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The winners of the 2017 Aarhus University Research Foundation PhD Award

Prizes to Five Promising Research Talents

This year the Research Foundation awards its PhD Prize to a group of promising PhD students for the 15th time. Here is a description of the five recipients’ interesting research results.

By Filip Graugaard Esmarch

This year five PhD students have been selected for the Aarhus University Research Foundation’s DKK 50,000 PhD Prize, which acknowledges highly remarkable efforts, both in research and in the communication hereof. And it is clear that each of the five recipient holds a talent out of the ordinary.

The selection of recipients has considered both the quality of the theses as well as the overall efforts of the researchers in the course of their training.

Consequently, we now know more about calculating the interaction of electrons, citizens’ views on the economy, the prevention of hay fever, the attachment mechanism of clams and fictionality in 18th-century novels. In other words, we are in the fields of quantum chemistry, political science, medical science, nanoscience and the science of literature.

Facts About the PhD Prize

  • The Aarhus University Research Foundation instituted its annual PhD Prize in connection with the university’s 75th anniversary in 2003.
  • Based on recommendations from the main academic areas the Graduate Schools at Aarhus University recommends a number of candidates for the prize, before the senior management team and the Research Foundation make the final recommendation.
  • All recipients have completed their PhD project in the previous year, in this case in 2016.

Simona Zetterberg Gjerlevsen

FICTIONALITY CREATED THE 18TH-CENTURY NOVEL
LITERARY RESEARCH

By defining the concept of fictionality, Simona Zetterberg Gjerlevsen has paved the way for a better understanding of the emergence of the novel as a genre and not least Danish 18th-century novels.

Simona Zetterberg Gjerlevsen has developed a new theory about fictionality, which has received recognition from researchers of literature. She uses the theory to pave the way for new views on Danish 18th-century novels.

‘Interpretations of the concept of fictionality have generally been either too narrow or too broad. It is more than just fiction. On the other hand, it will dilute the concept to say that we are dealing with fiction as soon as we have created something in one way or another’, she objects.

According to her own definition, it is about signalling the invention in the communication. This is seen in the very first novels, some of which have prefaces which, according to Simona Zetterberg Gjerlevsen, help reveal that the 18th-century novel was not just a further development, but a radical innovation.

‘It is the first genre to explicitly admit to being an invention. However, there is a clear element of hesitation in the prefaces of 18th-century novels. It simply is not clear at this point what kind of genre is being created’, says Simona Zetterberg Gjerlevsen, who now holds a postdoc position at the Centre for Fictionality Studies at Aarhus University.

Peter Sinkjær Kenney

NEW NOSE FILTER WILL SAVE YOUR SUMMER
ALLERGY TREATMENT

Peter Sinkjær Kenney has provided people around the world suffering from hay fever with an effective and clinically tested preventive drug.

When Peter Sinkjær Kenney first began studying medicine, he had an acquaintance who suffered from hay fever.

’I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur and start my own business. So I considered creating an alternative that would make it easier for pollen allergy sufferers to stay outdoors’, he says.

This made Peter Sinkjær Kenny found the company Rhinix ApS for the purpose of developing a nose filter preventing rhinitis, also known as hay fever. And three years later a newly developed nose filter became the subject of his PhD project. With the help of designers and engineers Peter Sinkjær Kenney created a filter with a frame made of thermoplastic elastomers, which adapts to the shape of the nose.

‘We conducted a two-week national applicability test, where 1,059 patients tested the product in their everyday lives to see how many would want to continue using the filter. Most would’.

Prior to the test, Peter Sinkjær Kenney had conducted a couple of controlled clinical trials, which also showed very positive results. The first version of the filter has now been put into production, and sales are growing. The company has been wound down, though, while Peter Sinkjær Kenny continues his education as a doctor in a practice position.

Janus Juul Eriksen

BASIC RESEARCH IN ITS PUREST FORM
COMPUTATIONAL CHEMISTRY

When Janus Juul Eriksen had to adjust an existing model for the interaction between electrons in a molecule, he discovered a new and better model.

‘If you solve the Schrödinger equation, you will be able to fully describe a molecule, its energy and other characteristics. But because the interaction between two electrons is so complex, there are no exact solutions to the equation in practice. We have to settle for approximations’, says Janus Juul Erikson, who together with his research team at Aarhus University and several international collaborators has developed new models for how computational chemists using computer programming can create very accurate approximations. Even using the largest computers, the calculations can be very time-consuming and therefore expensive.

‘We have shown that our models are significantly cheaper than the existing models and produce solutions of the same quality’, says Janus Juul Eriksen, who describes his work as basic research in its purest form.

Concluding his PhD project, he headed a study which provides a mathematical basis, not only for his own new models, but also for a number of existing models. Janus Juul Eriksen will continue his research in a postdoc position in Mainz in Germany.

Simon Frølich

Billede af Anders Trærup

NATURE’S DESIGN SECRETS UNEARTHED
Biological design

Simon Frølich has discovered the attachment strategy of Anomia clams. This may pave the way for the development of new, useful bio-inspired materials.

‘I am fascinated by all the things that are possible in nature. In some areas, materials found in nature are light years ahead of what we are able to do in the laboratory. For example, mother of pearl is beautiful, yes, but it is also incredibly strong. Considering their thickness, the shell is really hard to break’, says PhD in Nanoscience Simon Frølich.

Together with his research group he has developed advanced measuring methods for examining so-called biomineralised composite materials, which bones, among other things, are made of. The methods have also been implemented at Harvard University, where he spent a semester.

‘My own main project has consisted in understanding the attachment mechanisms of the Anomia simplex clam, which is a good example of a functional biological design that has not been studied in detail before. It gives us a new understanding of how a very stiff material and a very soft material can be attached to each other’, Simon Frølich explains.   

His discoveries are therefore not only interesting to marine biologists. They may also, for example, serve as inspiration for future methods for attaching implants to the human body.

Martin Bisgaard

POLITICAL VIEWS AND HOME ADDRESS AFFECT YOUR VIEW ON FACTS ABOUT THE ECONOMY
POLITICAL PSYCHOLOGY

Martin Bisgaard takes the temperature of democracy by studying how our views of the national economy are formed.

’It is vital to the functionality of a democracy that people are qualified to consider political questions critically’, Martin Bisgaard observes. And when it comes to main issues such as the national economy, studies have shown that people to a great extent are inclined to believe what they want to believe. Citizens who have voted for the government in power have significantly more optimistic views of the national economy.   

‘By studying data from Great Britain, among others, I have discovered that there is after all a limit to such post-rationalisation. When the voters get an unequivocal signal about the economy – concretely in the form of a financial crisis – they in fact agree that things are not going too well. But then they disagree on who is responsible for the financial situation’, says Martin Bisgaard.

In his thesis he demonstrates how not only political affiliation, but also the communication of politicians and citizens’ everyday experiences in their local area can affect their views of the economy.

Since finishing his PhD project, Martin Bisgaard has held a position as assistant professor in political science at Aarhus University.

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