Four ERC Starting Grants for KU Leuven researchers

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The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded its Starting Grants. Among this year’s recipients are Elke Debroye (Departement of Chemistry), Jozefien De Leersnyder (Center for Social and Cultural Psychology), Raf Van Rooy (Latin Literature Research Group), and Dominic Bowman (Institute of Astronomy).

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. 

Elke Debroye: less harmful X-ray imaging

Assistant Professor tenure track Faculty of Science; Departement of Chemistry

Radiographs, commonly known as X-ray scans, have widespread applications ranging from screening luggage at the airport to scanning trucks and performing radiological exams at the hospital. Particularly in the case of medical applications, it is essential to consider the dosage of high-energy radiation to which we expose our bodies. Excessive radiation can cause headaches or nausea or, in extreme cases, disrupt cell division. Nevertheless, X-rays remain a commonly used scanning technique due to their fast and high-resolution imaging capabilities.

"To continue using this technique frequently in the future, we are launching the X-PECT project. Our goal is to develop new materials for the X-ray detector plate using novel technologies while considering toxicity, sensitivity and long-term stability. We aim to produce a lower-cost photoactive layer in the detector plate that is highly sensitive, allowing the dose of high-energy radiation during an X-ray scan to be reduced and even higher resolution to be achieved. As a result, patients could undergo scans more frequently, leading to more precise monitoring. For security and transport applications, our primary focus is on developing a stable, large scanning surface."

Read more about the project

Jozefien De Leersnyder: re-thinking Psychological Acculturation

Assistant Professor tenure track BOF Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences; Center for Social and Cultural Psychology

Due to increasing levels of international migration and the resulting highly diverse make-up of our societies, more and more people are subject to what is called psychological acculturation - i.e. a process of change in psychological and behavioural functioning that results from sustained contact with another culture.

"To date, however, our understanding of psychological acculturation is still poor," says Professor Jozefien De Leersnyder, "mainly because the dominant scientific models of the past 60 years narrowly focus on people’s cultural attitudes and identities, which, I think, sketches a pretty incomplete and oversimplified picture of a very complex process."

In PsychAcc, she therefore integrates key ideas from cultural psychology to develop a novel way to understand and study this process. "Specifically, I argue that new or multiple cultural engagements may not only affect attitudes and identities, but also alter people’s ways of being and relating, thinking and being motivated - processes that are crucial for both well-being and school outcomes."

To study these processes, PsychAcc includes four studies: a cross-cultural, longitudinal, experimental and observational one, all focusing on ethnic minority and majority youth in Belgium. The flagship study is a 24-month study in which Prof. De Leersnyder will follow 3000 adolescents in 40 secondary schools.

"The scientific impact is that the envisioned results enable us to re-think the process of psychological acculturation as a multi-faceted process of change. The societal impact may be a shift in how people and policy makers think about cultural changes and ’integration’: away from merely focusing on minorities’ ’willingness’ toward acknowledging the sometimes invisible nature of these processes that affect of us."

Read more about the project

Raf Van Rooy: the revival of Ancient Greek in the Renaissance

Assistant Professor tenure track BOF Faculty of Arts; Latin Literature Research Group

During the Renaissance, there was a true revival of the Ancient Greek language in Europe. However, from an academic perspective, this resurgence has not been thoroughly explored, if explored at all. With the ERASMOS project, classicist Raf Van Rooy aims to change this. Central to this effort are the writings of Erasmus (known as Erasmos in Greek), which serve as an indispensable source of information. "You can find numerous Greek passages in Erasmus’ Latin texts," Van Rooy explains. "Greek appears not only in his literary and scientific works, but also in his personal correspondence. The functions of this bilingualism, or code-switching, are not yet fully understood."

Not only Erasmus, but also many of his contemporaries mastered and combined both languages. "Although there is a vast amount of sources available, there has yet to be a systematic mapping of them," Van Rooy points out. "In addition to intensive reading, we aim to develop digital tools for automatically identifying the different languages and detecting Ancient Greek passages more quickly. Through the texts we study, we can gain insight into how Ancient Greek spread throughout Europe and learn more about the humanism intertwined with it. Our goal with this project is to lay a strong foundation for the study of Greek past the Byzantine period, an area that has yet to be explored."

Read more about the project   

Dominic Bowman (Institute of Astronomy) has been awarded an ERC Starting Grant for his project SYMPHONY: Studying Massive Star Physics of Blue Supergiants with Asteroseismology. As of 1 September 2023, he has taken on a  faculty position at Newcastle University.

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

Emmanuel Rottey, Nena Testelmans, Bregt Van Hoeyveld, Translated by Yente De Moor, Portraits by Rob Stevens