Around nine million Euros in ERC grants awarded to Bristol academics for pioneering research
Press release issued: 22 November 2022
A total of six researchers from the University of Bristol have been awarded European Research Council (ERC) Grants totalling around 1.5 million Euros each. This places the University joint second in the UK in terms of the number of Grants awarded from the 2022 call.
The grants will help awardees undertake research on varied and valuable areas as diverse as understanding how Europe’s forests are responding to climate change, how our brains learn and establishing the 3D nature of exoplanets.
Dr Mike Blake of the School of Mathematics aims to address central challenges concerning the dynamics of strongly interacting quantum systems. His project will make progress on fundamental and long-standing questions concerning entanglement, chaos and transport in many-body quantum systems and quantum field theory, by building on connections between these fields that have recently emerged in studies of toy models.
He said: “The dynamics of interacting quantum systems is central to many of the most fundamental questions in modern physics, including understanding the transport properties of strongly correlated materials and the role of entanglement and chaos in thermalizing quantum systems.
“This grant will address many of these central challenges, and forge new connections between a range of different fields including quantum information theory, gravity and many-body physics.’’
Tomasso Jucker, NERC Independent Research Fellow and Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences, is focused on understanding the processes that shape the structure and function of the world’s forests, in an effort to predict how these will respond to rapid environmental change. He and his group do this using everything from manipulative experiments, long-term field observations and new remote sensing tools. His ERC Starting Grant – nicknamed FORTRESS – will bring these approaches together to better understand how Europe’s forests are responding to extreme heatwaves.
“It’s hard to express how lucky I feel to have been awarded an ERC starting grant,” he said. “This project will allow us to work on what I think is one of the biggest questions we face as a society: how are ecosystems responding rapid climate change and what implications does this have for our planet’s climate, biodiversity and people’s livelihoods? I’m excited for what the next few years have in store!”
The School of Physics’ Dr Hannah Wakeford will use her grant to explore the three-dimensional nature of exoplanet atmospheres, planets that orbit stars other than the sun, using data from space-based telescopes, Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope. This program will develop and apply innovative methods to spatially map the atmosphere of these distant planets as they pass in front of (transit) or are occulted (eclipsed) by their stars during their orbit.
Dr Wakeford explained: “Hubble and JWST are the perfect team of instruments with Hubble providing observations from the UV to optical, and JWST covering the infrared; together they can construct the spectrum of the exoplanet’s atmosphere revealing what it is made of and its climate.
“This work aims to reveal the 3D nature of exoplanets based in observational evidence. It might sound absurd but until now we have not had the precision or spectral coverage to really explore the 3D nature of exoplanets. This study will work on bringing together state-of-the-art measurements with novel techniques to test our understanding of planetary atmospheres in a diversity of environments.”
Dr Rui Ponte Costa leads the Neural and Machine Learning group in the Department of Computer Science. The group builds biologically-constrained AI-driven models to transform our understanding of how the brain learns.
He said: “This grant will unlock a new generation of brain computational models inspired by artificial intelligence that will transform our understanding of how we learn.”
PoTEMU will develop a robust method for causal inference that accommodates deviations from key assumptions and deliver recommendations that account for model uncertainty inherent to empirical practice. To formulate such a method, PoTEMU will introduce a novel statistical framework for causal analysis under model uncertainty.
"I am honoured and grateful to have been awarded an ERC Starting Grant,” said Dr Stouli. “This prestigious award will give me the time and resources necessary for the development of a novel framework for causal inference. I can’t wait to build a team that will help me tackle the exciting challenges raised by this risky and ambitious research agenda.”
Dr Natasha Mulvihill, Senior Lecturer in Criminology in the School for Policy Studies will head a project looking at the nature, extent and internal administrative responses to sexual misconduct and abuse perpetrated against adults by professionals.
Focusing on police, doctors, politicians, clergy, lawyers and the military, she will draw on international evidence and practice to assess how and to what extent professionals sexually offend, and to review the internal processes which identify and manage these complaints. Analysing such data on this scale will be a UK first and, across such diverse professions, an international first.
Dr Mulvihill said: “Certain professions hold significant public authority or esteem, and sexual misconduct and abuse are a profound breach of that trust. Professional regulatory responses to sexual misconduct are often overlooked, yet critical given low victim confidence in the criminal justice system. This project will examine whether such mechanisms administratively segregate and exonerate professional perpetrators or can offer a route to effective accountability and sanction.”
408 researchers have won this year’s European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grants. The funding is worth in total €636 million and part of the Horizon Europe programme. It will help excellent younger scientists, who have two to seven years’ experience after their PhDs, to launch their own projects, form their teams and pursue their most promising ideas.
Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “We are proud that we are empowering younger researchers to follow their curiosity. These new ERC laureates bring a remarkable wealth of scientific ideas, they will certainly further our knowledge and some already have practical applications in sight. I wish them all the best of luck with their explorations.”
President of the European Research Council Prof. Maria Leptin said: “It is a pleasure to see this new group of bright minds at the start of their careers, set to take their research to new heights. I cannot emphasise enough that Europe as a whole - both at national and at EU level - has to continue to back and empower its promising talent. We must encourage young researchers who are led by sheer curiosity to go after their most ambitious scientific ideas. Investing in them and their frontier research is investing in our future.” “It is a pleasure to see this new group of bright minds at the start of their careers, set to take their research to new heights. I cannot emphasise enough that Europe as a whole - both at national and at EU level - has to continue to back and empower its promising talent. We must encourage young researchers who are led by sheer curiosity to go after their most ambitious scientific ideas. Investing in them and their frontier research is investing in our future.”
The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept Grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between their pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation. The ERC is led by an independent governing body, the Scientific Council. Since 1 November 2021, Maria Leptin is the President of the ERC. The overall ERC budget from 2021 to 2027 is more than €16 billion, as part of the Horizon Europe programme, under the responsibility of the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel.