Shaping the research of the future: 22 Villum Young Investigators

This year, 22 research talents from the technical and natural sciences will receive a combined total of DKK 126 million through VILLUM FONDEN Young Investigator Programme. The researchers will use the grant to pursue their ideas and develop their own research groups at five Danish universities.


In the (research) vernacular, the Villum Young Investigator Programme is called YIP. The programme is aimed at early career researchers so that they can create the best possible framework for pursuing the ideas they are passionate about. The grants are used to develop research groups and hire more young researchers (postdocs and PhD candidates) to help carry out the research projects, among other things. As part of the programme, the researchers will have the opportunity to be part of a research community with networks and seminars on issues such as research management.

VILLUM FONDEN will be open for applications to the programme from 29 March - 8 June 2023. Read more about the programme

What the new Villum Young Investigators have in common is excellent research and an affiliation with a Danish research institution:

“With the Villum Young Investigator Programme, we are supporting universities’ development of research environments at the highest international level by attracting and retaining talented young researchers from Denmark and abroad. The recipients are outstanding researchers, and I’m pleased to see that the universities are providing many of them with good career opportunities with tenure track positions,” says Thomas Bjørnholm, Executive Chief Scientific Officer of VILLUM FONDEN.  

Since 2012, the programme has supported a total of 222 research talents with a total grant sum of over DKK 1.5 billion.

From plants to stellar streams

The contributions from this year’s grantees to the technical and natural sciences range widely – from quantum computing to stellar streams from distant galaxies.

Several of the projects have a focus on sustainability. In one of the projects, the researcher will take the temperature of plants in the Arctic to investigate how they are affected by and affect climate change. Another project will explore how to teach robots to design and build material-efficient structures, drawing on sophisticated construction methods found in nature. And a third project works with the electrochemical production of renewable chemicals.


The new Villum Young Investigators will be celebrated at VILLUM FONDEN’s presentation of the Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award in Science and Technology, taking place on 23 January – the birthday of Villum Kann Rasmussen (1909-93), founder of the foundation. The Annual Award 2023 is going to chemistry professor Donald Canfield – read more in the news article: Primordial ocean explorer receives Annual Award.

The eye of the needle

VILLUM FONDEN received 98 applications for the programme. The 22 researchers who made it through the eye of the needle have been through a process of academic evaluation and interviews with the foundation’s scientific committee, as well as final approval from the board of the foundation.

The gender distribution between applicants was 75% men and 25% women, while the distribution among grantees is 54% men and 46% women.

Meet the 22 Villum Young Investigators

The new Villum Young Investigators are based at the University of Copenhagen, the Technical University of Denmark, Aarhus University, the University of Southern Denmark and the IT University of Copenhagen.

Meet the new Villum Young Investigators in the video.

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

Carsten Baum
Technical University of Denmark, DTU Compute, DKK 6m


QUID-PRO: Quantum-safe Information Distribution for Cryptographic Protocols

Cryptography protects private information at rest or in transit through computer algorithms. These algorithms use so-called private keys to achieve protection. The QUID-PRO project investigates how to safeguard cryptographic keys against hacking attacks, for cryptography that is secure against quantum computers. The research outcomes will make modern and future cryptography more secure. The project will involve the hiring of two PhD students as well as one postdoc.

Corina-Gabriela Ciobotaru
Aarhus University, Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, DKK 6m


Limits of geometries over the p-adic numbers

At the root of scientific evolution, classifying all possible geometries of a given object and exploring all possible transitions between them are crucial. Often, geometries are modeled over our usual number system, the real numbers. Instead, my project will focus on geometries modeled over the p-adic numbers, where p is a prime number and the digits used are from 0 to p−1. Those are central in number theory, algebraic geometry, representation theory. The grant will fund one PhD student and one postdoc.

Radu-Cristian Curticapean
IT University, Department of Computer Science, DKK 3m


Beyond exact counting: Approximation and symmetry

This project in theoretical computer science studies the resources required to solve computational problems. The focus lies on problems that ask to approximately count certain mathematical structures (think of determining the number of solutions to Sudoku puzzles) and on problems with inherent symmetries (think of the polynomial x² + y², where x and y can be interchanged without changing the polynomial). This grant will allow for the recruitment of two postdocs to study such problems.

Desmond Elliott
University of Copenhagen, Department of Computer Science (DIKU), DKK 6m


Language Modelling from Pixels

Natural language processing plays an increasingly important part of our digital lives but it works best for high-resource languages due to the amount of data needed to train models. This project will create new models that can process any language rendered in an image, based on the insight that written languages share visual similarities, resulting in high-quality models for thousands of languages. This grant will fund two PhD students, one postdoc, and equipment.

