Three ERC Consolidator Grants for Delft researchers

News - 27 January 2017

Communication in soft materials

Dr Rienk Eelkema (Applied Sciences) will use his ERC Consolidator Grant to introduce communication into synthetic soft materials. ‘One of the primary processes used by living cells to react to changes in their environment is called “signal transduction”. This process starts with a certain signal that triggers enzymatic activity within the cell, which in turn leads to a cascade of cellular responses. Signal transduction is the way in which cells “talk” with one another, and it is the starting point for many processes in the human body.’ At the moment, synthetic materials don't have any communicative functions. They cannot respond to stimuli and signals in the way that cells do. Eelkema aims to equip so-called ‘soft materials’ – which can be anything from packaging material to adhesives – with signal transduction. In other words, he wants to make synthetic materials that can react to external signals autonomously.

The possible applications of smart soft materials are manifold. Imagine, for example, a packaging material that turns purple under a certain amount of pressure. Or tiny drug-carrying compartments that only release their therapeutic contents when they get close to an infection or a tumour.

Visit Rienk Eelkema’s personal web page at  

Multiphase flows

Dr Christian Poelma (3mE) was awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant for his research into multiphase flows. The OpaqueFlows project focuses on two-phase flows. ‘These flows consist of a fluid containing suspended particles or droplets; examples include blood, milk, and slurries. Although these flows are abundant in nature and industry, they are currently poorly understood and difficult to model. This is because these flows are opaque and current optical measurement techniques cannot see through them. Very little experimental data is therefore available.

In this project, four new imaging techniques that can see inside these flows are combined. When applied to a series of benchmark flows, they each provide a different view. Combining these views gives unprecedented insight into the interaction between flows and particles. This will enable us to formulate and validate efficient models for engineering applications.’

Visit Christian Poelma’s personal web page at  

Moral choice behaviour

Caspar Chorus (TPM) is the third Delft recipient of an ERC Consolidator Grant. ’The grant will be used for a research programme to extend discrete choice theory to the domain of moral decision-making. This is much needed because many choices people make have a moral dimension, while the morality of choice is not incorporated in current mathematical choice models. With this programme we expect to generate a major breakthrough in discrete choice theory and to generate new fundamental insights into the moral aspects of decision-making behaviour.’

Discrete choice theory provides a rigorous mathematical framework for analysing and predicting choice behaviour. While many of the theory’s key developments originate from the domain of transportation (mobility, travel behaviour), it is now widely used throughout the social sciences as well. However, discrete choice theory has a blind spot in terms of moral choice behaviour. The ERC grant will be used to model the morality of choice behaviour, and to make predictions regarding how interactions between people’s choices lead to moral standards in society.

For further background information, see also the article ‘Modelleren van moraliteit’ in TU Delta (only in Dutch).