Seven researchers at Trinity College Dublin have been awarded EU European Research Council (ERC) prestigious grants worth more than €12 million for excellence in research, the highest number of ERC grants awarded to any higher education institution in Ireland. The ERC forms part of the EU Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020.
Out of a total of the seven ERC Consolidator Grants awarded in Ireland, four were made to researchers based at Trinity. The announcement was made this week by the EU and funding of almost €2 million has been made to each of the researchers that will enable them to consolidate their research teams and develop innovative research. The researchers are Wolfgang Schmitt¸ Daniel Kelly, Ruth Britto and Anna Davies.
Additionally three Trinity researchers were awarded ERC starting grants of almost €1.5 million each. These grants are aimed to help researchers in their early career to develop their full potential. The researchers are Redmond O’Connell, Mark Ahearne and Sarah McCormack.
An ERC Proof of Concept Award was also made to Valeria Nicolosi who was awarded her second such award which will enable her to bridge the gap between existing frontier research and commercial applications.
Congratulating the Trinity researchers, Trinity Provost, Dr Patrick Prendergast said: “The improvement of patient healthcare, the development of new technologies and sustainability are just some of the outcomes that will emanate from this leading research and innovation. As a world leading research university, Trinity’s research continues to address issues of global societal and economic importance. We aim to stimulate a wave of innovation that will stimulate jobs creation and generate longterm economic impact for the country.”
Dean of Research, Professor Vinny Cahill added: “Ireland has ambitious targets in the EU Horizon 2020 programme. The targets set by Trinity are similarly ambitious and we are well positioned to meet this challenge. These seven ERC funding awards bear testament to that. Excellence in research underpins our strategy and our researchers will continue to work with the best in academia and industry in achieving these goals.”
ERC Consolidator Grants Awardees:
Professor in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Daniel Kelly, also Director of the Trinity Centre for Bioengineering and Principal Investigator at the SFI centre, AMBER was granted €2 million in funding for his project. Professor Kelly’s work focuses on Osteoarthritis (OA) which is a serious disease of the joints affecting nearly 10% of the population worldwide and is one of the greatest challenges in the field of orthopaedic medicine. His proposal envisions a future where 3D bioprinting systems located in hospitals will provide ‘off-the-shelf’, patient-specific biological implants to treat diseases such as OA. The ultimate aim of the project is to print biological implants mimicking the shape of a patient’s hip or knee to enable whole joint regeneration. If successful, such an implant would form the basis of a truly transformative therapy for treating degenerative joint diseases like arthritis.
Professor in Chemistry, Wolfgang Schmitt and also Principal Investigator at AMBER was granted €2 million in funding for his project that aims to tackle global energy needs by developing new sustainable fuel-producing systems, using light and highly porous materials known as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). Professor Schmitt aims to mimic photosynthesis, the naturally occurring process in which plants harvest light and convert it into chemical energy producing valuable compounds. One of the key aims of this project, the efficient conversion of light into chemical energy would be a significant scientific achievement with unprecedented impact for future generations.
Professor in Geography, Anna Davies was granted €1.9 million for ‘SHARECITY,’ a research project that will assess the practice and sustainability potential of city-based food sharing economies. More than 50% of the world’s population live in cities. Cities also consume more than 75% of natural resources and produce more than a billion tons of waste, half of which is organic and mostly food waste. SHARECITY will produce the first global study of emergent and burgeoning food sharing in cities – from redistributing surplus food from retailers to charities and community kitchens, to web-based platforms identifying surplus crops as potentially transformative means to shift urban food systems onto more sustainable pathways.
Assistant Professor in Pure and Applied Mathematics, Ruth Britto who was awarded €1.9 million will be investigating the mathematics at the heart of quantum theory. She says: “There is an extremely beautiful structure that has only started to be uncovered. I hope to use this structure to make difficult calculations easy. For example, theoreticians now struggle to keep up with the spectacular measurements taken at the Large Hadron Collider. We have to work more efficiently to make sure we don’t miss discovering new particles.” For precision calculations and investigations of the deep structure of gauge theory, a comprehensive method for computing multiloop amplitudes systematically and efficiently needs to be found. She aims to construct a new and complete approach to computing such amplitudes.
ERC Starting Grant Awardees
Research Fellow in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Mark Ahearne, who was awarded almost €1.5 million, aims to develop a new approach to corneal tissue regeneration. Corneal blindness affects millions worldwide. In many cases corneal transplants can restore vision however the shortage of donor corneas suitable for transplantation has necessitated the development of alternative treatments. He plans to design artificial corneal scaffolds that do not require donated cells or in vitroculture but instead will recruit the patient’s own cells to regenerate the cornea post-implantation.
Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering, Sarah McCormack will concentrate on both direct and diffuse solar radiation in a static building component delivering not only breakthroughs in solar device efficiencies but also the development of unique building integrated components. Applying photovoltaic panels to buildings is important in achieving 20% renewable energy targets by 2020.
The research aims to develop a disruptive photovoltaic technology where record increases in efficiency are achieved and costs dramatically reduced.
Ussher Assistant Professor in Social Neuroscience, Redmond O’Connell’s research will concentrate on human decision making and aims to develop a systems-level understanding of perceptual decision making in the human brain. He will be looking at the neural mechanism that determines our subjective confidence in a decision and how ageing impacts on the distinct neural components underpinning perceptual decision making among other areas.