International top researchers to Denmark

11 recognised scientists have been chosen to become the next Villum Investigators. All of them have strong international experience, five of them come from abroad. Together, they will receive DKK 410 million for research projects ranging from climate to cybersecurity.

What began as a field of 80 applicants to become the next group of Villum Investigators has ended with the selection of 11 leading science and technology researchers who will now receive as much as DKK 40 million each over the next six years.

“The grants from VILLUM FONDEN are an important contribution to keeping Denmark at the leading edge as a research nation. The 11 investigators are doing their part to solve some of the biggest problems we face, and to help us understand ourselves and our world better. The grants make it possible to make major breakthroughs. This is a good example of how collaboration between universities and private foundations can raise the level of basic research and attract top-flight foreign scientists,” says Tommy Ahlers, the Minister of Higher Education and Science.

Five from abroad - six from Denmark

Yong P Chen, a physics professor and quantum materials expert from America’s Purdue University plans to conduct his research activities at Aarhus University, while Staffan Persson, who specialises in plant cell walls and cellulose, will move his research from the University of Melbourne to the University of Copenhagen.

The three other foreign Villum Investigators are currently affiliated with Danish universities.

They include: Josep M Guerrero, a Spanish engineer studying experimental electrical systems and renewable energy at Aalborg University; Guojie Zhang, a 37-year-old Chinese researcher who has been working on biodiversity genomics at the University of Copenhagen since 2012; and Eugene Simon Polzik, a Russian-born American quantum physicist affiliated with Danish universities since 1998, who will continue his research at the University of Copenhagen.

“If we are to strengthen Danish research and allow it to contribute to society’s continued development through knowledge and education, then universities must be able to attract and retain the brightest minds. It’s great to see that the Villum Investigator grants can help pull some of the world’s best scientists to Denmark and help us to retain those who are already here,” says Jens Kann-Rasmussen, chair of VILLUM FONDEN

Villum Investigator Programme

The Villum Investigator Programme was created for experienced and internationally recognised scientists who have the potential to make a significant contribution to developments in science or technology at a Danish university.

Villum Investigators can receive six-year grants of up to DKK 40 million. After a period, it is possible to apply again in competition with other applicants.

New Villum Investigators are selected every other year. The inaugural group was selected in 2017. The third will be selected in 2021.

The programme received 80 applications. Five applications were submitted by women.

28 applicants were shortlisted for peer review and interview. Three were women.

In addition to the five foreign scientists, six Danes have been selected as Villum Investigators.

This group includes three chemists from Aarhus University: Bo Brummerstedt Iversen, who conducts research in materials science using the new research infrastructure in Lund; Henrik Stapelfeldt, who studies molecular and chemical reactions using technologies based on laser pulses and electrical fields; and Karl Anker Jørgensen, a specialist in asymmetric chemical catalysis, who previously received the Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award for his work.

Also included amongst the new Villum Investigators is Lars Birkedal, a computer scientists at Aarhus University focusing on fundamental mathematically-based models and logics.

Carsten Rahbek, a biologist at University of Copenhagen and also a Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award recipient, has received a grant to fund his studies into macro-ecology and biodiversity.

From the Technical University of Denmark, Per Christian Hansen, a mathematician, will continue his work on inverse problems during his tenure as Villum Investigator.

“Each of the 11 excels in their field, and they all fulfil by far the requirements for being selected as a Villum Investigator. By combining intellectual curiosity, talent, experience and ability to bring together talented scientists, they have, managed to establish, develop and foster international research groups and make significant contributions to science and technology, and, by extension, to the world we live in,” says Thomas Bjørnholm, Executive Chief Scientific Officer with VILLUM FONDEN.

