The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded grants worth a total of €627 million to 308 researchers across Europe, of whom four are at the University of Cambridge. The grants are part of the European Union’s Horizon Europe programme which the UK government formally ratified today in Brussels. They are given to excellent scientists and scholars at the career stage to support them to pursue their most promising scientific ideas.
Horizon is the EU’s key research and innovation programme, with a total budget of €95.5 billion over the period 2021-2027. It aims to strengthen the EU’s scientific excellence, tackle climate change, and boost the EU’s competitiveness and growth. It is open to researchers and innovators from all over the world.
UK: “We’re back!”
The UK only re-entered the programme in September after complex and protracted negotiations. The country’s participation in Horizon had been a contentious issue during the Brexit negotiations. The Johnson government ultimately decided to withdraw the UK from the programme in 2020, citing concerns about sovereignty and the UK’s ability to influence the programme’s direction.
At the time, the decision to withdraw was met with criticism from many scientists and businesses in the UK. They argued that the programme was a valuable source of funding and collaboration for UK researchers, and that leaving it would damage the UK’s science and innovation sector.
Michelle Donelan, Science, Innovation and Technology minister is in Brussels today. She met with the EU Research and Innovation Commissioner Iliana Ivanova, as officials signed the agreement to formalise the Horizon deal. As she explained, “Being part of Horizon and Copernicus is a colossal win for the UK’s science, research and business communities, as well as for economic growth and job creation.
“Now it is essential that we bring our science, research and business communities together with their EU and global partners to deliver the benefits from our bespoke Horizon and Copernicus deal, from our share of the 300,000 new jobs Horizon aims to create, to the untold advances it will unlock for our health, the environment and more.”
Why Horizon is vital
The programme is expected to generate significant benefits, including:
New scientific discoveries: Horizon Europe will support research that leads to new scientific discoveries and breakthroughs.
Innovative solutions to global challenges: The programme will support the development of innovative solutions to challenges such as climate change and resource scarcity.
A more competitive European economy: Horizon Europe will help to boost the EU’s competitiveness in the global economy.
A better future for all Europeans: The programme will contribute to a better future for all Europeans by improving their quality of life and creating new jobs.
Within two months of returning to the programme, UK-based researchers are already reaping the rewards of this new round of funding. Cambridge scientists, Professor Chiara Ciccarelli, Professor Rosana Collepardo-Guevara, Professor Jason Miller, and Dr Jenny Zhang have all been named as awardees of ERC consolidator grants. Here they describe their work.
Professor Chiara Ciccarelli
Professor Chiara Ciccarelli is a physicist who studies magnets and how to store information in them. She is working on a project to develop new ways to write and read magnets at low temperatures, which could lead to more energy-efficient computers. “I am absolutely delighted to have been awarded a consolidator grant. It is an incredible opportunity to do great science and an important recognition of the work of my amazing team.”
Professor Rosana Collepardo-Guevara
Professor Rosana Collepardo-Guevara is a computational biologist who studies how genes are organized and regulated in cells. She is investigating the idea that genes are organized into liquid droplets, which could help to control which genes are turned on and off. “I am truly delighted and proud of my team,” she says. “This success is owed to the exceptional students and postdocs that I’ve had the privilege to supervise over the years, and also to the support of my mentors, collaborators, and family. This grant will give us the opportunity to keep exploring radical ideas.”
Professor Jason Miller
Professor Jason Miller is a mathematician who studies probability and its applications to physics. He is working on a project to study the behavior of systems at critical points, which are transitions between different phases of matter. “I am very pleased to have received the grant. With the support that it provides, I will be able to form a research group to tackle longstanding questions in the area.”
Dr Jenny Zhang
Dr Jenny Zhang is a chemist who studies how to combine biological and non-biological materials to create new materials with desired properties. She is working on a project to develop new materials for clean energy generation. “I am absolutely thrilled to be awarded this unique grant, which recognises all the key ingredients needed for innovation. This wonderful result was a cumulation of a lot of hard work, but also the generous support of my wonderful team and colleagues. I could not be more grateful for both the grant and the people I get to work with.”
More women winning grants
Scientists at UK institutions have won the second greatest number of grants in Europe. Across Europe, the number of women receiving grants has increased for the third year running.
“I extend my heartfelt congratulations to all the brilliant researchers who have been selected for ERC Consolidator Grants,” says Iliana Ivanova. “I’m especially thrilled to note the significant increase in the representation of women among the winners for the third consecutive year in this prestigious grant competition. This positive trend not only reflects the outstanding contributions of women researchers but also highlights the strides we are making towards a more inclusive and diverse scientific community.”
The European Research Council, set up by the EU in 2007, is the largest European funding organisation for frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe.
This article is based on a press release from the University of Cambridge