EU funding success for eight leading UCL researchers

ERC Advanced Grant UCL recipients
ERC Advanced Grant UCL recipients

Eight UCL academics have secured European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grants to bolster their frontier research in fields such as biochemistry, nanotechnologies and regenerative medicine, making it the institution with the most awardees in the UK.

A total of 255 academics across a range of international universities have had funding bids accepted by the ERC, sharing a pot of nearly ¤652 million (£560 million). The grant bidding process is highly competitive and only proves successful for ambitious, curiosity-driven projects that could lead to major scientific breakthroughs.

The competition attracted 1,829 proposals, 14 per cent of which were selected for funding. Estimates show that the grants will create 2,480 jobs in teams of new grantees.

UCL’s eight recipients are:

  • Professor Jürg Bähler (UCL Biosciences) : Jürg Bähler is a professor of Molecular Systems Biology and the Director of the UCL Institute of Healthy Ageing. His project will study the roles of priority unstudied proteins in cellular quiescence (dormancy) and ageing.
  • Professor Paul Beard (UCL Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering) : Paul Beard is a professor of Biomedical Photoacoustics at UCL and founded the Photoacoustic Imaging Group within the Department of Medical Physics and Bioengineering in 2002, which he continues to lead today. His project is titled "Imaging the brain with light and sound".
  • Professor Jochen Blumberger (UCL Physics & Astronomy) : Professor Blumberger is a chemical physicist whose fields of research include biochemistry, cell biology and computational chemistry. His ERC funding will go towards his project titled "New Horizons for Excited State Dynamics in Organic Electronic Materials: Better, Larger, Faster".
  • Professor Sacha Stern (UCL Hebrew & Jewish Studies) : Sacha Stern is a Fellow of the British Academy and Professor of Rabbinic Judaism at the UCL Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, where he was Head of Department from 2012 to 2022. Having previously held an ERC Advanced Grant in 2013-2018, this year’s funding will support his research on astronomy, calendar and related sciences in Near Eastern cultures between the third and eighth centuries.
  • Professor Paola Bonfanti (UCL Infection & Immunity) : Paola Bonfanti is Professor of Epithelial Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine at the UCL Institute of Immunity and Transplantation. She is also Senior Group Leader at the Francis Crick Institute. Her "LOST IN ThyME" project will look to shed new light on the thymus gland’s function within the immune system.
  • Professor Kalina Manova (UCL Economics) : Professor Manova is an award-winning economist specialising in international trade and investment, having served as the Deputy Head of the UCL Economics department from 2020-2023. Her ERC funding will go towards her research on Firm Network Technologies.
  • Professor Ioannis Papakonstantinou (UCL Electronic & Electrical Engineering) : Ioannis Papakonstantinou is a Professor of Photonics and Nanofabrication in the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at UCL and Head of the Photonic Innovations Lab (pi-lab).
  • Professor Oliver Robinson (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) : Professor Robinson is a co-group leader of the Neuroscience and Mental Health Group at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. His project is titled "The Neurocomputational Mechanisms of Anxiety Treatment Response".

ERC Advanced Grant recipients proposed to host their projects at universities and research centres in 19 EU Member States and associated countries, notably in Germany (50 grants), the UK (42), and France (37).

Professor Geraint Rees, UCL Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement): "Huge congratulations to my distinguished colleagues on their remarkable achievement, having secured valuable support for their research through a fiercely competitive and prestigious programme. These awards underscore the depth and impact of UCL’s research across many disciplines with international significance. I look forward to seeing the outcomes and solutions found as a result of these grants in future."

The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. In recent years, there has been a steady rise in mid-career researchers (12-17 years post-PhD), who have been successful in the Advanced Grants competitions, with 18% securing grants in this latest round.

Iliana Ivanova, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: "To all the new ERC grantees, my heartfelt congratulations! These grants will not only support leading researchers in pushing the boundaries of knowledge but also create some 2500 jobs for postdoctoral fellows, PhD students and other research staff across Europe. This investment nurtures the next generation of brilliant minds. I look forward to seeing the resulting breakthroughs and fresh advancements in the years ahead."

President of the European Research Council Professor Maria Leptin added: "Congratulations to the 255 researchers who will receive grants to follow their scientific instinct in this new funding round. I am particularly happy to see more mid-career scientists amongst the Advanced Grant winners this time. I hope that it will encourage more researchers at this career stage to apply for these grants."

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