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Pompeu Fabra University is the Spanish institution to have received most European Starting Grants in 2017

Pompeu Fabra University is the Spanish institution to have received most European Starting Grants in 2017

Ruben Durante and Antonio Penta, lecturers with the Department of Economics and Business are to analyse the independence of the media in the Internet age and strategic uncertainty in economic environments, respectively, while Carla Lancelotti, associated to the Department of Humanities, will examine the management of rainfed crops in the past.


The decision of the last call (2017) for Starting Grants was recently made public, awarded by the European Research Council (ERC), obtained by 406 young researchers from all over the world.

Of the 22 researchers who are to carry out their project within institutions of the Spanish State, ten will do so in Catalonia. Pompeu Fabra University, with three grants, is the institution within Spain to receive the most, followed by Carlos III de Madrid and the University of Valencia, with two grants.

With the grants obtained by Ruben Durante, Antonio Penta and Carla Lancelotti, who will carry out their research projects on the Ciutadella campus, since 2007 (when the ERC was created) the University has now obtained twelve Starting Grants. This figure is in addition to the twelve Advanced Grants, eight Consolidator Grants and three Proofs of Concept, which place UPF as one of the leading institutions in attracting resources from the European Union.

The independence of the media in the Internet age

Ruben Durante is to carry out the project “Media Independence and Quality in the Internet Age” (MIRAGE), which will examine how the Internet has transformed the way we produce and disseminate news, both directly and through its influence in the traditional media. He will also examine the effect that the net has had on the media’s independence and the quality of contents.

The four main questions on which it will focus are: the extent to which the results of search engines are adapted to the users’ political viewpoints; the relationship between advertising revenue based on the organization of the media and the quality of the content; how the dependence of the media on advertisers affects media dependency in terms of news coverage, and finally, how the dependency that the media have on banks affects news coverage related to financial matters.

Strategies of uncertainty in social environments and digital marketing agencies

Antonio Penta heads the project “Strategic Uncertainty in Economic Environments and Digital Marketing Agencies”, (SUEE), which consists of three parts: the first part, together with UPF professor Larbi Alaoui, seeks to understand the interaction between the incentives of individuals, cognitive skills and strategic behaviour. It will do so by combining theoretical and experimental studies, link tools and ideas of the games theory, computing, psychology and economics. The second part of the research will use a theoretical approach of classic games to study problems of “strategic uncertainty” in economic environments and situations of social interaction.

Finally, the third part, with F. Decarolis (EIEF) and M. Goldmanis (Royal Holloway), aims to study the impact of the diffusion of digital marketing agencies in auction format that are used to sell advertising space online, a booming system used by large multinationals.

Farming management and practices in rainfed areas

Carla Lancelotti leads the project “Resilience and Adaptation in Drylands.  Drought-Resistant Water Management Practices for Identifying Past Water Management Practices for Drought-Resistant Crops” (RAINDROPS), who will investigate past farming practices in rainfed areas, through an innovative and reliable methodology that helps to understand water management.

The project, which will combine research on plant physiology with traditional archaeobotanical knowledge, will examine practices such as the flooding of the rivers or permanent water sources, as well as the diversity of systems and supplies, which enable the existence of successful farming systems, even in hyperarid environments. The quantification of the extent of these practices in the past may help to drastically change the understanding of human adaptation and agriculture, in addition to providing a more solid framework for designing approaches to resilience and adaptation to future climate changes in vulnerable regions.

Brief biography of the three lecturers who have received the grants

Rubén Durante is an adjunct lecturer with the UPF Department of Economics and Business, affiliate researcher at Barcelona GSE and of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR). He holds a PhD in Economics from Brown University (USA), and a master’s degree from the same university and from the Sorbonne in Paris.

He works in the field of political economy and focuses on the operation and the impact of traditional and innovative media in democratic societies. His works have been published in major economic journals, including the Journal of Political Economy and the American Economic Journal.


Antonio Penta is an economic theorist who joined the Department of Economics and Business at UPF and Barcelona GSE in September 2017. He was previously linked to the University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA), first as an assistant professor, and then as a full professor. PhD (2010) by the University of Pennsylvania, he is currently the associate editor of the Journal of Economic Theory.

His lines of research focus on the game theory, auctions, the design of mechanisms and bounded rationality.

Carla Lancelotti is an archaeobotanist and quantitative archaeologist specializing in human ecology in the long term in an environment of arid lands. She has a PhD from the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), belongs to the CaSES (Complexity and Socio-Ecological Dynamics) research group of the Department of Humanities.

Her research combines methods linked to plant sciences, ethnography and archaeology with statistical analyses, modelling and simulation. The study of interactions between humans and the environment, particularly in activities related to plants, is her main goal.

Grants to develop innovative ideas

The 2017 edition of the Starting Grants, with total funding of 605 million euros, is part of the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. Each grant is endowed with an amount of up to 1.5 million euros, which is to allow the researchers to create their own research teams and develop innovative ideas over a maximum period of 5 years.

Researchers receiving Starting Grants (elected solely on the basis of scientific excellence criteria) must hold a doctoral degree and have seniority of between 2 and 7 years. They can be from any country in the world, provided they carry out their research projects in one of the EU member states or its associated countries.