The University Way

79 years of funding from the Aarhus University Research Foundation

By Jesper Bruun

The Aarhus University Department of Food Science is located in Agro Food Park in northern Aarhus – a 7,500-square meter complex with ultramodern analysis labs, sensory science and cultivation facilities, greenhouses, climate chambers and more. Together with the other departments and research centres at Aarhus University focussing on i.a. livestock, agriculture, chemical engineering and biotechnology, the Department of Food Science is part of a unique ecosystem of world-leading research in the green transition of cornerstones of society: industry, energy supply and food production.

Denmark is one of the most intensively farmed countries in the world. Just under 61 per cent of the country is farmland, and in 80 per cent of our fields we grow fodder crops. It takes around seven kilos of corn to produce one kilo of beef. Considering the climate crisis, biodiversity crisis and growing world population, this type of food production is not efficient.

In the future, we need to produce more food in less space – and in a sustainable way. That is why cultivated foods are gaining ground: food production based on cell cultivation rather than e.g. rearing and slaughter of animals. The Department of Food Science is home to the country’s first research group focussing on cultivated foods. It is part of the CellFood project headed by Associate Professor Jette Feveile Young.

For 79 years, the Aarhus University Research Foundation has funded scientific research at Aarhus University – and continues to do so. The Foundation plays a vital role in the University’s strategic development, facilitates recruitment of talented researchers and supports independent, hypothesis-driven research, which is having a hard time attracting funding these years.

In the future, we have to produce more food in less space, and in a sustainable way, says Jette Feveile Young, who received DKK 15 million in AUFF Flagship funding in 2021.

“The technology behind cultivated foods is still in its infancy, but the future market will be huge, and Denmark has a chance to play a key role here. In Denmark, we have a lot of experience with food production, pharma and biotechnology, and therefore, it makes sense for us to lead the way in this area too,” she says.

The CellFood project is a so-called AUFF Flagship project with DKK 15 million in funding from the Aarhus University Research Foundation. AUFF Flagships are research projects with major academic breakthrough power and great international attention, visibility and innovative strength.

“It is a project that opens doors in a completely new way,” says Jette Feveile Young and adds: “It also facilitates more research in the area across AU departments and in collaboration with relevant Danish and international environments with a view to putting Denmark on the map of cultivated foods. The area has seen a lot of activity in recent years. Projects have been launched, people have begun to pay attention to what we do here, and this project has put us on the international map of cultivated meat research,” she says and mentions i.a. a new Novo Nordisk research project, SusCellFood, and a large-scale Horizon Europe-funded project which her research group has become part of.

Great signal value

The CellFood project is an excellent example of how AUFF supports strategic development and research at Aarhus University. This project communicates one of the University’s core areas, namely research, to the general public, encourages broad national and international collaboration and compiles knowledge from various fields towards solving on the main challenges of our time.

“AUFF Flagships is one of our major initiatives. It is one of those occasions where we say: ‘Let’s invest a really large sum of money in order to put things into motion.’ You need to do that sometimes, and it holds great signal value. However, as we want as many people as possible to benefit from our grants, we also offer a number of small grants to e.g. help recruit talented researchers and support independent research,” says Managing Director of the Foundation Jørgen Lang.

At present, AUFF invests around DKK 135 million a year in scientific research at Aarhus University. The Foundation was established on 2 September 1944 by Engineer Gunnar Andreasen with a share capital of DKK 300,000. In 1946, the Foundation started to fund scientific research at Aarhus University with grants of DKK 18,700. Today, the Foundation has a share capital of approx. DKK 5 billion, and merely in the last 10 years, AUFF has invested DKK 1 billion in research.

A unique offer

One of the Foundation’s main grants is the so-called AUFF Recruiting Grants targeted at recruitment and ongoing negotiations. Competition for talented researchers is fierce and global, and therefore, start funding that will enable the right candidate to set up his or her own lab, hire one or more young researchers and get off to a good start at a new university may just tip the scales in a negotiation.

“The fact that we are able to offer candidates start funding as well as employment is really unique,” says Professor Niels Haldrup, who is Head of the Department of Economics.

He can provide several examples of how an AUFF Recruiting Grant has tipped the balance in an ongoing negotiation, and how the funding has made a difference in the Department’s strategic development.

“I could give you various examples of instances where recruitment funding has helped us recruit the right researcher. Recently, e.g., we managed to recruit a Danish researcher working at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He had thought about returning to Denmark, but the wages we are able to offer do not match the ones in the US. Instead, we were able to offer him an AUFF Recruiting Grant, and that made him decide to come to Aarhus University. He had various offers, but he chose us,” says Niels Haldrup and adds:

“The AUFF Recruiting Grants have enabled us to recruit people we otherwise would not have been able to recruit – it can tip the scales and help people make a difficult decision – and make sure our staff composition matches our strategic focus.”

A solid foundation

One of the researchers who shares Niels Haldrup’s view of the AUFF Recruiting Grants is Daniel Lucani Rötter, who joined Aarhus University in 2017. At the time, the instrument was known as Starting Grants, and departments at Aarhus University could apply for them in connection with new appointments. Daniel Lucani Rötter received such a grant, and it enabled him to establish his own research group as newly appointed Associate Professor at the then Department of Engineer Science. “It gave me a really solid foundation to build on,” says Rötter. Today, he is Professor, Deputy Head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Head of the research group Network Computing, Communications and Storage.

He adds:

“Without the AUFF funding we would not have been able to set up the lab, buy the right equipment and servers and recruit the right PhD students. We managed to recruit two extremely talented PhD students, who have really helped get the entire field in gear.”

