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€8 million ERC grants awarded for diverse range of research projects

Professor Helen Fulton (left) with Professor Rich Pancost (below right) and Professor Russ Jago (above right) University of Bristol

Press release issued: 26 April 2022

Three researchers from the University of Bristol have been awarded European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grants totalling around €8 million. This places the University third in the UK in terms of the number of Advanced Grants awarded from the 2021 call.

The Bristol awardees will be undertaking pioneering research on diverse areas such as mapping the medieval border between England and Wales, examining climate impacts on the carbon cycle and co-designing a new flexible physical activity program for school children.

Professor Helen Fulton, Chair of Medieval Literature from the Department of English has been awarded €2,471,264 to lead a project which aims to create the first holistic cultural history of the Welsh Marches between 1282 and 1550 which were occupied by a diverse population of Welsh, English and French.

This will be the first study of the geo-cultural politics of the March from both sides of the border, revealing new information about cultural and linguistic networks in this multilingual region of medieval Britain.

It will also create the first-ever set of maps of the Marcher lordships, using historical records to determine the boundaries of the lordships which have never previously been authoritatively determined.

Professor Fulton said: “The project will provide historians, linguists, and literary critics with unprecedented access to the cultural geography of the Welsh Marches, opening up new avenues for comparative research and analysis.”

The second award of €3,106,733 goes to Professor Rich Pancost from the School of Earth Sciences whose project will apply analytical innovations to evaluate how climate change affects peatland carbon cycling across multiple timescales.

Greenhouse gases shaped Earth history, impacting both climate and ecosystems; today, we are doing the same through both direct emissions but also via our impact on natural systems. Soil microorganisms, for example, account for the largest natural methane flux, and yet these processes remain poorly understood making it difficult to predict how they will change in an uncertain future

Professor Pancost explained: “Studies on ancient peat and lignites provide tantalising insights into past climate-driven disruptions of the carbon cycle, but the underlying mechanisms remain unresolved. Through this study we will use new technology to probe how microbial metabolism, and hence biogeochemical cycles, operate on the Earth today, through its history, and in response to rapid global warming.”

The third and final award of €2,499,318 will go to Professor Russ Jago from the School of Policy Studies and Bristol Medical School for a project that will work with pupils, schools, and families to co-design and evaluate a new flexible physical activity program for primary school children.

Professor Jago said: “Physical activity is important for children’s health and happiness. Current approaches to increase children’s physical activity have not been very effective. Physical activity declines across childhood with the end of primary school a critical period of change. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges. There is an urgent need to help more children be active

“In our new approach, schools will select core and peripheral components to create a school-specific portfolio that meets their local needs. We will assess the flexible programs using a new evaluation framework that we will also create during the project, and work with a wide range of stakeholders to disseminate findings.”

Professor Philip Taylor, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, said: “Congratulations to Helen, Rich, Russ and their colleagues on being awarded these prestigious grants. I look forward to following the progress of the three projects.”

ERC Advanced Grants are designed to support excellent scientists and scholars in any field at the career stage when they are already established research leaders, with a recognised track record of research achievements. The funding announced today is worth in total €624 million and will go to 253 leading researchers across Europe.




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