FWF approves EUR 13m worth of projects that will foster innovative, interdisciplinary collaboration of outstanding young researchers

The Board of the Austrian Science Fund FWF has for the first time approved Young Independent Researcher Group projects at Austrian research institutions. The programme, which has been developed in conjunction with the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW), brings together Postdoc research talent for collaborative work in interdisciplinary creative teams. The Young Independent Researcher Groups are supported for up to four years, each group receiving on average EUR 1.9m in funding from the National Foundation for Research, Technology and Development (NFTE) and the FWF.

Strong interest, high share of women

In all, 58 project proposals were evaluated, with the largest group focussing on biology or medicine (47 per cent of proposals), followed by the humanities, social and cultural studies (33 per cent) and science and technology (20 per cent). A gratifyingly high share of nearly 46 per cent of project applicants were women, 30 per cent of them in leadership positions.

International research know-how

“Research and scientific work are carried out more and more by teams from different fields and institutions”, commented FWF President Klement Tockner, explaining that the Young Independent Researcher Groups programme is “a bold venture to promote new approaches and non-traditional forms of research collaboration to address challenging issues and work on the most exciting questions”.

The programme “stands for pioneering basic research facilitated by the collaboration of Austria’s best young minds from diverse disciplines”, elaborated ÖAW President Anton Zeilinger, adding that “this funding programme will open up new opportunities for young research talent. Moreover, researchers from different fields working together will be able to develop entirely new approaches and solutions. The projects, which were selected by an international jury, are clear evidence of this great future potential”.

Eligibility criteria and jury

The seven approved projects were selected on the basis of international expert opinions, the key criteria being scientific originality, innovation and cross-border collaboration. The jury, which is chaired by Gabriele Bammer, Professor of Integration and Implementation Sciences at the Australian National University (ANU), took its final decision at a meeting in Vienna in early December 2018. “Research organisations around the world are aware of the importance of combining insights from different fields to stimulate innovation and discuss complex social issues more efficiently. But the development of programmes to promote this research is still in its infancy. With its Young Independent Researcher Groups, the Austrian Science Fund FWF is pioneering a new model which other institutions may adopt as well”, said Professor Bammer.

The next round of calls for proposals is scheduled for spring 2019. Details will be published on the FWF website, starting in January 2019.

Research topics ranging from physics to genetics to archaeology

The new Independent Young Researcher Groups will explore a wide range of topics. A project from the field of physics and computer science will investigate the potential of light-activated stimulation of neurons to induce neuronal recovery. Two outstanding research projects focus on genetics and questions of RNA biology. High-dimensional statistical learning to advance economic and sustainability policies is at the centre of another two clusters of research topics. And finally, a research team will investigate the social, economic and religious role of the Artemis sanctuary in Ephesus and its impact across the ancient Roman Empire.

The seven Young Independent Researcher Groups in detail
(Listed in alphabetical order of team coordinators’ names)

(Epi)transcriptomic RNA modification in inflammation and host-microbiome crosstalk
Coordination: Florian Ebner, Medical University of Vienna
Partner: University of Vienna, Vienna Bio Center Core Facilities GmbH

Chronic inflammatory diseases impair the quality of life of more and more patients and are a growing burden on healthcare systems worldwide. The incidence of inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis has been on the rise for several decades, especially in the western world. These disorders are characterised by recurring inflammations of the gastrointestinal tract and are still incurable today. The project aims to investigate and uncover medically relevant aspects and implications of RNA editing in inflammatory bowel diseases, in the host-microbiome crosstalk and in immune homoeostasis.

Emergence of causal order in quantum theory and beyond
Coordination: Yelena Guryanova, Austrian Academy of Sciences

The notions of cause and effect are fundamental in physics and other natural sciences, but they have been frequently challenged since the birth of quantum theory. Recent experimental tests with elementary quantum systems, most notably Bell tests, radically challenge the very notions of physical reality and cause-effect relations. The project aims to investigate the notion of causality both in quantum theory and beyond to understand, among other things, how an arrow of time may arise in the framework of indefinite-order theories.

High-dimensional statistical learning: New methods to advance economic and sustainability policies
Coordination: Gregor Kastner, Vienna University of Economics and Business
Partners: Vienna University of Technology, Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO)

Recent years have seen a tremendous surge in the availability of data in huge quantities. These data sets are often too big, too complex and volatile, as well as insufficiently structured to analyse them using conventional data processing methods. The project aims at developing and implementing innovative, forward-looking methods of big-data analysis.

Bioorthogonal Stapling of RNA
Coordination: Hannes Josef Mikula, Vienna University of Technology
Partner: University of Vienna

RNA has become an important target for diagnostics and drug design because of its biological functions, enormous potential to regulate biological processes and association with various disorders. Several strategies have been developed to manipulate and detect RNA, but application of these strategies is still limited. The project aims at developing “programmable” chemical probes capable of selectively binding to a specific RNA sequence, followed by bioorthogonal ligation. This chemical reaction, which can be controlled in living systems, results in a firm bond, locking the probe onto the target RNA.

Business location competition and economic policy: Debates, institutions and everyday practices
Coordination: Stephan Pühringer, Johannes Kepler University Linz
Partner: University of Vienna

The concepts of competition and competitiveness have a central place in current political debates and serve as reference points for human activities in many areas. Against this backdrop, the trans-disciplinary research project aims to investigate how the economic logic of competition evolved historically in academic discourses and how it came to enter the political arena, public debate, and eventually our daily lives.

LOGOS-TBI: Light-controlled organic semiconductor implants in TBI treatment
Coordination: Muammer Ücal, Medical University of Graz
Partner: Graz University of Technology

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the term used for injury to the brain’s neuronal structures caused by the impact of external force. In recent years, electrostimulation of nerve cells has been tested as a way to make up for lost synaptic connections in the brain and stimulate the regeneration of neuronal networks. However, standard electrode stimulation techniques require extensive wiring of the patient or genetic brain modification. The project aims to develop a fundamentally new approach, using light-sensitive semiconductors (photocaps) to stimulate nerve cells.

Temenos and territory: The Artemis sanctuary in Ephesus, its economic power and social impact in the Roman Empire and beyond
Coordination: Lilli Zabrana, Austrian Academy of Sciences

The proposed project will investigate how the Artemision in Ephesus, one of the largest and best-known temple sites of antiquity, evolved and was transformed during the Roman imperial period, late antiquity and the following medieval periods. It goes beyond existing studies of the sanctuary by combining historical, archaeological, architectural and geographical data in a time-space-model that will yield new insights into the structure and socio-cultural impact of the Artemision.


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Leiter Öffentlichkeitsarbeit und Wissenschaftskommunikation

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