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Twelve Cambridge researchers awarded European Research Council funding

Two hundred and nine senior scientists from across Europe were awarded grants in today’s announcement, representing a total of €507 million in research funding. The UK has 51 grantees in this year’s funding round, the most of any ERC participating country.

ERC grants are awarded through open competition to projects headed by starting and established researchers, irrespective of their origins, who are working or moving to work in Europe. The sole criterion for selection is scientific excellence. ERC Advanced Grants are designed to support excellent scientists in any field with a recognised track record of research achievements in the last ten years. Apart from strengthening Europe’s knowledge base, the new research projects will also lead to the creation of some 1,900 new jobs for post-doctoral fellows, PhD students and other research staff. 

Professor Melinda Duer from the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry has been awarded a grant for her EXTREME project to explore the chemistry that happens when a biological tissue stretches or breaks.

So-called mechanochemistry leads to molecules being generated within the tissue that may be involved in communicating tissue damage to cells. Detecting and understanding this chemistry is highly relevant for understanding ageing, and for developing new therapeutics for degenerative diseases and cancer.

“This award means I can do the research I’ve been dreaming about for the last ten years,” said Duer. “I am extremely grateful to the European Research Council for giving me this amazing opportunity. The ERC is one of the few organisations that understands the need for longer-term funding for high-risk, high-reward research, which is essential for this project. I really couldn’t be more delighted and I can’t wait to get started!”

Professor Manish Chhowalla, from the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, received funding for his 2D-LOTTO project, for the development of energy-efficient electronics.

“This grant will enable our research group to realise the next generation of energy-efficient electronics based on two-dimensional semiconductors,” he said. “The funding will also support a team of students, early career researchers and senior academics to address the challenges of demonstrating practical tunnel field effect transistors.”

Professor Henning Sirringhaus from the Cavendish Laboratory received funding for his NANO-DECTET project, for the development of next-generation energy materials. “Worldwide, only about a third of primary energy is converted into useful energy services: the other two thirds are wasted as heat in the various industrial, transportation, residential energy conversion and electricity generation processes,” said Sirringhaus. “Given the urgent need to mitigate the dangerous consequences of climate change, a waste of energy on this scale needs to be addressed immediately.

“Thermoelectric waste-heat-to-electricity conversion could offer a potential solution, but the performance of thermoelectric materials is currently insufficient. In this project we will use the unique physics of molecular organic semiconductors, as well as hybrid organic-inorganic semiconductors, to make efficient, low-temperature thermoelectric materials.”

Professor Marcos Martinon-Torres from the Department of Archaeology received funding for his REVERSEACTION project, which will study how societies in the past cooperated. “Many prehistoric societies did pretty well at maintaining rich and complex lives without the need for permanent power hierarchies and coercive authorities,” he said. “Arguably, they chose to cooperate, and not just to ensure survival. The lack of state structures did not stop them from developing and sustaining complex technologies, making extraordinary artefacts that required exotic materials, challenging skills and labour arrangements. I’m keen to understand why, but also how they managed.

“This grant couldn’t have come at a better time, as collective action is increasingly recognised as the only way to tackle some of our greatest global concerns, and there is value in studying how people collaborated in the past. With our labs freshly revamped through our recent AHRC infrastructure grant, we are ready to take on a new large-scale, challenging archaeological science project.”

Professor Marta Mirazon Lahr, also from the Department of Archaeology, was awarded funding for her NGIPALAJEM project, which will bring a new understanding of how the evolution of our species is part of a broader and longer African evolutionary landscape.

“My research is in human evolution, a field that advances through technical breakthroughs, new ideas, and critically, new fossils,” said Lahr. “A big part of my work is to find new hominin fossils in Africa, which requires not only supportive local communities and institutions, but long-term planning and implementation, a dedicated team, significant funds and the time to excavate, study, compare and interpret new discoveries. This new grant from the ERC gives me all this and more – and I just can’t wait to get started!”

