The application volume amounted to approximately €146 million, of which around 48% percent came from the natural sciences and technology, 29% from biology and medicine, and 23% from the fields of humanities and social sciences. The eight funded projects, two of which are led by women, come from a wide variety of disciplines and will each receive up to €1.2 million in funding. The FWF START Awards are aimed at up-and-coming researchers, giving them the opportunity to plan their research in the long term and with a high degree of financial security.
The new START Award winners at a glance
Understanding how aquatic microbes affect the climate
Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science, University of Vienna
Microorganisms in aquatic ecosystems continuously produce the greenhouse gas methane, then consume it. The environmental microbiologist Barbara Bayer wants to find out exactly which processes are behind this, and how the overfertilization of lakes and oceans influences the natural methane cycle. In her START project, she will be quantifying methane production in surface waters and identifying which microorganisms are involved. One goal is to gain a mechanistic understanding of how over-fertilization of aquatic ecosystems affects the processes of the natural microbial methane cycle.
Barbara Bayer is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science at the University of Vienna, where she studied biology and ecology. In 2019, she received her PhD from the Department of Limnology and Bio-Oceanography at the University of Vienna and then worked for two years as a research fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Exploring how skin cells interact with each other
Stephanie J. Ellis
Max Perutz Labs, University of Vienna
Cell and developmental biologist Stephanie J. Ellis investigates how skin cells keep tabs on the “fitness” of their neighbors and weed them out if necessary. The principles behind this quality control process are not yet fully understood. In her FWF START project, she aims to clarify why some cells of a cell colony perish while others survive. Using skin as a model organ, Ellis wants to investigate what differentiates evolutionarily “fit” cells from their less fit neighbors. She will be applying groundbreaking new technologies in her research.
Stephanie J. Ellis completed her PhD in cell and developmental biology at the University of British Columbia in Canada in 2014. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University in New York City until 2021 and has been awarded a Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) Grant, a New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) Fellowship, and the NIH Pathway to Independence Award. Since 2022, Ellis has been a junior group leader at the Max Perutz Labs in Vienna and teaches as an assistant professor at the University of Vienna.
Finding sense in mathematical noise
Institute of Analysis and Scientific Computing, TU Wien
Mathematician Máté Gerencsér studies a certain kind of mathematical equations called stochastic partial differential equations. These noisy equations and how their solutions behave are not yet fully understood. Finding their complete mathematical foundations and learning how to simulate them effectively using computers would not only advance mathematics, but could also help to further develop the mathematical understanding of other fields of science.
Máté Gerencsér works as an associate professor for Numerics of Stochastic Differential Equations at the Institute of Analysis and Scientific Computing at TU Wien. He first studied mathematics in Hungary at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest before receiving his PhD from the University of Edinburgh in 2016. After a brief stay at the University of Warwick, UK, he worked as a postdoc at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA).
Building bridges between the quantum realm and the everyday world
Institute for Integrated Circuits, University of Linz
Unlike conventional computers, quantum computers are based on the strange effects of quantum physics, which allow systems to assume different states simultaneously. But there is huge gap between the quantum realm and the everyday world. Richard Küng wants to bridge this gap. Quantum computers’ greatest advantage is also their main weakness: These systems work with information carriers based on the superposition effects of quantum physics, so-called qubits. But data processed in this way cannot be easily converted into a format readable by normal computers – or by humans. In his START project, the quantum computer scientist wants to use quantum information theory itself to fundamentally solve this readout problem, saving time and bit resources in the process. Building on this, artificial intelligences will learn to navigate the quantum world. Küng eventually wants to put his ideas into practice with future quantum computers.
Richard Küng is associate professor of quantum computing at the University of Linz. After his studies at the ETH Zurich and his doctorate at the University of Cologne, he spent several years doing research at the renowned Caltech in California before completing his postdoctoral thesis at the University of Linz. Küng works on efficient and simple solutions to information processing problems with conventional and quantum computers. He has received numerous awards for his research, including the Willi Studer Prize from ETH Zurich and the Cardinal Innitzer Prize from the Archdiocese of Vienna.
