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UPF is the Spanish institution to have received most European Starting Grants in 2021

UPF is the Spanish institution to have received most European Starting Grants in 2021

Four young researchers, three women and one man, will carry out their research projects at the frontier of knowledge, as part of the first call for these grants under the European Commission’s Horizon Europe programme. They are Geer Meesters and Elisabetta Aurino (Economics and Business), Gemma Cirac-Claveras (Humanities), and Konstantina Kilteni (Information and Communication Technologies), whose projects are endowed with total funding of more than five million euros.

10.01.2022

Imatge inicial

The European Research Council (ERC), has recently published the results of the 2021 call for Starting Grants, the first to come under Horizon Europe, the European Commission’s new research and innovation programme.

The four UPF researchers who have received grants are: Geert Mesters, with the project “Econometrics for Macroeconomic Policy Evaluation” (POLICYMETRICS) and Elisabetta Aurino, with “Leveraging Early Adolescence for Development: Longitudinal and Experimental Evidence from Ghana” (LEAD), both in the Economics and Business category.

The remaining two grants have been awarded to Gemma Cirac-Claveras (Humanities), with “Remote-Sensing Satellite Data and the Making of Global Climate in Europe, 1980s-2000s” (CLIMASAT); and finally, Konstantina Kilteni (Information and Communication Technologies), with “The neuroscience of human tickle perception” (TICKLISHUMAN).

The four UPF projects are endowed with total funding of 5.2 million euros

The projects by Gemma Cirac-Claveras, Elisabetta Aurino and Konstantina Kilteni will run for five years, with funding of around 1.5 million euros, while that of Geert Mesters, will run for three years, and the grant will be of approximately 600,000 euros. The four UPF projects are endowed with total funding of 5.2 million euros.

The 2021 Starting Grant call has awarded a total of 619 million euros to 397 excellent projects on the frontier of knowledge, which will allow their leaders (who must be PhDs with a track record of between two and seven years) to form their own research teams in any of the 22 member states of the European Union and associated countries.

In all, the call received 4,056 proposals, 24% more than in 2020, of which 9.9% will receive funding. 43% of the grants have been awarded to female researchers, which is a higher proportion than the 37% in 2020, and is the highest to date.

UPF and the CRG account for more than half of the grants to be implemented in Catalonia

UPF is the institution in Spain to have obtained the most grants, with a total of four, followed by the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG), which is part of the UPF group, with three: the CRG researchers who have obtained the grants are Eva Novoa, with her project “Dissecting the role of sperm transcriptome dynamics in intergenerational inheritance through native RNA nanopore sequencing” (EpiSperm); Renee Beekman, with “Deciphering translocation-based genome topology effects and their role in lymphoma formation” (LymphoTOP), and Lars Velten, with “Artificial intelligence for synthetic functional genomics of blood” (AI4SYN).

The University of Barcelona and the Biomedical Research Institute, with two grants each, and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) and the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), with one grant, complete the list of centres in Catalonia, which with 13 grants, is the region of Spain to have received the most (out of a total of 23).

The other centres in Spain, each with one grant, are the National Research Centre on Human Evolution, the Basque Centre for Climate Change, the Donostia International Physics Center Foundation, the Autonomous University of Madrid, the University of Valencia, the IMDEA Foundation, the Public University of Navarra, the Polytechnic University of Valencia, the University of the Basque Country and the University of Zaragoza.

The four UPF projects

Understanding the neuroscience of the human perception of tickling

With her project “The neuroscience of human tickle perception” (TICKLISHUMAN), Konstantina Kilteni will focus on tickling, one of the most enigmatic human sensations, as we do not know how a touch can turn into a tickle and why our brain responds to other people’s but not our own tickles. Experiments on the perception of tickling have been extremely scarce and there is currently no active research on the subject on an international scale.

“The project has great potential to radically transform our scientific and popular thinking about the social, motor and clinical neuroscience of tickling”

TICKLISHUMAN proposes a new interdisciplinary approach to understand the neuroscience of human perception of tickling, based on modern haptic technology, somatosensory psychophysics, the analysis of multivariate patterns of neuroimaging data, brain stimulation, and advanced statistical modelling techniques.

