Stockholm university

13 Wallenberg Scholars to Stockholm University

Stockholm University has been awarded 13 Wallenberg Scholars, 5 new and 8 with extended funding, by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.

Kollage med scholars
New Wallenberg Scholars at Stockholm University. From top left: Emil Johansson Bergholtz, Annica Ekman, Jonas Tallberg, Martin Jakobsson and Erik Lindahl.

The Wallenberg Scholars program aims to provide Sweden´s leading researchers with grants for free research. Following an extensive international evaluation, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (KAW) has chosen to fund 118 researchers over five years with up to SEK 18 million each for researchers in theoretical subjects and up to SEK 20 million each for researchers in experimental subjects. The new investment is SEK 1.8 billion. During the period 2009–2023, the Foundation has granted SEK 1.8 billion to the Wallenberg Scholars program, together with the new round, a total of SEK 3.9 billion.

At Stockholm University, a total of 13 Wallenberg Scholars have been appointed. Of these, 5 are newly appointed and 8 are researchers getting renewed funding (after a renewed review process).


New Wallenberg Scholars at Stockholm University

(Read articles about their research below.)

Annica Ekman, Professor of Meteorology: Studies of clouds in warmer polar climates

Erik Lindahl, Professor of Biophysics: Investigating the structure and function of membrane proteins

Emil Johansson Bergholtz, Professor of Theoretical Physics: Basic topological research explaining the quantum world

Martin Jakobsson, Professor of Marine Geology and Geophysics: Seabeds are mapped for better understanding of glaciers

Jonas Tallberg, Professor of Political Science: How countries' political systems affect international cooperation


Existing scholars receiving extended funding

Gunnar von Heijne, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry
Read the article on KAW's website The forces behind protein folding

Martin Högbom, Professor of Structural Biochemistry
Read the article on KAW's website Dreaming of converting greenhouse gases using nature´s chemistry

David Drew, Professor of Biochemistry
Read the article on KAW's website Revealing how the cell uptakes sugar

Ilona Riipinen, Professor of Atmospheric Science  
Read the article on KAW's website Mapping the unexplored impact of forest on climate

Sara Strandberg, Professor of Elementary Particle Physics
Read the article on KAW's website Measuring the Higgs boson

Dan Petersen, Senior Lecturer in Mathematics
Read the article on KAW's website Using algebraic geometry to study abstract spaces

Xiadong Zou, Professor of Structural Chemistry
Read the article on KAW's website Revolutionary close-ups of building blocks of life

Helen Frowe, Professor of Philosophy
Read the article on KAW's website Heading a Swedish research centre for research on the ethics of war

List of the 118 researchers who have been awarded grants.


Background Wallenberg Scholars

The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation funds two programs for free research aimed at individual researchers: Wallenberg Academy Fellows, where the Foundation has funded 261 junior researchers, and Wallenberg Scholars for senior researchers, where 118 researchers at Swedish universities have now been appointed Wallenberg Scholars. Read more on the KAW web



Annica Ekman: Studying clouds in warmer polar climates

The polar climate is changing. Annica Ekman will study feedbacks between sea ice, oceans, clouds and aerosols.

Annica Ekman
Annica Ekman.
Photo: Eva Dalin

Dramatic warming and sea ice loss have been recorded at both poles during the last decade. These changes will continue at the same speed, or even increase at the end of the century if there are no drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Annica Ekman will as a Wallenberg Scholar investigate if clouds over the polar oceans can dampen global warming and thereby also the melting of sea ice. When sea ice melts, open ocean is exposed.  A dark water surface absorbs more solar radiation than a bright ice surface and this can in turn enhance the warming of the ocean and accelerate the sea ice melt. 

One way to dampen the warming could be if clouds form over ice-free water surfaces. Clouds reflect solar radiation about as efficiently as an ice surface and can thereby to some extent prevent the warming of the sea.