Leading the economy into a sustainable future
Institute for Comprehensive Analysis of the Economy, University of Linz
Conventional ideas of how the economy works are deeply embedded in universities, everyday life, and politics. However, they are often counterproductive for bringing about the transformation necessitated by the climate crisis. Socioeconomist Stephan Pühringer has set out to change this by taking an interdisciplinary research approach. In his START project, he will be identifying approaches for conceptualizing sustainability and socioeconomic transitions in science and economics. He also plans to analyze how an economic-based approach plays out in different fields and which stakeholders and power structures are involved in economic debates. To do so, he will be applying methods from the social studies of economics: network analysis, discourse and field analysis, and performative studies. A special focus of the project is on EU policy practices for socioecological transformation.
Stephan Pühringer is Deputy Head of the Institute for Comprehensive Analysis of the Economy at the University of Linz. After receiving his PhD in economics, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Cusanus University in Koblenz. Pühringer has already received a number of grants for his research activities, for example from the Chamber of Labour, the Otto Brenner Foundation, and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).
Rethinking Einstein's geometry
Faculty of Mathematics, University of Vienna
Mathematician Clemens Sämann wants to take a new approach to Einstein's theory of relativity. Together with his colleagues, he has found a way to apply metric geometry to general relativity, an approach that has not been considered before. The research could lead to new insights into the nature of black holes, for example. In his START project, he hopes to establish a new mathematical perspective on Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. He plans to use metric geometry, which until now has not been applicable to relativity theory, to describe space-time.
Clemens Sämann completed his PhD in mathematics at the University of Vienna in 2015, followed by his postdoctoral thesis in Vienna in 2019. He was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Vienna until 2022 and spent two years at the University of Toronto as part of the Austrian Science Fund’s Erwin Schrödinger program. Currently, Sämann holds a temporary position as Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford.
Pushing the boundaries of quantum theories
Faculty of Physics, University of Vienna
Physicist Marcus Sperling is investigating quantum field theory, a fundamental theory in physics. He is developing new mathematical methods to break down its most complicated aspects piece by piece. In the process, he wants to contribute to a fundamental understanding of our world. In his START project, he and his team are studying a large, representative subclass of supersymmetric quantum field theories and using them as a laboratory to lay the foundations for a more general quantum field theory. In so doing, the researchers will be using novel mathematical methods to systematically describe the ground states and symmetries in supersymmetric quantum field theories in various dimensions.
Marcus Sperling is currently conducting research on supersymmetric quantum field theories at the interface of physics and mathematics at the Shing-Tung Yau Center at Southeast University in Nanjing, China. After completing his PhD at the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz University in Hannover, he worked at the University of Vienna as a postdoc and then at the Yau Mathematical Sciences Center at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.
Getting a grip on group dynamics
J. Lukas Thürmer
Institute of Psychology, University of Salzburg
Psychologist J. Lukas Thürmer studies how groups work together. How are decisions made and problems solved collaboratively? And how do group dynamics change when individual members react unexpectedly or express criticism? Thürmer plans to use cutting-edge technologies to find the answers to these questions, which are at play whenever people cooperate with each other. In his START project, he plans to focus on the question of why groups often fail to make use of dissent, information, and criticism. He will be exploring the hypothesis that dissenting contributions are accepted only from individuals who demonstrate a clear intention to act for the good of the group. In the study, subjects will be presented with tasks and the resulting group dynamics will be recorded from multiple perspectives. The data will be analyzed using artificial intelligence with the aim of providing insights into the subtleties of teamwork.
J. Lukas Thürmer completed his PhD in psychology at the University of Konstanz and New York University in 2013. After positions in Pittsburgh and Göttingen as well as several international research stays, he is now head of the Political and Intercultural Psychology group at the University of Salzburg. In the course of his research, Thürmer has received several grants, including the prestigious ERC Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellowship from the European Commission, which he used to lay the foundation for his START project.
Get to know Austria's new START Award winners
Interviews with all START Award winners can be found at https://scilog.fwf.ac.at/