TCD researcher wins European Research Council award

7 Jul 2020

Image: © Delphotostock/

Prof Anna Davies received the inaugural Public Engagement with Research award for using social media to further her research into food-sharing.

On Tuesday (7 July), the European Research Council (ERC) named the winners of the inaugural ERC Public Engagement with Research Award.

The award was introduced this year by the ERC to shine a spotlight on how its grantees inspire the public through their research, by engaging with audiences beyond the scientific community in effective and original ways.

The 2020 award has three categories, which are: public outreach, press and media relations, and online and social media. Entries for the competition opened in September 2019 and closed in January 2020, attracting 138 entrants.

The winners of the award were Prof Anna Davies from Trinity College Dublin (TCD); Prof Kostas Nikolopoulos from University of Birmingham; and Dr Erik Van Sebille from the University of Utrecht.


Davies received the prize in the category of online and social media for her work with ShareCity, an ERC-funded project studying urban food-sharing practices.

As part of the project, Davies developed a comprehensive online and social media communication and engagement strategy, the central pillar of which is an interactive website and blog. ShareCity engaged with a range of online and social media platforms, networks and initiatives in order to collaborate, crowdsource experiences and disseminate its findings.

The ERC said that this “visibly enriched” ShareCity’s research and was particularly important to create a publicly accessible and searchable empirical database about food sharing activities within cities.

The ERC said: “What really stood out was the creation of the food-sharing database with public engagement all the way from the design to its implementation.

“The aim of the ShareCity project was to identify document and analyse urban food-sharing practices that harness information and communication technologies (ICT) to administer schemes or raise awareness in local communities. Working collaboratively with others, the project has generated an unprecedented volume of unique data.”

ExclusiveHiggs and Topios

The winner in the category of public outreach was Nikolopoulos, who explored the interface between science and art to inform, educate and inspire the public through his project ExclusiveHiggs.

ExclusiveHiggs experimentally explores the interactions of elementary matter particles with the Higgs boson at CERN’s Large Hardon Collider. The project encouraged artists to use their mediums to communicate scientific concepts such as particle physics.

The judges commended this project for making a “real impact” on people that are not the regular audience for frontier science. They also noted how it used innovative methods to communicate a very abstract topic.

‘Excellent research demands excellent engagement with the public’

Van Sebille received the prize for press and media relations for his project Topios which focused on plastic pollution. The project engaged with journalists, policymakers and the public to bust myths surrounding the topic of plastic pollution, with the aim of improving the quality of public discourse on the subject.

Topios was commended for its approach focused on a single, clear message, which had an impact in the media while engaging policymakers on an international level.

To reward the efforts of the winners, the ERC plans to feature the winning entries prominently on the ERC communication channels, expanding the visibility of the laureates’ research.

Each of the winners will receive a trophy and a tailored communication training session.

Mariya Gabriel, commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth, said: “Excellent research demands excellent engagement with the public. This is especially important nowadays when science must often compete with misinformation. We need the strong storytellers and creative communicators out there.”

The competition is now envisaged to be held every two years.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic