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Two researchers at LTH becomes Wallenberg Academy Fellows


Two young researchers, Kimberly Dick Thelander and Johan Malmström, at the Faculty of Engineering LTH, are among the first Wallenberg Academy Fellows. 25 young researchers have been selected to receive funding enabling them to focus on their projects and address difficult research questions over an extended period of time.

The researchers will be awarded up to SEK 7.5 million each, spread over five years. They will subsequently be eligible to apply, on a competitive basis, for another an additional five years of funding. The plan is to fund up to 125 young scientists for whom a potential total of SEK 1.2 billion will be available in 2012–16.

The programme has been initiated by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation in close collaboration with Swedish university vice-chancellors, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities and the Swedish Academy. The universities have nominated researchers who has been evaluated by the academies, whereupon the Foundation will make the final selection, and the universities will assume long-term responsibility for the selected researchers’ work.

Kimberly Dick Thelander will develop wires for a more wireless society
Many scientists forecast that future computers will include so-called nanowires, 10,000 times thinner than a piece of hair. Kimberly Dick Thelander will develop technology enabling real-time visualization of how those minute wires grow, atom by atom.

As scientists have managed to scale down components of computers, they have become faster and faster. However, researchers will soon reach the limits of how small the components can be. Electrical wires in today’s computers, for example, are so thin that electrons can start to escape. In order to get even faster computers, new technology is needed.

Nanowires are hot candidates for future electronics. In those extremely thin structures, the reigning physical laws – the laws of quantum physics – are totally different to the ones we are used to in our macro-world. Kimberly Dick Thelander, a scientist at Lund University, will develop methods for creating those wires with greater precision. One key task is to visualize the production process. Today, scientists use electron microscopes to image the world of atoms, but following a process as it unfolds using those microscopes is difficult. Dick will try to develop a more advanced form of electron microscopy in order to be able to follow the generation of nanowires in real time.

With better understanding of how nanowires grow, Dick hopes to be able to produce nanowires where she mixes different elements that are impossible to blend in bulk materials.

Johan Malmström aims to find bacteria’s Achilles heel
Problems with antibiotic resistance are increasing throughout the world, and a growing number of people are now dying from diseases that antibiotics could cure before. Johan Malmström aims to find the weak spots in bacteria that can be attacked with future drugs.

In order to understand how pathogenic bacteria function, scientists have studied them in the lab, in artificial conditions in test tubes. These tests have allowed them to identify vital processes that can be blocked by antibiotics.

But those drugs also strike against beneficial bacteria that we want to keep in our intestines. To develop more targeted drugs, Johan Malmström, Department of Immunotechnology at the Faculty of Engineering LTH, will find out how bacteria function in one of their natural environments: our bodies. As a Wallenberg Academy Fellow, he will focus on Group A streptococci (GAS), which often cause mild infections like sore throat and skin infections, but which also can attack internal organs and cause life-threatening infections.

Malmström’s team will isolate bacteria from patients with mild and severe GAS infections. Then the researchers will compare which proteins the GAS contain in different conditions. Proteins take care of and control essential processes in the cell. If GAS have an extra amount of a protein during a severe infection, this particular protein probably promotes the infection process and it could be a good target for future drugs.