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Eight IMM research groups awarded the IRP voucher 2022

Date of news: 28 June 2022

Eight IMM research groups have been awarded a voucher of €50,000 (to each project) on an interdisciplinary research project in the field of Green Information Technology, Machine Learning in the Natural Sciences or Experimental Laboratories in Life Sciences. The project teams will receive the sum as part of the faculty voucher arrangement of  the Interdisciplinary Research Platform (IRP). The vouchers were presented during a celebratory gathering on Tuesday 28 June in the Huygens building.


The IRP vouchers of 2022 are awarded to:

Neuromorphic computational and data science: towards disruptively green computing

Modern computing systems consume large amounts of energy, reaching seven percent of the global electrical energy production today. Machine learning pipelines, especially the use of deep learning, are boosting the demand for computation at a pace that doubles every two to three months. Several applications in particle physics and computational condensed matter physics dramatically illustrate the need for a paradigm shift in hardware design that leads to a faster, more energy efficient and scalable computation technology. Neuromorphic computing hardware offers great potential for such a disruptive transition. With this project, we will demonstrate the feasibility of computing tasks that are practically impossible with non-neuromorphic hardware, by optimising specific physics use cases on standard hardware and comparing with the implementation on low-precision neuromorphic devices. We will also demonstrate the scaling for both hardware situations and identify the regime where neuromorphic hardware becomes disruptive.

  • Main applicant: Johan Mentink and Theo Rasing (IMM)
  • Research institutes involved: IMM en IMAPP
  • External parties: SURF, IBM, University of Twente

VOCSENSE: Towards smart soil sensing to expedite the transition to a greener agriculture

With a growing population, soil health is increasingly important. However, past land use intensification, including fertilizer and pesticide use has significantly aggravated soil biotic diversity and functioning. Emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from soil could be promising to monitor soil biological health. The unique profile of soil VOCs can be linked to soil microbial community composition and concurrent soil biological health. The current challenge is to link VOC profiles to soil health parameters that can be used by farmers. The VOCSENSE team will deliver step-change research on the fundamental relationships between soil biodiversity, VOCs and soil health parameters, to guide farmers in sustainable decision making.

  • Main applicant: Rosa Boone
  • Research institutes involved: RIBES, IMM (Joris Meurs, Simona Cristescu)
  • External party: OnePlanet

Shining light on the dark matter of cell biology

The quantification of material properties of intracellular condensates, i.e. membrane-less organelles, and other intracellular structures is one of the biggest challenges in modern cell biology. Measurement of these properties is essential, as it is linked to various diseases. With this project we will trap and manipulate condensates in living cells with the goal to extract a comprehensive set of material properties. These properties include responses to active deformation, which is relevant for their behaviour in the active cellular milieu. The project will establish a pipeline that can be applied to many different systems. We envision future applications not only for other intracellular structures, but also tissues and organoids.

  • Main applicant: Jorine Eeftens
  • Research institutes involved: RIMLS, IMM (Evan Spruijt)

Essential oils as green pesticides for sustainable agriculture

The use of synthetic pesticides helps to maintain crop yields but their use has detrimental effects on ecosystems and human health, and has led to resistance to pathogens. Therefore, alternative plant protection strategies are urgently needed. Essential oils (EOs), i.e. aromatic, volatile liquids obtained from plant material, could be an excellent alternative to such pesticides, as they are environmentally friendly, biodegradable and have a broad spectrum of activity against plant pathogens, including oomycetes and fungi. The effectiveness of EOs is mainly due to triggering resistance pathways within the host plant. Using downy mildew infection in grapevine as a case study, this project aims to understand how to induce plant innate immunity through EO application, use this knowledge to support environmentally friendly viticulture and develop products for use in the field.

  • Main applicant: Janny Peters
  • Research institutes involved: RIBES, IMM (Simona Cristescu & Paul Kouwer)
  • External parties: Domein Aldenborgh, Maastricht University

Towards a chemical self-organizing computer: Mathematical modeling of Marangoni flows

Sensing of bio-molecular input in diagnostics typically involves single-use devices, or complex instrumentation that relies on electronics. Novel computational mechanisms, featuring the interplay of chemical and hardware properties, open more energy- and feedstock-efficient pathways to process molecular information into material-based responses. In this project, we aim to mathematically model an autonomous system that can be trained to recognize different classes of complex, multidimensional chemical information and produce self-organizing structures on a two-dimensional substrate. The model will predict the Marangoni flow patterns amongst a two-dimensional array of sources and receivers, controlled by geometric and chemical external parameters. By using machine learning in this system, we will be able to map the emergent changes back to quantitative information about the input, demonstrating the principles of a sensing device.

  • Main applicant: Vanja Nikolić
  • Research institutes involved: IMAPP, IMM (Peter Korevaar)

Expanding the molecular toolbox for the detection of active microorganisms in complex communities

Microorganisms are vital to sustain life on Earth and are found virtually everywhere. However, only a fraction of them is in a metabolically active state. Thus, besides ‘who is there?’ major questions for microbiology research are ‘who is metabolically active?’ and ‘what are they doing?’. As differentiating between active and inactive cells within a population is challenging, and linking function to identity in the absence of isolates even more so, this project will identify and develop promising clickable building blocks or substrate analogues to expand the molecular toolbox for (environmental) microbiologists. We will then apply these novel activity-based labelling techniques to understand the role of individual microorganisms in nitrogen removal from our water to safeguard our health and the environment.

  • Main applicant: Sebastian Lücker
  • Research institutes involved: RIBES, IMM (Kim Bonger & Bob Ignacio)

Hydrazine production from wastewater using the hydrazine synthase enzyme from anammox bacteria and a novel stomatocyte compartementalization strategy

Large scale anthropogenic input of nitrogen into the environment, mainly through fertilizers used in agriculture, has caused water eutrophication, contributed to global warming, and led to disturbance of the global nitrogen cycle. The EU has been implementing increasingly stringent directives to prevent the discharge of reactive nitrogen species to the environment. More stringent emission standards are also applied to wastewater treatment facilities. Anammox bacteria recycle the reactive nitrogen species ammonium back to harmless dinitrogen gas and can thereby remove fixed nitrogen from natural and manmade ecosystems and balance the disturbed nitrogen cycle. In the meantime, they produce hydrazine - a valuable commercial product used, among others, as blowing agent, antioxidant, and rocket fuel - as a free metabolic intermediate. By using the hydrazine synthase enzyme from anammox bacteria and encapsulating it with a novel stomatocyte compartmentalization strategy, this project could lead to a new biological hydrazine production green technology from wastewater nitrogen species.

  • Main applicant: Laura van Niftrik
  • Research institutes involved: RIBES, IMM (Daniela Wilson, Béla Berking  en Moussa Boujemaa)
  • External party: Paques

Scent of killer: do malaria parasites produce and sense organic volatile compounds?

Despite decades of elimination efforts malaria remains one of the deadliest infectious diseases worldwide. Malaria is caused by unicellular, eukaryotic parasites, which have a complex life cycle. Communication between parasites and between the parasite and its hosts could be exploited both for intervention and diagnostic purposes, and very few molecules involved in such communication have been identified. This project explores the relevance of volatile compounds in the biology of malaria parasite. Do volatile compounds influence parasite growth, development or gene expression? Success of this project could offer exciting new opportunities for the development of breath-based diagnostic devices for malaria.

  • Main applicant: Richard Bartfai
  • Research institutes involved: RIMLS, IMM  (Simona Cristescu, Floris Rutjes)
  • External parties: TRopIQ, Radboud University Medical Centre

We warmly congratulate all of the awardees.