Women researchers shine in competition for career-changing grants


Flemish university researchers have been awarded 10 prestigious ERC grants to further develop their promising research

€1.5 million each

Ten academics at Flemish universities, six of them women, have been awarded prestigious grants by the European Research Council (ERC) to help them develop their careers.

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

KU Leuven did particularly well, picking up four grants across a range of disciplines. Bioethicist Kristien Hens won for her work on neurodevelopmental disorders; literary theorist Anne Reverseau for research into how writers work with images; electrical engineer Alexander Bertrand for signal processing algorithms in neuro-sensor networks; and biologist Karoline Faust for research on the dynamics of microbial communities.

Microscopic microscopes

Leuven is also home to the nanotechnology research centre imec, where Niels Verellen won a starting grant for his efforts to develop high-performance miniature microscopes – essentially a microscope-on-a-chip.

“Compact, high-resolution and high-throughput microscopy devices will profoundly change the way cell biologists do research,” says Verellen, “as well as how they diagnose certain diseases, how the pharma industry screens new drugs and how health-care workers diagnose patients in remote areas.”

The universities of Ghent and Antwerp were also successful, with two grants each. Vanessa Joosen, in the literature department at Antwerp, will be working on how children’s books contribute to preconceptions about age.

Many people in the West are alert to sexism, racism and homophobia, but they accept a lot of clichés around aging

- Professor Vanessa Joosen

“Many people in the western world are alert to sexism, racism and homophobia, but they accept a lot of clichés around aging as givens,” she said. “In children’s books, norms and attitudes to age are part of the story, so they are often picked up casually.” This goes on to have consequences for society, for instance in intergenerational dialogue, which will also be part of her research.

Also at Antwerp, Neil Howard will use his starting grant to study the economics of work and slavery, while in Ghent Tine Destrooper will study victim participation in transitional justice, and Petra Van Damme will work on infection biology.

Finally, Krijn De Vries of VUB in Brussels won a grant to develop novel methods to detect the radio waves of neutrinos that are simultaneously observed by the IceCube neutrino observatory at the South Pole.

Photo: Tine Destrooper during her swearing in as the director of the Flemish Peace Institute earlier this year
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