Four researchers in Ireland secure grants from €624m ERC fund

26 Apr 2022

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The European Research Council awarded grants to more than 250 senior researchers across Europe as part of its 2021 Advanced Grants competition.

Four researchers in Ireland have been awarded grants from the latest European Research Council (ERC) competition.

The 2021 Advanced Grants competition awarded a total of €624m to 253 leading researchers across Europe to help them advance their work.

Future Human

Some of the successful projects involve tapping into mathematics to find better ways to use antibiotics, protecting island biodiversity, exploring the ‘cosmic dawn’ period after the Big Bang, and understanding how language sounds change over time.

The four researchers based in Ireland to receive funding are Prof Joanna Bruck, Prof Eoin Casey and Prof Robert Gerwarth from University College Dublin (UCD) and Prof Rob Kitchin from Maynooth University. UCD confirmed that its researchers received €2.5m each in grant funding.

“These prestigious grants are a mark of excellence, awarded for groundbreaking research with far-reaching impact, to established academics who are leaders in their field,” said Prof Orla Feely, VP for research, innovation and impact at UCD.

‘Essential’ funding for cutting-edge research

The ERC is the EU body for funding scientific and technological research and it is now backing projects under Horizon Europe, the EU’s latest research and innovation programme.

A total of 1,735 grant proposals were submitted to the ERC for the 2021 Advanced Grants competition, with more than 20pc coming from women researchers. The ERC said the share of grants going to women has grown from 10pc in 2014 to more than 25pc in the latest competition.

“By following their scientific curiosity, these senior researchers are pushing the frontiers of our knowledge in a wide range of fields,” ERC president Prof Maria Leptin said. “It’s essential to fund this type of cutting-edge research to keep Europe at the scientific forefront.”

Bruck is a professor in archaeology and head of the School of Archaeology at UCD. She will lead the Ansoc project, which aims to investigate animals and society in Bronze Age Europe.

“In contrast to previous approaches, the project will see animals not just as objects to be traded and consumed, but as co-participants in complex social and cultural worlds,” Bruck said.

Casey is the head of the School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering at UCD. He will lead the Absolute project, which will analyse the biofilm solid interactions that underpin wastewater treatment.

Casey noted that biofilms are a key catalyst in many modern wastewater treatment processes. “Ultimately, this will allow improved insight to enable the water sector to move towards net-zero emissions and also to contribute to the circular economy,” he said about the project.

Gerwarth is professor of modern history at UCD and previously served as head of the university’s School of History. He will lead the CivilWars project, which will look at civil wars in Europe that took place between 1914 and 1949.

Gerwarth said the project should lead to a better understanding of “why that century became the most violent in human history” and why civilians outnumbered soldiers in deaths for most of these conflicts.

Kitchin is a professor in the Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute, where he was director between 2002 and 2013. He will lead the Datastories project, which will look at producing stories about and with property and planning data.

The ERC said the latest batch of research projects should lead to the creation of 2,300 jobs for post-doctoral fellows, PhD students and other research staff across Europe.

“The ERC Advanced Grants support groundbreaking researchers throughout Europe,” said European commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth Mariya Gabriel said. “Their pioneering work contributes to solve the most pressing social, economic and environmental challenges.”

Four Ireland-based researchers were also successful in the 2020 Advanced Grants competition, which awarded more than €500m to 209 leading researchers.

The ERC noted that the final list of UK researchers awarded grant funding in this round is “provisional” as the UK has not finalised its involvement with Horizon Europe, the successor to the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

More information about applications for the next round of Advanced Grants funding can be found on the ERC’s website.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com