What can be done to improve the efficacy of vaccines? How can we predict our future climate? What is the environmental impact of nanoplastics? Are there alternative economic models to endless economic growth? What is the nature of dark matter in the Universe? Four hundred thirty-six laureates of the 2020 European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grants competition will now be able to tackle these and other big scientific questions at universities and research centres across Europe.
The funding, worth in total €677 million, will help these early-career scientists and scholars to build their own teams and conduct pioneering research across all disciplines. The grants are part of the EU's Research and Innovation programme, Horizon 2020.
Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: "With European Research Council grants, the EU is leveraging the talent and curiosity of some of the best young researchers in Europe. Their ideas are set to break fresh ground and open new ways to deal with pressing challenges in the areas of health, energy and digital technologies, as well as many other fields. Our ambition to effectively tackle current and future crises depends on our strong will to continuously and increasingly support top research at the frontiers of our knowledge."
President of the European Research Council (ERC), Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, commented: ""The present health crisis showed that despite spectacular progress in research over the past decades, there still remain plenty of unsolved scientific mysteries, as well as lessons to be learnt from the past. Therefore, the best strategy to tackle it is to enable some of the brightest minds to pursue their most innovative ideas, in order to create opportunities for serendipitous discoveries. This is what the European Research Council is for. It's clear that, if Europe is to be competitive globally, it needs to give excellent prospects to the next generation of researchers as these ERC Starting Grants do, and to invest much more in top blue sky research."
The grantees are a diverse group with 40 different nationalities. Amongst the winners, 20 researchers are moving to Europe from further afield thanks to the funding. The new grantees will be based in 25 countries across Europe, with Germany (88 grants), the UK (62), the Netherlands (42) and France (38) as top locations. Some 13% of applications were selected for funding in this round.
These Starting Grants will create an estimated 2,500 jobs for postdoctoral fellows, PhD students and other staff at the host institutions.