Manchester physics researchers awarded prestigious funding to pursue projects that could lead to major scientific breakthroughs

Three leading departmental researchers are being awarded highly prestigious European Research Council (ERC) advanced grants, designed to provide outstanding research leaders with the opportunity to pursue ambitious, curiosity-driven projects that could lead to major scientific breakthroughs.

Described by the ERC as among the EU’s most prestigious and competitive grants, today’s funding has been awarded to:

    Kieran Flanagan, Professor of Nuclear Physics , Director of the Photon Science Institute, to develop a table-top nuclear facility to produce cold actinide molecules that will enable novel searches for new physics beyond the standard model of particle physics.

  • Sir Professor Andre Geim, who isolated graphene in 2004 with Sir Professor Konstantin Novoselov, to explore 2D materials and their van der Waals assemblies.

  • Yvonne Peters, Professor of Particle Physics , to explore Top and Higgs Couplings and extended Higgs Sectors with rare multi-Top multi-Higgs Events with the ATLAS detector at the LHC. This project aims at deeper insight into the most fundamental properties of nature beyond our current understanding.

The University of Manchester received seven of the 42 grants awarded to UK institutions - more than any other institution in the UK. The other Manchester recipients are:

Thomas Anthopoulos, Professor of Emerging Optoelectronics, based in the Photon Science Institute Henry Royce Institute , to investigate scalable nanomanufacturing paradigms for emerging electronics (SNAP). The program aims to develop sustainable large-area electronics, a potential game-changer in emerging semiconductor markets, that will help reduce society’s reliance on current polluting technologies while enabling radically new applications.

    David Leigh, Sir Samuel Hall Professor of Chemistry , to lead work into chemically fuelled molecular ratchets. Ratcheting underpins the mechanisms of molecular machinery, gives chemical processes direction, and helps explain how chemistry becomes biology.

    Jason Micklefield, Professor of Chemical Biology , in the Department of Chemistry and Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, to develop enzymatic methods for peptide synthesis (EZYPEP). Peptides are fundamental in life and are widely used as therapeutic agents, vaccines, biomaterials and in many other applications. Currently peptides are produced by chemical synthesis, which is inefficient, expensive, difficult to scale-up and creates a huge amount of harmful waste that is damaging to the environment. EZYPEP will address this problem by developing enzymatic methods for the more sustainable, cleaner and scalable synthesis of peptides, including essential medicines to combat infectious diseases, cancer and diabetes.

    Michael Brockhurst advanced gran, to investigate how genomic complexity shapes long-term bacterial evolution and adaptation.

The grant recipients will join a community of just 255 awarded ERC advanced grants, from a total of 1,829 submissions. The community also includes:

As a result of today’s announcement, the ERC will be investing nearly 652 million across the 255 projects.

Professor Chris Parkes, Head of Department for Physics and Astronomy, which received three of the seven grants, said: "Today’s triple award reflects our department’s continued leadership in pioneering research. We’re home to Jodrell Bank, host of the Square Kilometre Array Observatory - set to be the largest radio telescope in the world; the National Graphene Institute - a world-leading centre for 2D material research with the largest clean rooms in European academia; we lead experiments at CERN and Fermilab; and - crucially - we host a world-leading community of vibrant and collaborative researchers like Professors Flanagan, Geim and Peters who lead the way. Today’s announcement recognises their role as outstanding research leaders who will drive the next generation to deliver transformative breakthroughs."

"It is an honour to be an active member of our vibrant physics department, and one of the leading particle physics groups in the country. Having already successfully hosted an ERC starter and ERC CG grant in Manchester, I know from experience that this inclusive, diverse environment is crucial for creating and executing novel ideas and inspiring the next generation of researchers."

Professor Richard Curry, Vice-Dean for Research and Innovation in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at The University of Manchester, added: "Our University’s history of scientific and engineering research is internationally recognised but it does not constrain us. Instead, it’s the work of our researchers - like the seven leaders celebrated today - and what they decide to do next, that will define us. We are proud to have a culture where responsible risk-taking is nurtured and transformative outcomes delivered, and we look forward to these colleagues using this environment to deliver world-leading and world-changing research."

Iliana Ivanova, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth at the ERC, said: "This investment nurtures the next generation of brilliant minds. I look forward to seeing the resulting breakthroughs and fresh advancements in the years ahead."

The ERC grants are part of the EU’s Horizon Europe programme.