Daniel Lucani Rötter holds a PhD in electro technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Today, his research focusses on developing new technologies and ways to compress, transport, store and safeguard data.

“We are trying i.a. to develop compression technologies capable of reducing the amount of data transmitted via the Internet as well as cloud systems that reduce energy consumption by minimising data redundancy. Our ultimate goal is to reduce energy consumption and global carbon emissions from computers and data networks. It is absolutely crucial, because by 2030, networks and data centres could account for a fifth of all global electricity consumption,” he says.

Head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Mikael Bergholz underlines the importance of the research conducted at the Department today: “Cloud systems, data deduplication (editor’s note: elimination of data redundancy) and data compression are some of our main fields of research. Within these fields, we can make a difference within national and international research and development, and that is because we have the right staff with the right impact. You simply have to be able to put together the right team of researchers and recruit new talent. Therefore, it means a lot to us to be able to offer innovative, dedicated new members of staff something unique to support their research and academic career,” he says.

Independent research and a world in crisis

The University’s research portfolio is constantly changing. At the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the rapid technological development has a huge effect on the prioritisation of research areas, but it also affects the rest of the University.

The green transition is important to a lot of researchers, and for good reason, as areas relating to great, global challenges such as the climate crisis, biodiversity crisis, energy crisis and food shortage are the ones that attract a lot of strategic research funding.

“Strategic research is extremely important, and it is something we are really good at in Denmark and which we need to support. At the same time, though, someone also has to support independent, hypothesis-driven research. More and more funding is targeted at strategic research, and the amount of state funding allocated to independent research is decreasing,” says Doctor and Professor at the Department of Biomedicine Helle Prætorius Øhrwald, who is Chair of the AUFF Review Committee.

She provides an example: In February 2023, the Ministry of Higher Education and Science announced that the Danish Parliament had agreed to allocate more funding to so-called “independent green research”.

“It is just another word for strategic research, and it really shows that independent research is having a hard time. Great challenges that need solving cause people to allocate funding to specific areas,” she says.

She therefore mentions the AUFF NOVA Grants which seek to stimulate courageous and innovative research projects of a high quality – projects which may have difficulties obtaining alternative funding.

“Through Nova, we support independent, hypothesis-driven basic research, which is a source of a lot of important results. For example, if various nations had not supported independent research we would not have had knowledge and tools to support us during the SARS-COV2 epidemic. It is research driven by all kinds of good ideas, which is what we do at the universities. It is the ‘University Way’ – a pipeline of knowledge and researchers for strategic research projects, and I am extremely happy that AUFF thus helps to keep basic research alive,” says Helle Prætorius Øhrwald.

“Strategic research is extremely important, and it is something we are really good at in Denmark and which we need to support,” says Doctor and Professor at the Department of Biomedicine Helle Prætorius Øhrwald, who is Chair of the AUFF Review Committee

FEAS creates new facilities

The Aarhus University Research Foundation supports scientific research at Aarhus University by funding research projects, training and research-related initiatives. One of the Foundation’s main focuses is research facilities, i.e. buildings housing laboratories and other research facilities, entrepreneurship environments and housing.

In connection with i.a. work on the new Universitetbyen and the expansion of Katrinebjerg and Campus 2.0, the Foundation is making various new facilities available to researchers and students at Aarhus University.

This photo article will take you on a tour of the red-brick Universitetsbyen, where we will take a look at the new student flats in the former patient hotel and visit iconic Hejmdal, previously Kræftpatienternes Hus, designed by Pritzker Prize winner Frank Gehry together with Cubo Architects. We will also drop by Katrinebjerg and the Department of Mechanics and Production, next-door neighbour to the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, in Finlandsgade, and the Alexandra Institute which is seeing the construction of science park Incuba Next and a new group of students, future journalists, who have exchanged the distinctive grey, concrete structure on Oluf Palmes Allé in Skejby, “the Bunker”, for the new campus.


Construction of Universitetsbyen, the red-brick counterpart to the University Park, has begun. The Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics was the first to move into the area in 2022, and before long BSS will join them in a central location of the 110,000-square metre area.

Student flats

The 132 student flats in Universitetsbyen were put into use in 2022. The flats are housed in the former patient hotel in a central part of campus by Peter Sabroes Gade. In fact, the patient hotel used to be a residential hall for nursing students and was therefore originally designed for students, who have now returned to the area.

Incuba Next

For more than 30 years, the Incuba science park has been a hub for start-ups, scale-ups, researchers and students across IT, tech and life sciences. Construction of the Incuba Next building has begun, and the 22,000-square metre complex will attract industry and investors to one of Northern Europe’s leading IT campuses.


The Danish School of Media and Journalism, DMJX, has exchanged its former headquarters in Skejby, the concrete “Bunker” from 1973, for new facilities in Katrinebjerg. The new building is designed by a local architectural firm, Arkitema Architects, and is far more open and transparent than the old, reinforced-concrete structure. It contains a number of open, bright spaces for students and staff dedicated to media research, education, learning and innovation. The building was nominated for the 2020 School Structure of the Year Award.


Hejmdal was inaugurated by HRH The Crown Princess in 2009. Since then, architects and students of architecture from all over the world have visited the building, which has won several prizes for its ground-breaking mix of old and new. It used to be the hospital gatehouse, but was transformed by Pritzker Prize winner Frank Gehry and Cubo Architects. Today, the structure connects the Universitetsbyen with the town centre and houses events and meetings.