Researchers in Ireland receive ERC Starting Grants to ‘break fresh ground’

3 Sep 2020

Trinity College Dublin. Image: © dudlajzov/

Recipients of the European Research Council’s latest round of Starting Grants include four early-stage researchers based in Ireland.

Today (3 September), the European Research Council (ERC) announced that it has awarded a total of €677m in research grants to help unravel scientific mysteries. Of the 436 research projects granted funding, four projects were selected from researchers based in Ireland.

The ERC Starting Grants aim to help early-career scientists and scholars to build their own teams and conduct pioneering research across all disciplines. The grants have been awarded as part of the EU’s Research and Innovation programme under Horizon 2020.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth, said: “With European Research Council grants, the EU is leveraging the talent and curiosity of some of the best young researchers in Europe.

“Their ideas are set to break fresh ground and open new ways to deal with pressing challenges in the areas of health, energy and digital technologies, as well as many other fields. Our ambition to effectively tackle current and future crises depends on our strong will to continue and increasingly support top research at the frontiers of our knowledge.”

The grants are expected to create an estimated 2,500 jobs for postdoctoral fellows, PhD students and other staff at the host institutions.

Funding for Irish research

The four grant recipients in Ireland include David Courtney of University College Dublin, now based at Queen’s University Belfast, who is focusing on post-transcriptional regulation of influenza A virus RNA.

Two projects were selected from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) worth a total of €3m in funding. Claire Gillan of TCD’s School of Psychology received funding for a project called Habit, which examines how habits can be made or broken; and Alessandro Lunghi of TCD’s School of Physics will research the AI design of molecular nano-magnets and molecular qubits through his project, AI-Demon.

Lorna Lopez, who was previously based at TCD but has recently taken up a position in Maynooth University, also received ERC funding. Lopez is investigating disrupted circadian rhythms in families through her project Family Sleeps.

Another ERC-funded project is currently entering its launch phase at TCD, as Al Maktoum Associate Prof Mohamed Ahmed recently began his project, which was retained on the funding list from a previous round of grants.

Dean of research at TCD, Prof Linda Doyle, said that ERC Starting Grants are “exceptionally competitive” and provide crucial support for bottom-up frontier research, which can help address significant societal challenges.

“It is especially important right now as postdoctoral and early-career researchers are particularly vulnerable to the negative impacts of Covid-19 due to the knock-on effects of funding cuts and reduced faculty opportunities at institutions across the world.”

Updated, 1.30pm, 3 September 2020: This article was updated to clarify that David Courtney is based at Queen’s University Belfast. 

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic