Nieke Roos
21 February

In the first of two funding rounds coordinated by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), nine projects have been awarded a total of 140 million euros for the next ten years to set up or improve large-scale research infrastructure. The allocations cover different types of infrastructure, including a 14 T MRI system, instruments for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) and components for ESA’s Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (Lisa). The selection was made by an independent international assessment committee.

NWO research infrastructure
Credit: NWO

The Dutch National 14Tesla Initiative in Medical Science (Dynamic) aims to establish the first MRI system of this field strength in the world. The additional sensitivity combined with the improved ability to discern metabolite signals will offer scientists a powerful instrument for better characterization of a range of diseases and new insights into the workings of the brain. Led by Radboud University, the project is receiving 19 million euros to develop the system and set it up in Nijmegen.

With a mirror diameter of 39 meters, the E-ELT in northern Chile will be the largest optical infrared telescope in the world and is expected to make its first observations in 2028. Headed by the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA), the alliance of the astronomical institutes of the universities of Amsterdam, Groningen, Leiden and Nijmegen, the NL-ELT consortium is going to contribute to three developments: the mid-infrared camera-spectrograph combination Metis, the multi-object spectrograph Mosaic and the future Epics instrument to study Earth-like planets (links in Dutch). The project has been granted 18 million euros.

The Lisa gravitational wave observatory will revolutionize the understanding of how supermassive black holes grow and how the first inhomogeneities in the Universe’s structures came about after the big bang. In the GW Lisa/ET project, the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) and its partners are going to develop the photodiodes (the ‘eyes’) that detect the laser signals that have the gravitational waves imprinted on them and the mechanism (the ‘glasses’) that point the laser beams to the right spot in the sky. The consortium has been allotted 12 million euros.

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The other selected projects focus on a big-data-based infrastructure for digital twins of ecosystems, an advanced multi-center microscopy infrastructure, an innovative stem cell technology infrastructure for human organ and disease models, research capabilities for the efficient and safe use of Earth’s subsurface, an integrated infrastructure for observation, experiments and modeling of the river-to-coast system and a cloud-based infrastructure for safely and ethically linking and analyzing a large amount of data in the social sciences and humanities.

NWO gives high priority to large-scale research infrastructure. In collaboration with the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, a total of 200 million euros was made available in 2021, divided into two funding rounds. Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf raised the annual budget for the National Roadmap Large-Scale Research Infrastructure by 40 million euros last summer. This increase is part of the larger package of 10 billion euros for the next ten years to provide more peace and space for science.