Six researchers awarded this year’s Villum International Postdocs

This year’s recipients of VILLUM FONDEN’s Villum International Postdoc grants are all excellent top research talents. The programme targets female researchers in the technical and natural sciences. 

The Villum International Postdoc programme is VILLUM FONDEN’s career kick-start programme for excellent female researchers in the field of technical and natural science. The programme was developed jointly with the Danish universities, to support researchers at the stage in the university research career path when large numbers of women are leaving science and technology at the Danish universities.

The new Villum International Postdocs are: Nataly Olivia Allasi Canales (UCPH), Rucha Anil Deshpande (DTU), Irina Iachina (SDU), Eliana Lozano (AAU), Jolanta Rieksta (UCPH) and Teresa Anna Steiner (DTU).

Gender Policy

VILLUM FONDEN supports the development of a diverse research environment in Denmark with a special focus on women in research. 

We are working to ensure that the gender balance among applicants and grantees as a minimum requirement matches the national gender balance. Read more in our Gender Policy

The six researchers have been selected as special talents by the universities, and subsequently academically assessed by VILLUM FONDEN’s working group for technical and natural sciences:

“This year’s Villum International Postdocs are all excellent researchers with great talent, high aspirations and an international outlook. We hope they can serve as role models for young people and future generations of technical and natural science researchers. Several of the recipients are engaged in working to create a green future for us all. Their research projects deal with sustainability in very different areas – from biodiversity and developing eco-friendly materials to climate-friendly plants and the use of new renewable energy sources,” says Jens Kann-Rasmussen, chair of VILLUM FONDEN.

The six researchers will receive grants totalling DKK 14.5 million.

Spider web holds the key

One of this year’s grantees is 30-year-old Irina Iachina from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at SDU. Irina does research into spider silk, which is incredibly strong, light and elastic. Her goal is to develop high-quality artificial spider silk that can replace other materials such as carbon fibre and polyester, which are not eco-friendly to manufacture:

“Spider silk is one of nature’s super materials. A thread is ten times thinner than a human hair, but has a strength comparable to steel. The silk is also made exclusively of proteins at room temperature, and is therefore an eco-friendly and strong alternative to many of the materials we use today. Unfortunately, it is impossible to obtain natural silk in industrial quantities, so we have to look at producing it artificially,” says Irina Iachina.

Women in research

The Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science’s reports show that there are relatively fewer women at Danish universities the higher up you go in the academic career. Although the proportion of women in the Danish research community is increasing, progress remains slow.

In the field of technical and natural sciences, gains in the proportion of women have been more limited than in other fields. This is already the scientific field where the proportion of women is lowest. See the report Danmarks Talentbarometer (only in Danish).

As part of the programme, all Villum International Postdocs must take an extended stay abroad, to ensure an international outlook and network. Irina Iachina is going to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in USA. She will work there with computer simulations to understand the spider silk production process, by simulating the formation of a spider’s silk fibre in its silk organ:

“The Villum International Postdoc programme makes it possible for me to realise my dream of doing research at MIT – one of the world’s top universities – without compromising my family life. The grant means that I can pursue my passion and form my own research group working with spider silk in Denmark. I hope I can help inspire more women and girls to choose a scientific education and career path.”

See this year’s Villum International Postdocs

Villum International Postdocs 2022 with chair Jens Kann-Rasmussen. Photo: Thomas Frandsen. Please credit VILLUM FONDEN: Download press photos. 

From left:

Eliana Lozano, AAU Energy, Aalborg University (DKK 2.2 million): 'Multi-layer modeling framework for e-refineries'

Rucha Anil Deshpande, DTU Nanolab, Technical University of Denmark (DKK 2.5 million): 'Compact metasurfaces for applications from nano-optics to superwetting'

Irina Iachina, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Southern Denmark (DKK 2.5 million): 'Artificial spider silk: A comprehensive modeling and applied study of the production of spider silk'

Teresa Anna Steiner, DTU Compute, Technical University of Denmark (DKK 2.3 million): 'Differential Privacy for String Algorithms and Data Structures'

Nataly Olivia Allasi Canales, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen (DKK 2.5 million): 'Improving global food security by tracing the origin, diversity and niche conditions of cultivated bitter potatoes'

Jolanta Rieksta, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen (DKK 2.5 million): 'IndiVOCtual - effects of within-species variation on biogenic volatile organic compound emissions from mountain birch'


Karen Skytte Larsen
Senior Adviser, Head of Programme, VILLUM FONDEN
+45 21 55 09 08