In addition to the Wittgenstein Award, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) also conferred this year’s START excellence awards. From a field of 102 applicants, the jury chose six researchers in a very competitive selection process.

The total amount of funding requested was approx. EUR 120 million, of which roughly 54% came from the “Natural Sciences and Engineering”, 28% from “Biology and Medicine”, and 20% from the “Humanities and Social Sciences”. The six winning projects, two of which are headed by women, 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.

The new START Award winners at a glance


Vienna University of Technology, Department of Theoretical Physics
“Black hole soft hair and celestial holography”

© FWF/Luiza Puiu

Laura Donnay is a physicist at Vienna University of Technology. She is interested in black holes, and more specifically in quantum effects near the event horizon. She has received several awards, including the Marie Skłodowska Curie Individual Fellowship of the European Union, through which she has been conducting research in Vienna since 2019. Before that, she was a postdoc at Harvard University. In her START project, Laura Donnay is investigating the new properties of black holes that she discovered for the first time. Read more on scilog.


Vienna University of Technology, Atom Institute
“Quantum optimization with an atom-light simulator”

© FWF/Privat

Julian Leonard is a physicist who is currently engaged in research at Harvard University in Boston. His area of research is quantum physics, and he specialises in strongly correlated quantum systems and quantum information. Over the next six years, START Award winner Julian Leonard wants to create a new kind of quantum computer that can be used to solve difficult problems in materials research—and faster than with conventional computers. Read more on scilog.


University of Vienna, Faculty of Mathematics
“Algebraic, analytic, dynamical properties of groups actions”

© FWF/Privat

Mathematician Yash Lodha’s area of research is group theory, and the focus of the START Award winner is mathematical symmetries. He wants to develop new foundations for the geometric and algebraic symmetry structures modelled by groups. Yash Lodha received his PhD from Cornell University in the USA in 2015. After his postdoc at EPF Lausanne in Switzerland, the Indian scholar was the principal investigator of a research project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) as well as a Research Fellow at the Center for Mathematical Challenges at the Korea Institute for Advanced Study in Seoul. Read more on scilog.

Hannes Josef MIKULA

Vienna University of Technology, Department of Applied Synthetic Chemistry
“Bioorthogonal cascade-targeting”

© FWF/Luiza Puiu

START Award winner Hannes Mikula is a chemist working at the intersection with biology. He wants to improve cancer therapy by delivering the drugs directly into the tumour cells. This would then mean that healthy cells are not attacked by the toxic substances and only cancer cells would be targeted for destruction. Hannes Mikula leads the “Molecular Chemistry & Chemical Biology” group at Vienna University of Technology. Mikula became interested in the intersection between chemistry and biology during his time as a postdoc at Massachusetts General Hospital of Harvard Medical School, which was funded by a Schrödinger Fellowship through the Austrian Science Fund. Read more on scilog.

Markus Hartmann MÖST

University of Innsbruck, Department of Ecology
“Eco-evolutionary dynamics - admixture and global change”

© FWF/Andreas Friedle

Markus Möst knows what water flea species and their hybrids can and must tell us about the interaction between evolutionary and ecological changes. Global change is a certainty, and ecosystems must be actively managed if they are to retain their functions. His goal is to develop a better understanding of the impact of global changes on water environments.  Markus Möst received his PhD from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology of ETH Zürich and then, thanks to a Schrödinger Fellowship funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), conducted research as part of the Butterfly Genetics Group in Cambridge, before returning to Innsbruck. Read more on scilog.

Katharina Theresa PAUL

University of Vienna, Faculty of Social Sciences
“Valuing vaccination: A multi-sited policy valuography”

© FWF/Stefanie Freynschlag

What is the importance of vaccinations in society? This question forms the basis of Katharina T. Paul’s research. The political scientist and START Award winner is analysing the criteria that politics, industry, science, and people use to make their vaccination decisions. Katharina T. Paul studied political science in Tel Aviv, Vienna, Essex, and Amsterdam. Afterwards, she worked as an assistant professor at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. She finally returned to Vienna in 2013 for a Lise Meitner Fellowship of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). Paul is currently teaching and conducting research in the Department of Political Science of the University of Vienna. Read more on scilog.

Get to know Austria’s new START Award winners

You can find interviews with all the START Award winners at

You can finda a picture gallery of the award winners here online.


Marc Seumenicht
Dep. Head of Communications, Spokesman | @FWF_at | @FWFOpenAccess

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