“The project has great potential to radically transform our scientific and popular thinking about the social, motor and clinical neuroscience of tickling. The new ideas from the project will enable exploring the highly underestimated clinical and functional implications of tickles in the coming decades, including their use as a cognitive biomarker in schizophrenia and autism, and their evolutionary function between species”, explains Konstantina Kilteni, currently linked to the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

Creating a new framework for evaluating macroeconomic policy decisions

Geert Mesters, with his project “Econometrics for Macroeconomic Policy Evaluation” (POLICYMETRICS), aims to go one step beyond the fact that, traditionally, the assessment of macroeconomic policy has been based on the analysis of specific economic models, which often do not correspond to the complex and data-rich environments from which real-world political decisions are made.

“I will apply this new framework to assess contemporary and historical monetary, fiscal and climate policy decisions by different governments and institutions around the world”

The project will develop a new framework for evaluating macroeconomic policy decisions (polymetry) inspired by robust literature of inference in econometrics making minimal assumptions about the underlying economic model. It will use a methodology that detects organizational failures, that is, cases in which political decisions do not minimize the loss function (social welfare) and determines the causes and dynamics of these failures.

“I will apply this new framework to assess contemporary and historical monetary, fiscal and climate policy decisions by different governments and institutions around the world, thus providing a unique assessment of modern, non-model-based macroeconomic policy”, states Geert Mesters, who has been linked to the UPF Department of Economics and Business since 2015 and is also an affiliate professor at the Barcelona School of Economics (BSE).

Using satellite data to understand how knowledge has been created around the global climate

With “Remote-Sensing Satellite Data and the Making of Global Climate in Europe, 1980s-2000s” (CLIMASAT), Gemma Cirac-Claveras reacts to the fact that the answers to how to deal with the climate crisis we are experiencing depend on the perceptions of global climate. There is therefore a need to know how these perceptions have been formed to open up new possibilities on how to deal with the climate crisis.

“In times of growing public concern about our actions in the climate crisis, CLIMASAT offers unprecedented information and a critical analysis of how global climate perceptions were developed based on satellite data”.

The aim of CLIMASAT is to establish a comprehensive narrative that integrates different spheres of knowledge to understand how global climate discourses, policies and practices emerged in Europe between 1980 and 2000, approximately. Therefore, the project places the production, circulation and use of data generated by Earth-orbiting satellites (which have been key to generating scientific, practical and political knowledge about the global climate) at the heart of historical analysis.

“In times of growing public concern about our actions in the climate crisis, CLIMASAT offers unprecedented information and a critical analysis of how global climate perceptions were developed based on satellite data, which is relevant not only for researchers, but also for policymakers and committed citizens”, reflects Gemma Cirac-Claveras, who joined the UPF Department of Humanities in 2019, thanks to an individual Marie Sklodovska Curie scholarship.

Analysing strategic interventions during early adolescence to improve youth development

The project “Leveraging Early Adolescence for Development: Longitudinal and Experimental Evidence from Ghana” (LEAD), by Elisabetta Aurino, focuses on early adolescence, a key window for human development, and a life stage during which strategic interventions may mean taking advantage of opportunities, preventing risks, strengthening the impact of previous investments and alleviating the damage caused by past adversities. However, data on whether these programmes and interventions can harness this potential, for which children and through which channels, are scarce, especially in low-resource settings, inhabited by 90% of the world’s 1.2 billion adolescents.

“Through this project I hope to obtain results on adolescents’ socio-emotional and academic skills, their health (including stress biomarkers) and transitions to adult life”

LEAD will address these shortcomings based on a cohort of 2,500 children approaching early adolescence in Ghana (Africa): they already participated in a pre-school education assessment in 2015 and they have been followed up, leading to an improvement in their development. Now, a new sample of these children will be taken, at the age of 12, to test a parenting skills programme, to improve the development of early adolescents through increased support for parents and parent-adolescent interactions. Later, the boys and girls (and their parents) will be interviewed again at the ages of 13, 15 and 17.

“Through this project I hope to obtain results on adolescents’ socio-emotional and academic skills, their health (including stress biomarkers) and transitions to adult life. These data will enable verifying the dynamic complementarities between interventions during early childhood and early adolescence, or whether interventions in adolescence can compensate for previous adversities in the short and medium term”, explains Elisabetta Aurino from the Imperial College Business School in London.

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