Eight Ireland-based researchers bag millions of euro in ERC funding

9 Dec 2020

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Eight researchers based in Ireland have been awarded millions of euro in funding under the ERC Consolidator Grants scheme.

Researchers across different fields have been named awardees of the latest round of European Research Council (ERC) funding under its Consolidator Grant awards.

Among them are eight researchers based in Ireland, including four at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), three at University College Cork (UCC) and one at NUI Galway. A total of €655m was awarded to more than 320 laureates across Europe under the programme’s latest funding round.

The ERC Consolidator Grants are awarded to outstanding researchers of any nationality and age, with between seven and 12 years of experience after PhD, and a scientific track record showing great promise.

Research must be conducted in a public or private research organisation located in one of the EU member states or associated countries. The funding – up to €2m per grant and in some cases an additional €1m for start-up costs –is provided for up to five years.

The Ireland-based researchers included in this round were:

Thomas Chadefaux, TCD

Chadefaux’s project is titled ‘The Patterns of Conflict Emergence: Developing an Automated Pattern Recognition System for Conflict’. It will use novel geometry-based pattern recognition methods to uncover recurring patterns of conflict escalation and explore how these might be utilised to improve our ability to forecast wars.

Marcus Collier, TCD

Collier’s project, NovelEco, will look to create a new awareness of the potential of urban wild spaces while advancing frontier science in the fields of urban novel ecosystems and social-ecological systems science.

Stephen Dooley, TCD

Dooley aims to pioneer fundamental research in the field of clean energy technologies with his project ‘Models for Lignocellulose Thermochemical Conversion’. Lignocellulose refers to dry plant matter and is a promising bioenergy source with production limitations. This project aims to make lignocellulose a quality and cheap alternative to fossil-fuel derived products.

David O’Shaughnessy, TCD

O’Shaughnessy’s humanities project will look to apply financial and econometric analysis to the rich financial data of London’s major theatres. Manuscript data for the Covent Garden and Drury Lane theatres will be analysed to incorporate their underlying commercial operations into understanding the history of 18th-century theatrical culture.

Maria McNamara, UCC

McNamara’s project, Palaeochem, aims to understand how key biomolecules such as melanin, keratin and collagen evolved in animals, and to understand how well these important biomolecules can be preserved in fossils.

Andrey Shkoporov, UCC

Shkoporov’s project, PhageNet, will study how bacteriophages facilitate communication and exchange of genetic information in bacteria.

The research aims to help us better understand the significance of this gene exchange for sustaining a healthy microbiome and microbial biodiversity on the one hand and spreading antimicrobial genes on the other.

Pádraig Cantillon-Murphy, UCC

Cantillon-Murphy’s project, Deep Field, aims to lay the foundations for the world’s fastest, most accurate and robust radiation-free navigation platform for image-guided surgery using magnetic tracking.

He will investigate how surgeons can navigate instruments beyond the camera’s field of view without using harmful x-rays.

Anne O’Connor, NUI Galway

O’Connor’s project, Pietra, will look to study the products and processes of multilingual dissemination in the Catholic Church and global media.

Number of women researchers

More than a third (37pc) of the total ERC grants were awarded to female researchers, the highest proportion since the start of the Consolidator Grant scheme. European Commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth, Mariya Gabriel, said the upward trend in the number of women recipients is encouraging.

“While there is still progress to be made worldwide in achieving gender balance, I am pleased to note that there is an upward trend in women applying for this ERC scheme,” she said. “We can also see that in this ERC competition the proportion of female applicants who were successful is the highest ever achieved – higher than that of male applicants.”

Speaking about her funding award, McNamara of TCD said: “I’m absolutely thrilled to receive this funding, which will transform my research by enabling me to bring together a team of really smart and engaged young researchers to answer one of the biggest questions in evolution today.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic