ERC awards grants to two Irish scientists for smart city and glaucoma research

23 Jan 2013

In its latest competition for ‘Advanced Grants’, the European Research Council (ERC) has awarded up to €2.5m in funding each to two Irish researchers to develop their research projects around preventing the eye disease glaucoma and to explore how software shapes smart cities.

Prof Peter Humphries from the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin has been awarded the grant for his project that will look to explore and develop new avenues for preventing glaucoma.

Meanwhile, Prof Robert Kitchin from NUI Maynooth’s National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis has been awarded a €2.3m ERC grant to analyse how software and technology influences how we live, work and operate in cities.

He will use the cities of Dublin and Boston as case studies and is also set to leverage the funding to recruit a specialised team of four post-doctoral researchers and four PhD students.

The two researchers are among 302 researchers from around Europe who have been awarded €680m in EU funding under the ERC’s latest Advanced Grant competition. The idea of the funding is to help researchers develop their ideas and to build their research teams.

How software shapes cities

Kitchin’s project, ‘The Programmable City’, will analyse how information on citizens and places are captured and processed as data, how software is used to govern and manage modern cities, and how our everyday behaviour within a city is influenced by software.

“Software is now essential to the functioning of cities, a vital element in the operation and governance of travel, the built environment, consumption, work, home life, services and utilities,” he said.

“The project will address a serious gap in social science research by answering key questions concerning the nature of software and how it is reshaping how we understand, manage, work and live in the city,” added Kitchin.

Preventing glaucoma

TCD’s Humphries, whose project is entitled ‘Oculus: A radical approach to improved glaucoma treatment’, said it was an honour to have been given an ERC award.

“Glaucoma in its various forms is one of the most prevalent causes of global visual handicap – most of us will know someone with glaucoma,” he said.

While medications currently exist for the treatment of glaucoma, Humphries said a significant proportion of sufferers do not respond or become resistant to them.  

“We will explore and develop new avenues for prevention of this hugely prevalent disease,” he said.

Current figures for the UK and Ireland point to how some form of glaucoma affects about two in 100 people over the age of 40.

As part of the EU’s FP7 research programme, the ERC had a total budget of €7.5bn from 2007 to 2013. The European Commission has proposed to raise the ERC budget to more than €13bn in the new framework programme Horizon 2020, which will run from 2014 up to 2020.

“Promoting frontier research at the highest level is vital for Europe’s competitiveness, and this is why we have proposed to increase the ERC budget as part of our Horizon 2020 programme,” said the Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn at the announcement yesterday.

Smart city concept image via Shutterstock

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic