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The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded Starting Grants to Silke Allman, Jayne Birkby, Wouter van den Bos and Alfrid Bustanov from the University of Amsterdam (UvA). A Starting Grant is a personal grant of around 1.5 million euros that gives talented researchers the opportunity to conduct research for a period of five years.


The recipients

  • Silke Allmann (Life Sciences): Scentsitive nature: Green leaf volatile perception in plants and insects
    Plant leaves can emit large amounts of volatiles into the air. When attacked by insects, the composition of these blends changes markedly. It is well known that these changes affect not only the behavior of insects interacting with the plant but also the metabolism of the plant itself as well as its nearby competitors. However, how plants perceive these volatiles and generate a functional response is not known. Silke Allmann’s goal is to unravel the molecular mechanisms of volatile perception in both plants and insects.
  • Jayne Birkby (Astronomy): High Definition and Time-Resolved Studies of Exoplanet Atmospheres: A new window on the extreme diversity of the exoplanet zoo
    Jayne Birkby’s project focuses on studying the atmospheres of other worlds beyond our Solar System. She will use these to understand the processes that formed the incredibly diverse array of exoplanets that we see in the Milky Way. To do this, she will use multi-resolution spectroscopy to study the composition of exoplanets, time-resolved imaging to measure how long their days are and map out storms that pass across their surfaces, and high resolution spectroscopy to study the faint light that is reflected from other worlds. This last approach is key to preparing the next-generation telescopes (such as the Extremely Large Telescope in Chile) to hunt for signatures of life in the atmospheres of our nearest neighbour exoplanets, bringing us one step closer to answering the question: are we alone? 
  • Wouter van den Bos (Psychology): SOCIAL SMART: The Neural and Network Dynamics of Social Influence Across Adolescence
    For many important choices we make on a daily basis we rely on the input of others. But sometimes our choices are also influenced by the behaviour of others without us realising it. In this project Wouter van den Bos will investigate how, as we grow older, we become better at selecting information from our social environment to make good choices. He will study this in the context of existing social networks among teenagers. He will also look at the role brain development plays in this process.
  • Alfrid Bustanov (European Studies): The Muslim Individual in Imperial and Soviet Russia
    For European historiography, it is self-evident that diaries, correspondences, and other personal documents provide crucial insights not only in the way individuals thought about certain issues, but also into how the authors expressed their individuality, and how they saw their active role in history. In the historiography of Muslim societies, expressions of individuality are rarely ever problematised; the individual is often seen merely as part of a faith community, and the writings of individuals are more often than not just treated as a source for factual information on Islam, politics, or broader social phenomena, not as an effort of personal self-reflection. Alfrid Bustanov analyses practices of individualisation in the personal archives of Muslims in Russia. He investigates how individuals engage with the Islamic tradition, with the demands of the state and the non-Muslim majority society, and also with other individuals.

Apart from these four UvA recipients, Oscar Versolato has also been awarded an ERC Starting Grant. Versolato is a group leader at the Advanced Research Center for Nanolithography (ARCNL), in which the UvA participates as a partner.