Complex processes behind cloud formation

Current knowledge, which is mainly based on information from climate models, is that clouds do exactly this – dampen the global warming – or that they have a small effect on global climate. However, cloud formation in polar regions is governed by complex physical and chemical processes, and there are good reasons to believe that these are not described correctly in the models.

Annica Ekman and her research group will develop a new numerical model that describes cloud formation in detail. They will use the model together with satellite observations and measurements conducted in the Arctic and Antarctic to better understand cloud formation processes. The group will also investigate how the clouds, their extent, and their ability to reflect radiation are affected by different factors that change in a warmer climate such as the energy exchange at the ocean surface, the amount of microscopic particles in the air, and large-scale winds.

The new knowledge will be used to evaluate and improve climate models.



Erik Lindahl: Examine structure and function of membrane proteins

As a Wallenberg Scholar, Erik Lindahl seeks to answer questions concerning ligand-gated ion channels in our nervous system, for example why they are so sensitive to their surroundings, why they respond differently to drugs and whether it is possible to find ways to selectively influence specific receptors.

Erik Lindahl
Erik Lindahl. Photo: Private

Ligand-gated ion channels control molecular signaling between nerve cells. They are strongly influenced by molecules such as alcohol and cholesterol and they are targets for drugs such as benzodiazepines, anesthetics and the only molecule approved to treat postpartum depression.

Erik Lindahl and his research team have developed some of the world's most widely used computer programs in structural biology, which they use to understand the extreme diversity of ligand-gated receptors in the nervous system and to determine the functions of less studied variants.

Studies of the neurotransmitter GABA

GABA is one of the most important neurotransmitter molecules in vertebrates. The research team will use cryo-electron microscopy to determine structures of the previously less studied GABA-rho receptor and other variants that occur in the retina and uterine tissue. They want to understand how five different subunits assemble into receptors whose properties depend on which genes the subunits correspond to, and how the assembly is controlled. Among other things, they will use computer simulations to model how the membrane proteins move between different states, to understand why they have such different sensitivities both to GABA and drugs, but also to understand how the lipids in the surrounding membrane strongly influence the function either positively or negatively.

They further intend to develop methods to combine simulations with cryo-electron microscopy to predict how membrane proteins move, specifically by using machine learning to directly predict movement from microscopy images. To understand structure and dynamics on cellular scale, they will develop methods to combine tomography with modeling.

The researchers expect to be able to explain e.g. why the function of receptors in the nervous system depends so critically on the membrane environment, why the receptors often appear in clusters, and develop new tools for structure on mesoscopic scales.


Emil Johansson Bergholtz: Topological physics explaining the quantum world

In recent years, topology has received a boost in physics as its mathematical tools can be used to explain unusual material states with interesting properties. Examples include topological insulators, which are materials that conduct current on the surface but not inside. Emil Johansson Bergholtz will explore the area further as a Wallenberg Scholar.

Emil Johansson Bergholtz
Emil Johansson Bergholtz Photo: KAW

The list of known topological systems now includes topological insulators, superconductors and
semimetals. These topological phases have first been predicted theoretically and subsequently identified in experiment. The reason for this very unusual order of events is rooted in the nature of topological phases: they are extraordinarily robust, but without knowing what to look for – typically the surface features – they are next to impossible to identify.

Johansson Bergholtz's research group intends to investigate what happens when you combine these exotic components. More specifically, they want to study strongly correlated phenomena from relative twists in moiré heterostructures of graphene and related materials as well as open dissipative systems that have topological properties that are strikingly different from those of isolated systems. The research group has made key contributions in both directions in recent years.

Synergistic effects of projects

The first sub-project builds on methods and insights they developed earlier, but with the new goal of identifying systems with non-Abelian anyons at high temperature.

The second project also contains a basic theoretical question about to what degree "non-Hermitian" phenomena can be realized in quantum mechanical many-particle problems, as well as a more applied aspect on realizing an earlier idea of non-Hermitian topological sensors.