Villum Investigators 2019
  • Bo Brummerstedt Iversen, Department of Chemistry, Aarhus University, DKK 39.8m
  • Carsten Rahbek, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, DKK 40m (recipient of the Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award 2013)
  • Eugene Simon Polzik, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, DKK 30.3m
  • Guojie Zhang, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, DKK 40m
  • Henrik Stapelfeldt, Department of Chemistry, Aarhus University, DKK 30.2m
  • Josep M. Guerrero, Department of Energy Technology, Aalborg University, DKK 39.2m
  • Karl Anker Jørgensen, Department of Chemistry, Aarhus University, DKK 39.9m (recipient of the Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award 2000)
  • Lars Birkedal, Department of Computer Science, Aarhus University, DKK 35.4m
  • Per Christian Hansen, DTU Compute, Technical University of Denmark, DKK 34.9m
  • Staffan Persson, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of Copenhagen, DKK 40m
  • Yong P Chen, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Aarhus University, DKK 40m
People before projects

The Villum Investigator Programme is first and foremost concerned with the individual scientists, focusing on previous results and ability to build up internationally recognised research groups.

“The goal of providing long-term funding is to give investigators the freedom and the opportunity they need to concentrate on the research field they are most passionate about, hoping that it will result in breakthroughs and unexpected results,” Bjørnholm says.

As a philanthropic foundation, VILLUM FONDEN is uniquely placed to provide long-term funding for scientific research.

“It is our privilege to work with universities to provide funding that complements public funding for research and, in so doing, be a part of securing the future of Danish research by investing in top-flight research. We are able to do this because the employees in the commercial side of our organisation work hard every day. Thanks to them, we can give something back to society,” says Jens Kann-Rasmussen.

Villum Investigator Programme
  • The Villum Investigator Programme was created for experienced and internationally recognised scientists who have the potential to make a significant contribution to developments in science or technology at a Danish university.
  • Villum Investigators can receive six-year grants of up to DKK 40 million. After a period, it is possible to apply again in competition with other applicants.
  • New Villum Investigators are selected every other year. The inaugural group was selected in 2017. The third will be selected in 2021.
  • The programme received 80 applicants to be selected as part of the current group. Five applications were submitted by women.
  • 28 applicants were shortlisted for peer review and interview. Five shortlisted applicants were women.

Applications are reviewed according to international standards

First, the foundation’s research committee reviews all applications based on the programme’s terms of reference. The committee forwards a shortlist of candidates for selection to the foundation’s board.

Applications from shortlisted candidates are then evaluated by three independent peer reviewers. Applicants submit written replies to the peer reviews. Applicants are interviewed.

The committee makes its final nominations to the board based on candidates’ applications, peer reviews, written replies and interviews. The board makes the final decision about who is selected as a Villum Investigator.

Read more about VILLUM FONDEN’s grants to scientific and technological research here.

VILLUM FONDEN's working group on technical and natural sciences
  • Anja Boisen, professor, Department of Micro and Nanotechnology, Technical University of Denmark (VILLUM FONDEN board member)
  • Jane Clarke, professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge
  • Björn Ottersten, professor, Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust, University of Luxembourg & KTH Royal Institute of Technology
  • Guy Marin, professor, Laboratory for Chemical Technology, Ghent University
  • Christian S. Jensen professor, Department of Computer Science, Aalborg University (VILLUM FONDEN board member)
  • Poul Henrik Damgaard, professor, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen
Where does the funding come from?

As the primary shareholder, VILLUM FONDEN receives income from VKR Holding, which is the parent company of a number of companies involved with skylights and facade windows, including VELUX, DOVISTA A/S and Arcon-Sunmark A/S. 

Villum Investigators recognition ceremony, 2 May

A ceremony celebrating the selection of the new Villum Investigators will be held on 2 May at the VILLUM Window Collection, in Søborg, Denmark. Participating will be Tommy Ahlers, the Minister of Higher Education and Science and Jens Kehlet Nørskov, Villum Kann Rasmussen Professor, DTU.

For further information:

Thomas Bjørnholm
Executive Chief Scientific Officer, professor, VILLUM FONDEN
Phone: 
+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

Lars Arnskov Olsen
Senior Adviser, Head of programme, VILLUM FONDEN
Phone: 
+ 45 26 17 08 39
Signe Krabek
Communications Adviser, THE VELUX FOUNDATIONS
Phone: 
+45 20 49 68 69