University of Oxford awarded major European Research Council funding


The highly-competitive awards, given to Europe’s most innovative, high-impact academics, have been won by researchers from across the university’s four divisions – representing the highest number of consolidator grants awarded in the UK. These coveted prizes are awarded by the ERC to researchers with between seven and 12 years’ post-doctoral experience, ‘all selected solely based on excellence’, according to Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.

These ERC awards are a strong endorsement of the quality and adventure of the research proposed by early and mid-career researchers across the University, in diverse subjects including demography, history, zoology, biology and chemistry

Professor Patrick Grant

Professor Patrick Grant, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of Oxford said: ‘These ERC awards are a strong endorsement of the quality and adventure of the research proposed by early and mid-career researchers across the University, in diverse subjects including demography, history, zoology, biology and chemistry.’

ERC  President  Professor  Jean-Pierre  Bourguignon,  commented, ‘This  funding  not only empowers bright minds from across Europe to pursue their most ambitious ideas at  a  critical  stage  of  their careers,  but  also helps train the youngest  generation of researchers as  members  of  their  ERC  teams.  To  prepare  for  the  challenges  of tomorrow, Europe  must  stick  to  the  vision of  investing  in frontier  research,  which has proved time  and  again  its crucial added  value.’

According to today’s ERC announcement, awards have been made to 327 researchers from European Union member states and associated countries from Iceland to Israel. There were more than 2,400 applications – and just 13% of applicants were awarded grants.  Institutions in the UK and Germany won the most awards – 50 projects per country. Women won 37% of grants – the most since they have been awarded. The majority of awards (144) went to researchers in physical sciences and engineering.

I’m so thrilled to have the opportunity to carry out this ERC Consolidator project….The overall goal of the project is to understand how long we are living, and why

Professor Jennifer Dowd

Oxford’s eight winners, each awarded research funding of some €2 million, are:

Professor Andrew Baldwin, Chemistry, thanked the ERC for its funding. He said, ‘We believe that cells are acting like synthetic organic chemists, and effectively switching between solvents to conduct different reactions at different times during the cell cycle. If this is correct, then this is a large departure from the wider view that molecules inside cells are dissolved either in water or in membranes.’

Dr Alfredo Castello, Biochemistry. A specialist in researching the role of RNA-binding proteins in virus infection, Dr Castello’s work has uncovered dozens of RBPs, which are crucial for viruses. Millions of people die each year from RNA viruses.  It is critical to understand the interactions that viruses establish with the host cell.

Professor Jennifer Dowd, Sociology, said, ‘I’m so thrilled to have the opportunity to carry out this ERC Consolidator project. As a demographer, nothing is more fundamental than mortality trends and for decades [until now] we’ve been accustomed to steady improvements.’

The overall goal of the project is to understand how long we are living, and why. Recently life expectancy in the US has declined for three consecutive years, the longest decline since between 1915 and 1918, a time both world war and pandemic influenza raged across the globe. Mortality stalls are happening in some but not all European countries as well. What’s not clear is WHY, in this day and age of high economic development and technological and medical advances, are we seeing stalls and even reversals in life expectancy

I am very grateful….These European awards make it possible to study the past in exciting ways, and Oxford is a fantastic place for this sort of collaborative research that connects postholders, students, and early career researchers

Dr John-Paul Ghobrial

Dr John-Paul Ghobrial, History, said, ‘I am very grateful….These European awards make it possible to study the past in exciting ways, and Oxford is a fantastic place for this sort of collaborative research that connects postholders, students, and early career researchers.’

This award is for a project called ‘Moving Stories: Sectarianisms in the Global Middle East’.  It combines the study of mobile sectarianisms with the use of neglected family archives and papers of Middle Eastern migrants in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Professor Aris Katzourakis, Zoology, said, ‘I am absolutely thrilled to be awarded an ERC consolidator grant…. The scale of the project that an award would enable…will allow me to use paleovirology to answer fundamental questions that will have wide societal implications.

This project will tackle crucial questions regarding the evolutionary biology of viruses and their interactions with their hosts, and to develop paleovirology from a recently established discipline to one that regularly solves fundamental problems in biology.

Understanding outbreaks resulting from viral cross species transmission has been of significant interest for some time. These are not new, and we have been expecting a significant global pandemic like the one that led to COVID-19 for some time. Successful viral cross species transmissions have occurred regularly in nature, and this project will reveal the evolutionary processes that govern transmissions between different viruses and hosts over time

Dr Francesco Licausi, Plant Sciences, said, ‘I am overjoyed by the possibility to establish a new group in Oxford…and I am immensely grateful to all those who supported me with this.’

The funding will be used to apply the synthetic biology framework to study oxygen biology across eukaryotes, with a focus on plant cells. In particular, Dr Licausi plans to generate hybrid molecular devices that will allow the scientific community to better understand, and possibly exploit, oxygen sensing and the response to hypoxia.

I am honoured to have been given this opportunity by the ERC and excited to be setting out on this voyage together with my team

Professor Susan Perkin

Professor Susan Perkin, Chemistry, said, ‘I am honoured to have been given this opportunity by the ERC and excited to be setting out on this voyage together with my team.’  

The ELECTROLYTE project will study electrolytic materials ranging from battery electrolytes to the interior of halophilic organisms, with the aim of uncovering the fundamental physical principles determining their collective properties and interactions.

Professor Andrea Vedaldi, Engineering Science, is professor of computer vision and machine learning. He said, ‘I am delighted to be a recipient of the Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council….I understand full well the fundamental importance of the support that the ERC provides for high quality research…My project [UNION] aims at empowering anyone to teach machines to help with their professional and personal activities, with the potential of multiplying many-fold the benefits of Artificial Intelligence I on everyone’s lives. No other funding scheme supports research projects of this breadth, risk and potential impact.’





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