ERC grant
ERC grant

Three extra ERC Advanced Grants for Radboud-researchers

Scientists Andrei Kirilyuk (Faculty of Science), Ronald van Rij (Radboudumc) and Nico Sommerdijk (Radboudumc) have been awarded an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to extend their research. Earlier this year Bas van de Meerakker en Jan Hendriks also received an Advanced Grant.

Andrei Kirilyuk: INTERPHON

For almost two millennia people are looking for the philosophers' stone, dreaming to be able to change material properties at will. While turning lead to gold might just have become a reality, even though only a few atoms at a time, in a broader sense we are still very far from this. To make this dream come true, with INTERPHON Kirilyuk challenges the existing ideas and understanding of the interactions between light and matter, developing a research area at the junction of nonlinear optics, phononics and ultrafast magnetism, and aiming at ultrafast and energy-efficient manipulation of materials by using the crystal lattice as a mediator. Thus, glass can be made into a magnet; antiferromagnets to ferromagnets, paraelectric into ferroelectric, by exciting matter with long-wavelength light.

Kirilyuk: 'This fundamentally new approach to steering magnetic and electric order by ultrafast excitation at the frequencies of optical phonons has been made possible by my group’s latest work. It will involve a controlled deformation of the crystal lattice and is non-thermal (thus energy-efficient), precessional (hence ultrafast) and potentially universal (since the lattice is found in all crystalline materials).'

Interestingly, it does not involve any absorption of light by the very same phonons! Instead, light will communicate with matter in an interactive way, so that matter reciprocates by changing the very resonance used for excitation. To realize this, INTERPHON will develop novel research methods using short and intense pulses of an infrared-to-THz-range free electron laser. Therefore, gaining control over the microscopic crystalline lattice could actually be the key to realizing a phononic philosopher’s stone, capable of inducing ultrafast phase transitions and permanently switching macroscopic order.

When successful, this will strongly advance the frontiers of knowledge in both out-of-equilibrium physics of solids and nonlinear optics, with a potential for novel emerging technologies.

Ronald van Rij: How mosquitoes defend themselves against viruses 

The mosquito Aedes aegypti can transmit harmful viruses to humans, causing for instance dengue and yellow fever. Besides the transmission of viruses from mosquito to human, some viruses can invade the ovaries and eggs of female mosquitoes. In this way they are transmitted from mother to offspring and spread within the mosquito population. To do so, viruses must overcome the mosquito's immune response, resulting in an intriguing conflict between virus and mosquito that has not yet been studied. 

An important defense mechanism of mosquitoes against viruses depends on small RNA molecules. Van Rij and his team will map this small RNA-based defense, for example, by disabling this mechanism in mosquitoes and studying the course of infection. The researchers will also investigate whether viruses sabotage the defense to be transmitted more efficiently. Furthermore, they will explore whether it is possible to adjust the mosquito's defense to prevent virus transmission to humans. 

Ronald van Rij: 'In this project, we will use new genetic techniques to study how the defense against pathogens works in an important mosquito species. The project generates fundamental insights into virus-host conflicts and may offer new approaches to reduce virus transmission by mosquitoes.' 

Nico Sommerdijk: Dynamically visualizing aortic valve calcification 

Calcification of the aortic valve leads to severe heart defects. In this condition, changes appear in the structure and composition of the tissue in the valve outside the cells, the so-called extracellular matrix. Normally, this matrix provides strength and structure to tissues. It is still unknown why this structure changes, mainly because good methods to investigate this process are lacking. Consequently, there is currently no drug-based therapy available, and valve replacement is the only available treatment. 

Sommerdijk and his team will develop advanced electron microscopy methods to investigate how the disease changes the affected tissue, how this leads to calcification, and how the calcification develops. Sommerdijk will create a model of human aortic tissue on a chip. In this model, chemical and mechanical signals can be applied that precisely mimic how calcification occurs. The new transmission electron microscope at Radboudumc plays a crucial role in visualizing the calcification processes. This is the first electron microscope in the world specifically built to make biological processes visible at the nanoscale in a fluid. This project will thus provide the first dynamic imaging of aortic valve calcification. 

Nico Sommerdijk: 'This project enables breakthroughs in understanding the molecular processes in the matrix during heart valve calcification. It paves the way for future drug-based treatments for aortic valve calcification and potentially other forms of pathological calcification.' 

Contact information

For further information, please contact one of the researchers involved or team Science communication via +31 24 361 6000 or media [at] (media[at]ru[dot]nl).   

Molecules and materials, Laws of nature, Science