDEN
+45 28 75 18 35


Professor Thomas Bjørnholm is responsible for the foundation’s research programmes in technical and natural sciences.
Previously Thomas Bjørnholm was Prorector for Research and Innovation and Deputy Rector at the University of Copenhagen with overall responsibility for research and innovation across all disciplines at the university.

He is a professor of Materials Chemistry and the founding director of the Nano-Science Center at the University of Copenhagen.

Thomas Bjørnholm is a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, the Danish Academy of Technical Sciences and he has served on numerous boards and committees.

As a scientist, he has published more than 200 articles in scientific journals and books including contributions to the highly-recognized journals Nature and Science. He has given more than 150 invited talks at conferences and research institutes around the world and received research awards, including the Ole Rømer Foundation Award, the Ellen & Niels Bjerrum Award and gold medal, and the Director Ib Henriksen Award.

See more extensive CV

Anders Smith
Senior Adviser, Head of Programme, VILLUM FONDEN
+45 29 66 70 86