Studying these topics in parallel, the group believes, can produce several synergistic effects: moiré systems are, for several reasons, ideal candidates for studying dissipative topological phenomena in the quantum world. Furthermore, methods and insights can be transferred between research areas and generally this type of cross-disciplinary research increases chances of serendipitous discovery.


Martin Jakobsson: Mapping seafloors for a better understanding of glaciers

Martin Jakobsson will use AI to map seafloors for a better understanding of marine glaciers in a warmer climate.

Martin Jakobsson
Martin Jakobsson
Photo: Ingmarie Andersson

Knowledge of the depth, bathymetry, and shape, morphology, of the seafloor is crucial for several marine research areas, such as marine biology, oceanography, marine geology, and geophysics. Bathymetry is also fundamental for many underwater constructions, such as laying all critical communication cables.

An example of the importance of bathymetry is glaciers' exposure to warmer ocean currents where they flow into the ocean. Deep channels can allow warmer water currents to reach and melt them from below, while shallow areas may protect against the same water. Glaciers resting on the seabed leave traces, "submarine glacial landforms," providing information, for example, on how quickly they retreated as the climate warmed after the last glacial period.

Automate identification and classification of seabeds 

As a Wallenberg Scholar, Martin Jakobsson aims to develop methods using artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate the identification and classification of seabed forms, focusing on glacial landforms. The main goal is to increase knowledge of marine glacier dynamics to better predict their development in a warmer climate. The greatest uncertainty in estimates of global sea-level rise lies in how much glaciers and ice sheets in contact with the ocean will lose in mass. The methods will also have applications far beyond studies of glacial landforms. Another goal of the project is to establish machine learning in marine geoscience research at Stockholm University.

Jakobsson will leverage his over two decades of experience in marine geophysical seafloor mapping and research on the marine cryosphere to step into working with artificial intelligence and machine learning through collaboration with computer scientists. Machine learning algorithms will be trained with echo sounder data collected during expeditions starting from 2007 when a multibeam echo sounder was installed on the icebreaker Oden. Jakobsson's research group also has access to data through the international network established within the "International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean, IBCAO." Today, they lead the IBCAO work through a global mapping project called Seabed 2030, which aims to have the world's ocean floors mapped by 2030.



Jonas Tallberg: How political regimes affect international cooperation 

As a Wallenberg Scholar, Jonas Tallberg wants to study international cooperation from the late 1700s to the present day in order to investigate how countries' political regimes affect collaboration.

Jonas Tallberg
Jonas Tallberg.
Photo: Niklas Björling

Whether international cooperation can survive and flourish in a time of global democratic backsliding is high on the agenda of both national governments and international organisations.

Almost without exception, previous research shows that democracies are more cooperative than non-democratic countries, autocracies. But much of this research stems from the two decades between 1990 and 2010, when both democracy and international cooperation were on the rise.

Democracy is in decline

Now, instead, democracy is in decline and new patterns are emerging, where several democracies hesitate in their support for international cooperation, while several autocracies have initiated new and expanded collaborations.

What does this development say about the previously so stable relationship between political regimes and international cooperation? Was this relationship bound in time – the result of a certain period when conditions were particularly favorable? Or are these new patterns exceptions to an otherwise robust relationship? Or was the relationship always more complex and conditional, but previous research unable to capture these dynamics because of the way it approached the issue?

Tallberg starts from the assumption that regime type and international cooperation are linked in more complex ways than previous research suggests. Overarching questions are: why, how and under what conditions do countries' political regimes affect international cooperation? 

Tallberg's project offers the most systematic analysis to date of this relationship. Theoretically, the project breaks new ground by developing a new framework to explain how political regimes can have varying effects on international cooperation. Empirically, the project is more comprehensive than previous research by examining the relationship between political regimes and international cooperation over a longer period of time and for a broader set of cooperative arrangements. 

This project provides opportunities to deepen and broaden the research that Tallberg conducts on the relationship between countries' political systems and international cooperation, and which is supported by the European Research Council and the Swedish Research Council.