Four ERC Starting Grants for KU Leuven researchers

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© KU Leuven - Rob Stevens© KU Leuven - Rob Stevens

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded its Starting Grants. Among this year’s recipients are literary scholar Núria Codina Solŕ, engineer Benjamin Gorissen, bioscience engineer Koenraad Van Meerbeek, and chemical engineer Xing Yang.

ERC Starting Grants provide funding for promising early-career researchers with two to seven years of post-PhD experience. The grants are awarded for a five-year period and may be worth up to € 1.5 million. 

Núria Codina Solŕ: understanding how literary collaboration amplifies migrant voices

Postdoctoral researcher at the Literary Studies Research Unit

"My project will examine how non-profit organisations, collaborations with amateur and professional writers, and crowdfunding initiatives enable migrants to participate in the literary scene. Literary collaboration is not a new phenomenon, but the quick pace, the huge amount of output, and the migratory contexts of today are unprecedented. The collaborative practices at the centre of this project challenge traditional notions of authorship, constitute a political strategy to enhance intercultural exchange and the social integration of migrants, and offer an alternative economic model that brings new voices to the publishing industry."

"Our initial focus will be on the European context and the seven languages that I speak myself, but I am hoping that the three doctoral researchers and the postdoc I plan to recruit will know non-European languages. This might create new opportunities for the project. Much will also depend on the political context and the humanitarian crises of tomorrow, which might lead to new collaborative initiatives."

Read more about the project     Discover Núria Codina’s research

Benjamin Gorissen: a new light on soft robotics

BOF tenure track lecturer at the Faculty of Engineering Science; Department of Mechanical Engineering

ILUMIS is the name of the project with which Professor Benjamin Gorissen obtained an ERC Starting Grant. He goes in search of the robots of the future. And they will often have to be -literallysoft, especially if they are going to interact with people. Making such soft robots move can be done with air pressure that inflates or shrinks ’balloons’. But that currently requires a tangle of pipes, valves and compressors.

ILUMIS wants it simpler. One tube for the supply of air or a liquid, which can control actuators or "balloons" individually by varying the pressure. Those ’balloons’ are elastic. By varying the shape, thickness or material, you can make them react to a specific pressure, and thus ’program’ them. The possible applications are wide. Exoskeletons, surgical instruments, machines that have to manipulate soft objects... Professor Gorissen is even thinking of cheap mini-robots that can explore the surface of planets.

Read more about the project     Follow Benjamin Gorissen on Twitter

Koenraad Van Meerbeek: engineering functional ecosystems of the future 

Tenure Track Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering; Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences; member of the KU Leuven Plant Institute

"Nature is under increasing pressure as a result of human activities. Traditional conservation approaches try to maintain a status quo in natural ecosystems. Due to climate change, however, this strategy is increasingly ineffective when it comes to tackling biodiversity loss. Species that we’re currently protecting in a specific location might no longer be able to survive there by the end of this century due to the changing climate."

"In the ERC project FutureNature, I will examine how we can use assisted migration, the translocation of species by human beings, to design new ecosystems that can withstand climate change. Using big data and advanced models, we will simulate plant communities that will thrive most under future climate conditions. In a large-scale field experiment, we will then test the performance of these new communities in different climate scenarios in which we manipulate temperature and rainfall. By making assisted migration operational, FutureNature will contribute to new solutions to counter the biodiversity crisis."

Read more about the project     Follow Koenraad Van Meerbeek on Twitter

Xing Yang: a nature-inspired approach to new membrane technology

BOF associate professor at the Faculty of Engineering Science; Department of Chemical Engineering; member of the KU Leuven Institute for Sustainable Metals and Minerals (SIM˛)

One of the known challenges for the transition to sustainable energy is the need for certain critical raw materials. Metal ions such as lithium and cobalt are crucial components of lithium-ion batteries and are, therefore, essential for the production of smartphones and electric cars. Although there are enormous ion resources hidden in the ocean and to be recovered from waste batteries, how to efficiently obtain them in industry-grade purity and in a scalable manner remains a bottleneck of existing separation technologies.

The IonFracMem project aims to address this challenge by developing novel membranes that combine fast throughput with accurate fractionation of target ions in high purity. Inspired by the way the human cell membranes function, Professor Xing Yang wants to translate the natural mechanisms into the design of a new generation of ion-selective membranes. The success of this technology may also serve as a one-pot solution to directly produce drinkable water with the right minerals.

Read more about the project     Follow Xing Yang’s lab on Twitter

The ABC of ERC

The European Research Council (ERC) funds ground-breaking and innovative projects by Europe’s finest researchers through five types of grant:

Starting Grants

  • up to ¤1.5 million for 5 years
  • for promising early-career researchers with 2 to 7 years of post-PhD experience
  • Consolidator Grants

  • up to ¤2 million for 5 years
  • for excellent researchers with 7 to 12 years of post-PhD experience
  • Advanced Grants

  • up to ¤2.5 million for 5 years
  • for established researchers with a considerable academic track record
  • Proof of Concept

  • ¤150,000
  • for ERC grant holders to bring their research ideas closer to market
  • Synergy Grants

  • up to ¤10 million for 6 years

  • Katrien Bollen, Emmanuel Rottey, Bregt Van Hoeyveld