FWF Wittgenstein 2020 Credit FWF LuizaPuiu 300dpi 19
© FWF/Luiza Puiu

In addition to the Wittgenstein Award, the Austrian Science Fund FWF also conferred this year's START excellence awards. From a field of 111 applicants, the jury chose seven researchers in a very competitive selection process.

The seven winning projects, five of which are headed by women, represent all disciplines and will receive funding of up to EUR 1.2 million each. Aimed at up-and-coming excellent researchers, the START programme enables them to pursue their research with long-term planning horizons and with financial security.

Meet the new START Award winners 

Interviews with the award winners can be found at scilog - FWF's online magazine.  


The new START Award winners at a glance

Alice Auersperg

University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna
Messerli Research Institute 

“Innovative use of tools in a parrot”

© FWF/Daniel Novotny

How did we come to start using objects as tools? In order to gain a better understanding of our own technical evolution, it is important to explore the reasons for tool use in animals. Comparisons with distantly related animal species that have similar abilities can supply very useful information. Although more than 300 million years of evolution separate us from the Goffin’s cockatoo, this bird can use and even craft specific tools on a level similar to higher primates. This project will investigate what triggers tool use in a non-primate in a comparative study and from several different perspectives. The aim is to develop a new model for the conditions that trigger the emergence of tool use.

Elisa Davoli

TU Wien (Vienna University of Technology)
Institute for Analysis and Scientific Computing

“Smart Materials: Geometry, Nonlocality, Chirality”

Tunable (or smart) materials are a special class of metamaterials that are responsive to changes in the external environment. Because of this property, they are considered to be the future of optical data processing, quantum information and next-generation technologies. The project aims to explore three fundamental questions: in what way is the effective material response of an intelligent material influenced by the geometric distribution of its components? How do non-local effects interact with time-evolving phase transitions and with the possible onset of microstructures? How do the chiral properties of an active metamaterial interact with its macroscopic tunability?

Gemma De las Cuevas

University of Innsbruck
Institute for Theoretical Physics 

“Universal spin models, Turing machines and neural networks”

© FWF/Dominik Pfeifer

The main goal of this project is to discover the relationship between universal spin models and universal Turing machines, as well as between universal spin models and universality in neural networks, and to explore implications thereof. This project will put classical spin models, machines and neural networks on the same level by establishing strict links between them and their concepts of universality. In this way, the underlying ideas, evidence, efficiency and limitations of these previously unconnected disciplines will cross-fertilise each other.

Robert Ganian

Vienna University of Technology
Institute of Logic and Computation 

“Parameterised Analysis in Artificial Intelligence”

A well-established paradigm for the fine-grained analysis of computational problems, parameterised complexity theory has been used very successfully in many areas of computer science, but it has clear shortcomings in basic research into artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). The goal of this project is to remedy this situation and develop a parameterised toolkit for AI and ML problems, and to establish a theory of parameterised sample complexity. In this way, the project will drastically improve our understanding of which AI and ML problems can be solved efficiently.

Julia Lajta-Novak

University of Vienna
Department of English and American Studies
“Poetry Off the Page: British Poetry Performance, 1965-2015”

© FWF/Daniel Novotny

The project investigates the significance of poetry performance in recent British literary history, taking into account the aesthetic and semantic potential of oral performance, alternative institutional structures, publication channels, career paths, presentation formats, styles and poetic genres that have emerged from the performance scene. The project will provide a prototype and toolbox for a new branch of historical-literary research beyond the British context. It will provide essential groundwork to establish poetry performance studies as an interdisciplinary field of research internationally.

Aleksandar Matkovic

University of Leoben
Department of Physics 
The Invincible Iron Talc: 2D Magnetic Layers”

© FWF/Sabine Hoffmann

After the discovery of graphene, the first two-dimensional (2D) material to be isolated, it took more than a decade to detect ferromagnetism in 2D materials, but only at low temperatures and with a lack of stability in air. In order to overcome these deficits, the project aims to study iron-rich talc crystals and layered hydroxides – rare minerals that were previously overlooked in the search for magnetic layered silica. On the basis of the insights gained, the researcher plans to synthesise magnetic silicate monolayers. The results are expected to lead to a breakthrough in the field of 2D magnetism and new applications ranging from data storage to biotechnology.

Birgitta Schultze-Bernhardt

Graz University of Technology
Institute for Experimental Physics 

“ELFIS - Electronic Fingerprint Spectroscopy”

© FWF/Sabine Hoffmann

Photochemical processes in which atoms and molecules form new compounds under the influence of light are of utmost importance for our life. Although UV radiation is particularly significant in the excitation of electrons at the beginning of a reaction, there is often a lack of spectroscopic information in this spectral range. Based on the latest developments in laser technology, ELFIS will improve absorption spectroscopy in this frequency range with an unprecedented combination of spectral and temporal resolution in the femtometer and femtosecond ranges. In this way the project expects to provide a new perspective on light-induced dynamics in molecules, which is of immediate relevance for both basic research and environmental sensing.

Pictures of the award ceremony can be found here here

Portraits of the START-/Wittgenstein prize winners can be found here


Marc Seumenicht
Deputy Head Communications, Spokesman
scilog.fwf.ac.at | @FWF_at | @FWFOpenAccess

Back to list view