Jose María Ezquiaga
University of Copenhagen, Niels Bohr Institute, DKK 8m


Exploring the uncharted Universe with Gravitational Waves 

Our Universe is still, mostly, a mystery, with 95% of its content made of unknown dark energy and dark matter. This project will exploit the recently discovered gravitational waves – ripples in space and time produced by extreme gravitational systems like colliding black holes – to open unique opportunities to measure the Universe’s expansion in uncharted regions, map the unseen dark matter and test Einstein's gravity. This grant will fund the recipient, one postdoc and one PhD student.


Pourya Forooghi
Aarhus University, Department of Mechanical and Production Engineering, DKK 6m


Heat and bubble transport over complex solid surfaces

Green hydrogen production is an example of gas-producing electrochemical systems, in which accumulation of gas bubbles on complex solid surfaces, e.g. solid foams, leads to serious loss of efficiency. The project aims to generate fundamental knowledge on the behavior of non-isothermal bubbly flows in solid foams and develop modeling tools essential for the design of such systems. The grant will allow the recruitment of one PhD student, two postdocs and purchasing of equipment.

Bitten Gullberg
Technical University of Denmark, DTU Space, DKK 5,5m


Exploring the infLuence of the Local envIronment on the Production of Stars In Starbursts (ELLIPSIS) 

ELLIPSIS will study the most extreme star-forming galaxies in the history of the Universe. These dusty ‘starburst’ galaxies produced stars ca. 10-100 times faster than the Milky Way and dominated the star formation at cosmic noon. Starbursts are difficult for simulations to reproduce, and their roles in the evolution of galaxy are still unknown. By measuring the physical parameters of starbursts, ELLIPSIS will answer fundamental questions about the formation of stars at cosmic noon. The grant will fund one postdoc and two PhD student.

Sofie Marie Koksbang
University of Southern Denmark, Department of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy, DKK 6m


Observational effects of big and small structures in the universe 

The best model we have of the Universe only accounts for the nature of 5% of the Universe’s content, and predictions from this model are in increasing disagreement with observations. This project aims at identifying to what extent the structures of the universe – from tiny dark matter particles to huge galaxy clusters – can account for the disagreements as well as shed light on the nature of the unknown 95% of the content of the Universe. The grant will fund two PhD students and the recipient. 

Deming Kong
Technical University of Denmark, DTU Electro, DKK 6m


Digital Optical Neural Network Processor (DONN)

Deep learning – the state-of-the-art approach to artificial intelligence – calls for the introduction of highly efficient computing hardware. The DONN project will investigate and develop a new class of digital computing hardware that merges the best of integrated photonics and electronics to accelerate deep learning applications with light speed and high precision. The grant will fund one PhD student, one postdoc, and exchange with international collaborators.

Elishevah van Kooten
University of Copenhagen, Globe Institute, DKK 8m


Extra-terrestrial proxies for icy pebble delivery towards a habitable Earth

How and when did our young Earth get its necessary ingredients to kick-start the emergence of life? My research project will tackle this question by investigating meteorites and their components as the building blocks of the Solar System. I will look at life-essential water- and organic-rich matter within meteorites and determine their origin, transport and delivery to the rocky planets. The grant will allow the recruitment of a PhD student, a postdoc and the purchase of new equipment.

José Victor Moreno Mayar
University of Copenhagen, Globe Institute, DKK 3m


Reconstructing the evolution of human oral microbiome taxonomic and metabolic profiles using DNA from ancient chewed plants

We will retrieve DNA from ancient 'quids'—chewed plant material resembling present-day snus—found in archaeological sites. The aim is to reconstruct the biological functions that were present in the quid chewers' oral microbiome, infer the bacterial species that carried out those functions and trace how oral microbiome taxonomic and metabolic diversity evolved in the Americas throughout the last 15,000 years. The grant will fund a PhD student, a postdoc and the data generation.

Maria Montanucci
Technical University of Denmark, DTU Compute, DKK 5,5m


Algebraic curves in information theory: a treasure yet to discover

Error-correcting codes ensure reliability in e.g. satellite communication and cloud storage. They have been constructed using known algebraic curves since 1980. What if instead of using known curves, one develops the theory to create those curves that give the best error-correcting codes? This question will be investigated by a multidisciplinary team in two applications: locally recoverable and maximum rank distance codes. The grant will allow the recruitment of two postdocs and one PhD student.

Naia Morueta-Holme
University of Copenhagen, Globe Institute, DKK 3m


DORA: Drivers of biOdiversity change through Resurveys in the Anthropocene

Understanding what drives biodiversity change – from genes to species communities and across ecosystems – is essential to make robust predictions and effective conservation actions. The project will use historical biodiversity data, museum genomics, and field resurveys to reconstruct changes in plant communities and genetic diversity the past century. The grant will fund two postdocs and reveal the ecological and evolutionary impacts of human-induced environmental change around the world.