Professor Richard Samworth’s RobustStats project will develop robust statistical methodology and theory for large-scale data. “Large-scale data are usually messy: they may be collected under different conditions, and data may be missing or corrupted, which makes it difficult to draw reliable conclusions,” said Samworth, from the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics. “This grant will allow me to focus my time on developing robust statistical methodology and theory to address these challenges. Equally importantly, I will be able to build a group of PhD students and post-docs that will dramatically increase the scale and scope of what we are able to achieve.

Professor Zoran Hadzibabic from the Cavendish Laboratory was awarded funding for his UNIFLAT project. One of the great successes of the last-century physics was recognising that complex and seemingly disparate systems are fundamentally alike. This allowed the classification of the equilibrium states of matter into classes based on their basic properties. At the heart of this classification is the universal collective behaviour, insensitive to the microscopic details, displayed by systems close to phase transitions.

A grand challenge for modern physics is to achieve such a feat for the far richer world of the nonequilibrium collective phenomena. “Our ambition is to make a leading contribution to this worldwide effort, through a series of coordinated experiments on homogeneous atomic gases in two-dimensional (2D) geometry,” said Hadzibabic. “Specifically, we will study in parallel three problems – the dynamics of the topological Berezinskii-Kosterlitz-Thouless phase transition, turbulence in driven systems, and the universal spatiotemporal scaling behaviour in isolated quantum systems far from equilibrium. Each of these topics is fascinating and of fundamental importance in its own right, but beyond that we will experimentally establish an emerging picture that connects them.”

Dr Helen Williams from the Department of Earth Sciences said: “By funding the EarthMelt project, the ERC has given me the amazing opportunity to study the early evolution of the Earth and its transition from a largely molten state to the habitable planet we know today. This funding will also help me to develop exciting new instrumentation and analytical techniques, and, most importantly, mentor and support the next generation of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers working in geochemistry.”

Professor Sir Richard Friend from the Cavendish Laboratory has been awarded funding for his Spin Control in Radical Semiconductors (SCORS) project, which will explore the electronic properties of organic semiconductors that have an unpaired electron to give net magnetic spin. The project is based on a recent discovery that this unpaired electron can couple strongly to light, allowing very efficient luminescence in LEDs. Friend’s group will explore new combinations of optical excited states with magnetic spin states. This will allow new designs for LEDs and solar cells, and opportunities to control the ground state spin polarisation in spintronic devices.

Professor Christopher Hunter’s InfoMols project is focused on synthetic information molecules. “The aim of our project is replication and evolution with artificial polymers,” said Hunter, from the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry. “The timeframe for achieving such a breakthrough is unpredictable, and it is the flexibility provided by an ERC award that makes tackling such challenging targets possible.”

Professor Mark Gross from the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics received funding for his Mirror symmetry in Algebraic Geometry (MSAG) project, and Professor Geoffrey Khan from the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies was awarded funding for ALHOME: Echoes of Vanishing Voices in the Mountains: A Linguistic History of Minorities in the Near East.

 

Twelve University of Cambridge researchers have won advanced grants from the European Research Council (ERC), Europe’s premier research funding body. Cambridge has the most grant winners of any UK institution, and the second-most winners overall. Their work is set to provide new insights into many subjects, such as how to deal with vast scales of data in a statistically robust way, the development of energy-efficient materials for a zero-carbon world, and the development of new treatments for degenerative disease and cancer.

University of CambridgeTop L-R: Helen Williams, Richard Friend, Richard Samworth, Melinda Duer. Bottom L-R: Chris Hunter, Marta Mirazon Lahr, Marcos Martinon-Torres, Manish Chhowalla


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Submissions open for BBC National Short Story Award and BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University

The BBC National Short Story Award is one of the most prestigious for a single short story, with the winning author receiving £15,000, and four further shortlisted authors £600 each. The stories will be broadcast on Radio 4 and published in an anthology by Comma Press.

The 2020 winner of the BBC National Short Story Award was Sarah Hall for ‘The Grotesques’, a timeless and unsettling story set against a backdrop of privilege and inequality in a university town. This was the second win for Hall who also won the prize in 2013. Previous alumni of the award include Lionel Shriver, Zadie Smith, Hilary Mantel, Jon McGregor, Ingrid Persaud, Cynan Jones and Jo Lloyd.

