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Published: 2023-06-27

IceLab receives large grant for interdisciplinary research

NEWS In fierce competition, Umeå University's IceLab has been awarded SEK 30 million in the Swedish Research Council's new initiative to support excellent research environments. The grant will be used for research into what happens when living systems are exposed to stress, such as how plants deal with drought or bacteria adapt to new environments.

Text: Sara-Lena Brännström

The Swedish Research Council received 124 applications from all scientific disciplines. 15 were granted – including one from Umeå University.

“The panel, which consists of experts on this type of centre formations, was very impressed by the quality of the project proposals. A high proportion of the applications was of exceptionally high quality”, says Mattias Marklund of the Swedish Research Council who led the design of the grant.

The five-year grant is a major step forward for Integrated Science Lab, IceLab for short, which aims to create bridges between traditionally separate research areas, such as mathematics, physics, ecology, plant physiology and molecular biology.

“When we read about the call, we felt this was for us. We try to bring researchers together across disciplines and see great benefit in collaboration,” says Martin Rosvall, Professor of Physics and Director of IceLab.

Now we can elevate the projects to the next level.

While writing the application, the researchers at IceLab wanted to find and define what is common to their research. The answer was that they all model what happens to living systems under stress.

“For example, plants exposed to drought or bacteria in a new environment; how do they cope? Or an ecological system brought out of equilibrium, what is the response? Normally, plant biologists look at plants, molecular biologists look at bacteria and ecologists look at their systems. These are parallel worlds, but many mechanisms are common and we often use similar methods. IceLab is one of the few environments that integrates expertise in experiments, network models and process-based dynamic models, which we believe is a key to understanding complex systems,” says Martin Rosvall.

Today, IceLab is a physical environment where bachelor and master students, doctoral students, postdocs and assistant professors conduct research together. It also organises IceLab camps for young researchers, IceLab lunch pitches and hackathons to bring researchers together. After ten years of building up IceLab, Martin Rosvall and his colleagues are very happy to have the opportunity to realise their visions.

“We have many ideas. Some we have been able to try with funds we have received in the past, but now we can elevate the projects to the next level,” he says.

About the Swedish Research Council’s excellence initiative

The idea behind the programme is to fund research environments that have great potential for ground-breaking research. Each research environment will receive 4–6 million SEK per year for five years, and the plan is to have the option of a further five years following evaluation.

The funding shall be used for long-term program activities, where researchers from different disciplines focus on a theme or a question. Around this, they will build up a centre for research and teaching activities. More focus will now be placed on the thematic idea and the organisation compared to previous excellence initiatives.

Read more on the Swedish Research Council homepage

About the project

The application Centre for modeling adaptive mechanisms in living systems under stress includes a team consisting of Martin Rosvall, Åke Brännström, Sebastian Diehl, Maria Fällman, Åsa Strand, Eric Libby, Ludvig Lizana and Kemal Avican.

In addition to securing funding for ongoing activities, the funds will be used to recruit two assistant professors and four postdocs, invite several guest researchers for longer stays in IceLab and establish a graduate school with regular workshops where international interdisciplinary researchers participate.

Read more about IceLab