Battulga Munkhbat
Technical University of Denmark, DTU Electro, DKK 3m


Efficient single-photon emission from novel quantum light sources on a chip

In optical quantum computing, the quantum bits are encoded on single indistinguishable photons generated from single-photon sources. The project aims to develop a key component of optical quantum computers – a highly-efficient single-photon source – by overcoming fundamental and technological challenges. This source will feature the efficient generation of highly indistinguishable single-photons coupled into an on-chip waveguide. The grant funds one postdoc, operating expenses, and equipment.

Roberto Naboni
University of Southern Denmark, Department of Technology and Innovation (ITI), DKK 6m


Bio-Inspired Behavioural Additive Construction: Teaching Robots How to Build Like Nature

Nature has evolved sophisticated construction methods for millions of years, building highly sustainable structures with minimal use of computational and material resources. Learning from biological species that 3D print their shelters, this project discovers the behavioural principles of Nature´s additive construction and establishes a new paradigm where architectural robots autonomously design and build material-efficient structures. The grant funds two PhD students, one postdoc, and equipment.

Daesung Park
Technical University of Denmark, DTU Energy, DKK 8m


Defect-Induced Symmetry Breaking in Centrosymmetric Oxides for High-Efficiency Energy Conversion (SYMTEC)

There is a fundamental principle that the crystal structure of materials for two important energy conversion properties (piezoelectricity and pyroelectricity) should not be centrosymmetric. SYMTEC will extend the range of energy materials and explore the effect of defect-mediated symmetry breaking in otherwise forbidden crystal symmetries. This will lead to new fundamental science and future possibilities for new energy applications. This grant will fund the recipient and two PhD students.

Paula Sebastián Pascual
University of Copenhagen, Department of Chemistry, DKK 6m


Electro-synthesis of model Nano-Catalysts for the production of renewable chemicals (EleNa)

Electrochemistry is key in replacing fossil fuels with clean energy sources. In this project, we will use green ionic liquids to synthesize new metallic nanoscale catalysts to produce renewable chemicals electrochemically. We will tune the number and geometry of the catalyst active site positions to selectively convert the carbon dioxide into liquid fuels and oxidize biomass-derived compounds into chemicals for industry. The grant will fund the recipient, two postdocs, and one Ph.D. student.

Sarah Pearson
University of Copenhagen, Niels Bohr Institute, DKK 8m


Decoding Dark Matter - with Stellar Streams Beyond the Milky Way

Stellar streams form when tidal forces from galaxies tear smaller systems apart into thin structures that orbit those galaxies for billions of years. In this project, my group will use the wealth of upcoming stellar stream data from other galaxies as astrophysical tools to decipher the nature of dark matter, which makes up more than 80% of the matter in the Universe. The grant will foster collaborations between Denmark and the US, and will allow for the recruitment of two PhD students. 

Jo Philips
Aarhus University, Department of Biological and Chemical Engineering, DKK 6m


Some-like-it-low: Microbial H2 consumption at low levels as explanation for electrotrophy

Electrotrophs are microbes with the extraordinary capacity to feed on steel and electrodes. This project will unravel the mechanism of electrotrophy by investigating if low levels of H2 act as an intermediate in this process. Some-like-it-low will generate new fundamental knowledge, which will contribute to the development of microbial electrochemical technologies, as well as tools to overcome microbial corrosion. This project will fund one PhD student, one postdoc and an international collaboration.

Erwin Schoof
Technical University of Denmark, DTU Bioengineering, DKK 3m


Revolutionizing spatial multi-omics through advanced sample preparation strategies

The properties of multicellular organisms, tissues and organs are defined by a complex interplay of individual cells, which operate in three-dimensional environments. This project aims to develop technologies that enable joint analyses of both RNA and proteins from single cells, while retaining spatial information about their in vivo localization. This grant will allow the recruitment of a research assistant and PhD student.

Jing Tang
University of Copenhagen, Department of Biology, DKK 8m


Plant temperature-regulated Arctic responses and feedbacks to the changing climate

The Arctic is experiencing amplified warming and increased heatwaves. It is essential to understand how plants cope with these fast-changing thermal conditions and alter their impact on the climate. This project integrates in-situ and satellite observations, laboratory experiments, and mathematical modelling to elucidate the fundamental role of plant temperature in several plant processes and regional climate. The grant will fund the recipient, 1 PhD student and 2 postdocs.

Saulius Vaitiekenas
University of Copenhagen, Niels Bohr Institute, DKK 6m


Synthesis and Exploration of Unconventional Superconductivity

Superconductors have the potential to transform the energy industry fundamentally. The applications range from efficient power networks to revolutionary sensing technologies. The aspect keeping experimental physicists up at night is the ever-growing variety of superconducting materials and their unique quantum properties. The grant will allow recruiting a postdoc and a PhD student who will synthesize and explore microscopic hybrid superconductors by pioneering novel quantum-sensing techniques.

Press photos

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

Download the press photos and video with the Villum Young Investigators 2023. 

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

Michel M.H. Kristensen
Senior Adviser, Head of Programme, VILLUM FONDEN
+ 45 29 41 78 89