Researchers win European grants worth 4million euros

Credit: Dave Guttridge
Credit: Dave Guttridge
Two Imperial academics have won major research grants from the European Research Council (ERC) to research AI in finance and cloud turbulence.

Dr Ansgar Walther ( Business School ) and Dr Oliver Buxton ( Faculty of Engineering ) were selected among 308 researchers across Europe for this year’s ERC Consolidator Grants. They will each receive an ERC grant worth nearly 2million euros to pursue their research project over a five year period. According to the ERC, the funding aims to "support excellent scientists and scholars at the career stage where they may still be consolidating their own independent research teams to pursue their most promising scientific ideas."

Professor Ian Walmsley, Imperial’s Provost, said: "These awards recognise the exceptional creativity of our colleagues, and will provide the resources they need to deliver really world-changing ideas and impact from their work. They also reinforce the value of our links with Europe and the contributions Imperial’s research makes to these partnerships."

In September the European Commission and the UK government confirmed that the UK will be associating to Horizon Europe from the 2024 work programme and participating as a fully associated member for the remaining life of the programme until 2027.

Financial stability and inclusion in the age of AI

The rapid advances in artificial intelligence have important regulatory implications for the financial services industry. Dr Ansgar Walther, an Associate Professor of Finance at the Business School, will use his ERC grant to study its implications. The project will focus on the adoption of "robo-advice" by retail investors, the implications of AI-driven credit scoring on fairness and financial inclusion, as well as the ultimate implications of AI-backed finance for macroeconomic stability.

Dr Walther’s work will use a variety of methodologies from social science and computer science, combining quantitative economic modelling with machine learning algorithms trained on large data sets. The research aims to address urgent policy questions regarding the regulation of AI in the financial sector and beyond.

"I wrote the grant proposal before AI was such a big topic in the news, so I’m very excited to have the opportunity to dig deeper." Dr Ansgar Walther Associate Professor of Finance, Business School

Dr Walther said: "It’s difficult to open a newspaper these days without seeing either a doomsday scenario about the pitfalls of AI, or an enthusiastic endorsement of its promises. Will the algorithms take away people’s jobs or make us more productive? Will they perpetuate or reduce social inequality? Will AI regulation save us from disaster or kill innovation? I wrote the grant proposal before AI was such a big topic in the news, so I’m very excited to have the opportunity to dig deeper. By studying finance, an industry where AI is already widely adopted, I’ll be able to push beyond the rhetoric and confront these questions with actual models and data."

Cloud turbulence

Dr Oliver Buxton, a Reader in Experimental Fluid Mechanics, has received a grant to study the intermittent nature of turbulence in clouds and how this affects the cloud microphysics, including rainfall initiation. Clouds can be extremely turbulent environments and in these conditions the turbulence becomes "patchy", meaning there are small regions of highly intense turbulence contained within a much bigger region of more moderate turbulence.

"Receiving this ERC award is fantastic since it allows me to apply my recent breakthroughs in turbulence science to a problem that I have long wanted to study." Dr Oliver Buxton Reader in Experimental Fluid Mechanics, Faculty of Engineering
The research will focus on the exchange of mass, momentum and energy between a cloud and the surrounding (non-cloudy) air - entrainment, and the way in which these intermittent turbulent physics affect the droplet dynamics within the cloud. This study is needed now because scientists need to better understand these physics so that they can better parameterise them for weather and climate modelling. Accurate climate models are vital in the fight against climate change and for creating more accurate weather forecasts.

Dr Buxton said: "This is simply a dream come true. Whilst researching turbulence is my true passion I have always, deep down, been a slightly frustrated meteorologist. If you ask my wife, she will tell you that I am frequently talking about clouds and how turbulence affects their dynamics - she is probably sick of hearing about it. Receiving this ERC award is fantastic since it allows me to apply my recent breakthroughs in turbulence science to a problem that I have long wanted to study. The flexibility of ERC