15 July 2022

Two brilliant nerds from SCIENCE receive NNF NERD grants

NNF NERD (New Exploratory Research and Discovery programme) supports the unorthodox and wild research ideas. This brings new knowledge within natural sciences or technology.

​​The NERD programme was launched for a three-year period in 2019 and will now be extended for another five years. What is special about the programme is that, in the first round of evaluations, the assessment Panel does not know the name or CV of the applicant. According to the foundation, this creates an increased focus on the idea and a possible bias is avoided.  Researchers can therefore apply with their most original ideas, which, if they are good enough, will be considered. A ceiling on how much money the researcher has previously received ensures that completely new researchers have the opportunity to throw their wild ideas into the pool. Two researchers at SCIENCE have done so successfully in this round.

-The feedback we have received for the NERD programme has been overwhelmingly positive. The research communities have especially expressed enthusiasm for the special selection criteria that counteract the accumulation of science barons and minimise bias through an innovative anonymised evaluation process. In addition, the researchers are very pleased with the long time horizon and the flexibility the programme provides. I am therefore very pleased that the Board of Directors of the Novo Nordisk Foundation has approved continuing the NERD programme for five more years with a grant amount of up to DKK 490 million. I am very much looking forward to following this research on the sidelines. says Lene Oddershede, who is Senior Vice President of NNF.

Selective chemistry on biomolecules

In his research, Christian Marcus Pedersen from the Department of Chemistry is inspired by nature's way of synthesising molecules, and in particular, how biomolecules are put together selectively and under mild reaction conditions.

The selective chemistry of biomolecules is central to biochemistry and can contribute to research within the health sciences. The natural world has developed its own machinery through evolution: Enzymes. However, when there is a need for new unnatural variations, there is a need for chemical synthesis, and this often creates a bottleneck, as selective reactions to complex biomolecules are complex.

Christian Marcus Pedersen
Christian Marcus Pedersen from Department of Chemistry recieves a NNF NERD Grant. 

-We're particularly fascinated by substitution reactions to biomolecules. In the NERD project, we will simplify chemical substitution and thereby make it available to non-chemists – ideally as a kit ready for the functionalisation of biomolecules.

Christian Marcus Pedersen explains that, in order to achieve this, they will develop catalytic substitution reactions and self-promoting functionalisation of biomolecules.  With the help of machine learning and automation, the chemistry will be optimised with a view to functioning in water.  The methods will range from the self-promoted synthesis of small anti-viral and anti-cancer drug molecules to the selective functionalisation of large biomolecules such as proteins.

The opportunity to make the method easy-usable

For Christian Marcus Pedersen and his research group, it is extremely important to receive the NERD grant. Especially for further research into self-promoting reactions and the functionalisation of biomolecules.

-We have been interested in these topics for a long time, but it is the first major grant we receive within this area. The project has evolved from being a study of an unexpected side reaction to being the development of a completely new way of functionalising carbohydrates under very mild conditions. With the NERD grant, we can now examine the chemistry in depth, and it is a clear goal to make it available to non-specialists.

It is Christian Marcus Pedersen's vision that this chemistry becomes available as a simple tool when you functionalising biomolecules outside the chemistry laboratory.

He receives DKK 13,653,739 from NNF for his project.

About NERD

The purpose of the NERD programme is to support original basic research within the natural and technical sciences, including but not limited to physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer science. The application must describe how the outcome of the project may have potential future applications in the health sciences, life sciences or sustainability.

Researchers at any career stage after obtaining the PhD degree are eligible to apply, although the applicant cannot have a grant portfolio as principal investigator exceeding an annual total of DKK 4 million.

The next NERD call is expected to be published in November 2022.