The writers shortlisted for the BBC Young Writers’ Award have their stories narrated by an actor, recorded for a BBC podcast, and published in an anthology. The winner of the 2020 BBC Young Writers’ Award was Lottie Mills for her story inspired by her experience of disability, ‘The Changeling.’ Both winning stories are available to listen to on BBC Sounds.

This is the first year of a new three-year partnership with the University of Cambridge, including Cambridge University Library, the Faculty of English, Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education and for the first time, the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Dr Lisa Mullen from the University’s Faculty of English and Director of Studies at Downing College said: “The University of Cambridge is delighted to be collaborating with the BBC again on these awards, and to support and nurture both new and established short-story writers.

“Stories are at the heart of our shared human experience, and Cambridge's Faculty of English, Institute of Continuing Education, the University Library and Fitzwilliam Museum all have a special interest in how this dynamic form of fiction responds to a changing world.”

The BBC National Short Story Award and BBC Young Writers’ Award are now open for submissions. Novelist and former Radio 4 Commissioning Editor for Arts James Runcie will chair the judging panel for the BBC National Short Story Award, an award that has enriched both the careers of writers and the wider literary landscape since its launch sixteen years ago.

Runcie said: “I am so delighted to chair the 2021 BBC National Short Story Awards. We need imaginative alternatives in these dark times: stories that question and surprise and open up new worlds.

“They can be short or long. They can take place in the past, present, future, or even all three at once. They can be set in a nutshell or in infinite space. But what I think we’ll be looking for is uniqueness of vision, a distinctive tone, curiosity, intrigue, surprise: an invitation to the reader’s imagination. I can’t wait to get started.”

Chair of the BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University is BBC Radio 1 Presenter Katie Thistleton. She chairs the judging panel for the teenage award for the fourth time as it opens for submissions for the seventh year. Thistleton is a writer and the co-host of Radio 1’s Life Hacks and The Official Chart: First Look on Radio 1. The BBC Young Writers’ Award is open to writers between the ages of 14-18 years.

Thistleton said: “I’m really looking forward to chairing the BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University again for 2021. As a keen writer myself, and someone who loved entering writing competitions when I was younger, I know how important and exciting this opportunity is.”

Runcie and Thistleton will be joined by a group of acclaimed writers and critics on their respective panels.

For the BBC National Short Story Award: Booker Prize shortlisted novelist Fiona Mozley; award winning writer, poet and winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize, Derek Owusu; multi-award winning Irish novelist and short story writer, Donal Ryan; and returning judge, Di Speirs, Books Editor at BBC Radio.

For the BBC Young Writers’ Award, Thistleton will be joined by bestselling, highly acclaimed Irish YA author, Louise O’Neill; twenty-year old singer-songwriter Arlo Parks; Sunday Times bestselling author and actor Robert Webb; and Guardian Children’s Fiction Award winner Alex Wheatle.

Full Terms and Conditions for the NSSA and YWA are available with submissions accepted online at www.bbc.co.uk/nssa and www.bbc.co.uk/ywa. The deadline for receipt of entries for the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University is 9am (GMT) Monday 15th March 2021. The deadline for receipt of entries for the BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University is 9am (GMT) Monday 22nd March 2021. 

The shortlist for the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University will be announced on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row at 7.15pm on Friday 10th September 2021. The shortlist for the BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University will be announced on Radio 1’s Life Hacks from 4pm on Sunday 19th September 2021.

The stories shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from Monday 13th to Friday 17th September 2021 from 3.30pm to 4pm.

The announcement of the winners of the two awards will be broadcast live from the award ceremony at BBC Broadcasting House on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row from 7.15pm on Tuesday 5th October 2021.

Novelist James Runcie and broadcaster Katie Thistleton will chair the judging panels for the 2021 BBC National Short Story Award and BBC Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University and submissions now open.

Stories are at the heart of our shared human experience, and Cambridge's Faculty of English, Institute of Continuing Education, the University Library and Fitzwilliam Museum all have a special interest in how this dynamic form of fiction responds to a changing worldDr Lucy Mullen


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

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