The European Research Council (ERC) has today announced the selection of 536 early-career top researchers for funding totalling almost €800 million. 'ERC Starting Grants' of up to €2 million per project will enable the most promising scientists to develop ideas at the frontiers of knowledge. It will also allow them to build their own research teams with more than 3,000 postdocs and PhD students, thereby supporting a new generation of top scientists in Europe. In its biggest grant award ever, the ERC will support researchers of 41 nationalities across 21 European countries. Projects selected cover a wide range of topics, from the social impacts of trans-Mediterranean renewable energy cooperation, to laser-based hearing aids and optical remote sensing technology for civil engineering works.
Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said: "In a global knowledge economy we need new ideas to compete. So investing in world-class frontier research and in the next generation of scientists is one of Europe's top priorities. After just five years ERC grants are world-renowned, and help us retain and attract the best of the best."
In this latest competition 4741 applications were received, a 16% increase on last year that shows the growing awareness and popularity of ERC grants. 44% of selected proposals were in the area of 'Physical Science and Engineering', 37% in 'Life Sciences', and 19% in 'Social Sciences and Humanities'. The average age of selected researchers is around 37. 24% of selected researchers are women, an increase from last year's 21%. The grantees were selected based on peer review evaluation by 25 panels composed of renowned scientists from around the world. Excellence is the sole selection criterion.
The ERC Starting Grants are for top early-career researchers of any nationality, provided they are based in, or willing to move to Europe. The grants are worth up to €2 million in total per grant over a period of up to 5 years. The UK, Germany and France host the greatest number of successful applicants.
The Starting Grant budget increased from €670 million in 2011 to almost €800 million, a 19.4% rise. The ERC, which is the newest, pioneering component of the EU's Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7), has a total budget of €7.5 billion from 2007 to 2013. The European Commission has proposed a significant boost of the ERC budget to over €13 billion in the new framework programme "Horizon 2020" (2014-2020).
Set up in 2007 by the EU, the European Research Council is the first pan-European funding organisation for frontier research. It aims to stimulate scientific excellence in Europe by encouraging competition for funding between the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age. The ERC also strives to attract top researchers from anywhere in the world to come to Europe. It funds young, early-career top researchers ('ERC Starting Grants'), already independent excellent scientists ('ERC Consolidator Grants'), and senior research leaders ('ERC Advanced Grants'). The substantial funding is awarded based on peer review evaluation and can amount to max. €2 million for a 'Starting Grant', €2.75 million for a 'Consolidator Grant', and €3.5 million for an 'Advanced Grant'.
The ERC operates according to an "investigator-driven", or "bottom-up", approach, allowing researchers to identify new opportunities in any field of research.
The ERC is led by the ERC Scientific Council, composed of 22 top scientists and scholars and the ERC President is Prof. Helga Nowotny. The ERC Executive Agency implements the "Ideas" Specific Programme and is led by Director Pablo Amor.