Ten researchers in Flanders chosen for prestigious European grants


The career-making ERC grants have been awarded to researchers in four universities in a wide range of disciplines

Think female

Women researchers at Flemish universities have been spectacularly successful in the latest round of grants from the European Research Council. Seven of the ten winners in Flanders are women, a higher proportion than in most other countries receiving the grants.

The ERC Starting Grants, worth up to €1.5 million, allow researchers who have recently completed a PhD and post-doctoral work to build their own research teams and conduct pioneering projects. The grants are highly sought-after, with only 13% of all applications in the present round selected for funding.

KU Leuven stands out in the latest round because the three successful candidates all work in the humanities and social sciences. Katja Biedenkopf from the Leuven International and European Studies institute will use her grant to carry out research on the global system of carbon pricing policies, while Laura Vandenbosch from the School for Mass Communication Research will investigate media consumption and performance pressure among adolescents.

Meanwhile Elise Muir (pictured above), director of the university’s Institute for European Law, will work on rethinking fundamental rights in the EU. “I want to hire two PhD students and two postdocs,” she said when asked how she would spend the money. “I already have a team at the Institute for European Law, but it will be great to have people working on EU fundamental rights law – a new field! – as well.”

Cosmic dust

Ghent University also has three women researchers among the winners, but working on hugely different topics. Charlotte Scott, who is also affiliated with the Flemish Biosciences Institute, will carry out research into the cellular basis of liver disease; Katrien De Graeve will investigate ageing and women’s sexuality; and Ilse De Looze will study the origins of cosmic dust in distant galaxies.

Finally, Sarah Lebeer, a microbiologist at Antwerp University, will be investigating the evolutionary history and ecology of lactobacilli. These microbes have often been researched for their role in digestion, but less is known about their other roles in human health.

Two male colleagues at Antwerp also won ERC Starting Grants: historian Jeroen Puttevils, who will investigate attitudes to the future in late medieval and early modern Europe; and medical researcher Benson Ogunjimi, who will work on the evolution of immune cells.

And psychologist Senne Braems from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) will use his grant to research what makes the human brain cognitively flexible.