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Oxford University has won the largest amount of new research funding in the UK from the European Research Council (ERC).

Created to support innovative, high-impact research across academic disciplines, the ERC gives grants to outstanding scientists and top researchers working in Europe. Scientific excellence is the sole evaluation criteria. In 2019, Oxford researchers have won 31 awards, representing projects and researchers from all four academic divisions.

The ERC announced the winners of its latest Consolidator Grant competition on 10 December, awarding funding to 301 top scientists and scholars across Europe. Funding for these researchers, part of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, is worth in total €600 million. With this support, the new grantees will have a chance to build up their teams and have far-reaching impact.

In the latest ERC funding round announcement, the University of Oxford has received nine new ERC Consolidator Grants, the most awarded to any institution in the UK and second place in Europe. ERC Consolidator Grants are awarded to outstanding researchers of any nationality and age, with at least seven and up to 12 years of experience after PhD, and a scientific track record showing great promise.

Professor Patrick Grant, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, said: ‘We are proud of the success of our early career researchers in this recent round of highly competitive ERC funding. The level of funding support we receive from the ERC speaks to the calibre of researchers we are able to attract and who bring considerable prestige to the University. Teaching and research excellence is at the core of our mission, and in which ERC awards continue to play a valued and central role.’

The projects funded by the new grants range in topics from urban noise to vaccine development. Some of the award winners include:

  • Dr Gascia Ouzounian from the Faculty of Music, for a project looking at the sound of cities and how to harness the creative potential of sound to build healthier, more inclusive and more sustainable cities.
  • Professor Vili Lehdonvirta from the Oxford Internet Institute, for a project on online labour and measuring digital work.
  • Dr Dace Dzenovska from the Department of Anthropology, studying the concept of ‘emptiness’ in relation to post-socialism villages and towns in the Latvian-Russian borderlands.
  • Dr Sergi Padilla-Para from the Nuffield Department of Medicine, looking at antibody responses to aid rational vaccine design for HIV.
  • Dr Emily Flashman in the Department of Chemistry, for research on plant oxygen-sensing enzymes and how to manipulate them in order to make plants better able to tolerate flooding.
  • Professor Sam Staton in the Department of Computer Science, for a project that aims to develop new programming languages for statistics and probabilistic programming.
  • Professor Christopher Beem in the Mathematical Institute, studying the intricate algebraic structure of observables in quantum field theories.
  • Dr Hauke Marquardt in the Department of Earth Sciences, for research on the properties of materials at the extreme temperature and pressure typical of planetary interiors.
  • Professor Suzanne Aigrain in the Department of Physics, for research which will develop novel data analysis techniques that are essential to find Earth-like planets orbiting nearby stars.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: ‘Knowledge developed in these new projects will allow us to understand the challenges we face at a more fundamental level, and may provide us with breakthroughs and innovations that we haven’t even imagined.

‘The EU’s investment in frontier research is an investment in our future, which is why it is so important that we reach an agreement on an ambitious Horizon Europe budget for the next multiannual budget. More available research funding would also allow us to create more opportunities everywhere in the EU - excellence should not be a question of geography.’