UPF becomes established in the “Champions league” of research
UPF becomes established in the “Champions league” of research
The University confirms its ability to attract European funding, based on the results it obtained between 2014 and 2017, within the framework of the Horizon 2020 programme.
The European research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020 (H2020), a continuation of the 7th Framework Programme (FP7), covers the period 2014-2020, and is currently over half completed. The results obtained by UPF so far are very good and consolidate the University as one of the top Spanish universities and institutions for attracting European funds.
Between 2014 and 2017, Pompeu Fabra University participated in a total of 77 projects, 35 individual and 42 in consortia, of which it has led 12. This number of projects granted involves European funding of close to 46.3 million euros, when in total FP7 obtained 75.3.
“The results achieved by UPF between 2014 and 2017 from Horizon 2020 are really positive. The University had already obtained some remarkable results in the FP7, between 2007 and 2013; now this first period of H2020 clearly confirms, with even better results, the University’s ability to attract European funding”, says Enric Vallduví, vice-rector for projects in the field of research.
Horizon 2020, the main source of funding by the European Commission to promote research, innovation and competitiveness in Europe, hinges around three main pillars or sub-programmes: Pillar I: Excellent science; Pillar II: Industrial leadership and competitiveness; and Pillar III: Societal challenges.
Pillar I (Excellent Science) is dedicated to funding actions to strengthen and extend EU excellence in science and consolidate the European Research Area as a pole on a global scale. It is developed according to four specific programmes: The European Research Council (ERC), Future and Emerging Technologies (FET), Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) and Research infrastructures.
Pillar II (Industrial Leadership and Competitiveness) aims to accelerate the development of technologies and innovations to help innovative European companies, especially SMEs, to become leading companies on an international scale.
Finally, Pillar III (Societal challenges) aims to stimulate the critical mass of research and innovation to respond to policy priorities and challenges facing European society. Five cross cutting actions complete the three pillars.
The University excels at obtaining science excellence projects (Pillar I) awarded with aid from the ERC, and is the State university to receive the most funding from the agency since its creation in 2007. They involve individual projects by excellent researcher staff to explore the most promising alternatives at the frontiers of science and thereby increase the scientific competence of the EU.
Some data that show the great progress made in the field of the ERC are that throughout the FP7 (2007-2013) UPF obtained a total of 19 individual grants, while in H2020, half-way through the programme, 20 have already been obtained and of these four are ERC Proof of Concept grants (which facilitate knowledge transfer and market approach), which type of grant was not obtained within the FP7.
Also noteworthy is the participation in Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions, with a total of 21 projects during the period 2014-2017.
Horizon 2020 has opened the range of research to more units and groups of the University, which has in turn increased their participation in a greater variety of programmes.
According to Enric Vallduví, “the good results of the European competitive calls in the FP7 were more restricted to a subset of academic units and research groups. These units and groups remain the spearhead, but the results of H2020 clearly reflect that the range has expanded”. And he adds: “Now all UPF academic units, to which new research groups have also been added, research is conducted attracting European resources, and all, in their own way, contribute to the good results. This dynamism greatly helps the growth that the University is experiencing”.
The vice-rector asserts that in this success there is a certain bias towards some specific programmes, especially those of the ERC and the Marie Curie, but work must continue to be done to expand the capacity to attract in other programmes. “H2020 is more competitive than the FP7, and to a great extent more applied, but this has not had a negative effect on the whole. The good results show that the researchers at UPF, and also our research managers, have managed to adapt to the new demands of H2020 and reflect the good practices of all these people”, says Enric Vallduví.
One of the indicators that shows the positive evolution of the University is that in the last three years it has shown a continuous upward trend regarding the number of applications submitted, totalling 492 (159 in 2015, 166 in 2016, and 167 in 2017), that have obtained a success rate of 18%. It is in Pillar I that UPF is particularly active, with 68% of all proposals submitted (335) and a commendable 25% for Pillars II and III, with a more complicated encaix.
The collaborative projects coordinated by UPF are an area in which the University has also grown: the institution received 18 grants throughout the FP7 programme (2007-2013), while half-way through the H2020 programme it has already achieved 12, which represents 28% of the collaborative projects in which it participates. All these figures highlight the value of the amount of effort and the level of competitiveness of the funding obtained to date.
|Total Projects||UPF Funding|
|Pilar I - Excellence Science||35||27.738.717,64 €|
|European Research Council (ERC)||22||25.611.136,84 €|
|ERC Starting Grants||5||7.124.761,00 €|
|ERC Consolidator Grants||8||10.622.182,24 €|
|ERC Advanced Grants||3||6.720.044,00 €|
|ERC Proof of Concept Grants||4||599.750,00 €|
|ERC Coordination and Support Actions||2||544.399,60 €|
|Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions (MSCA)||13||2.127.580,80 €|
|Individual fellowships (IF)||13||2.127.580,80 €|
|Total Projects||UPF Funding||Consortium Funding|
|Pilar I - Excellence Science||1||477.745,92 €||10.214.970,00 €|
|Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions (MSCA)||1||477.745,92 €||10.214.970,00 €|
|Research networks (ITN)||1||477.745,92 €||10.214.970,00 €|
|Pilar II - Industrial Leadership||7||4.490.331,00 €||18.860.278,00 €|
|Leadershi in enabling and industrial technologies (LEIT)||7||4.490.331,00 €||18.860.278,00 €|
|Pilar III - Societal Challenges||2||1.156.024,91 €||2.518.737,50 €|
|SC6 - Europe in a changing world - inclusive, innovative and reflective societies||2||1.156.024,91 €||2.518.737,50 €|
|Other Funding Opportunities||2||829.744,54 €||4.551.044,00 €|
|EURATOM||1||428.169,54 €||3.052.269,00 €|
|Science with and for Society||1||401.575,00 €||1.498.775,00 €|
|Total||12||6.953.846,37 €||36.145.029,50 €|
1. Achieving healthier ageing based on the study of skeletal muscle
”Tissue regeneration and aging: the decisive quiescent stem-cell state” (STEM-AGING) is a project carried out by Pura Muñoz-Cánoves, head of the Cell Biology Research Group at the Department of Experimental and Health Sciences (DCEXS). This research, which obtained an ERC Advanced Grant (2017 call), is to study tissue regeneration and ageing over five years. Focusing especially on skeletal muscle, it aims to further our knowledge of stem cells and the causes of their functional decline with ageing.
“The concepts and conclusions obtained by this project in skeletal muscle may be transferable to other tissues and organs in a context of ageing and disease. In addition, they will help to progress in the design of new compounds based on the modulation of intracellular cleansing processes and the inability for the cell to divide, to improve the functionality of stem cells”, affirms Pura Muñoz-Cánoves. “I hope that these developments will allow finding strategies to combat, or at least slow down ageing, especially at geriatric age, so that this ageing is healthier”, she concludes.
2. Improving public policies to promote child development
”The Causal Effect of Public Policy and Income on Child Health and Human Capital” is the title of the project led by Libertad González, professor with the Department of Economics and Business and Barcelona GSE, which won an ERC Consolidator Grant (2017 call). In this research she analyses and studies the impacts and early interventions that are carried out in the framework of public policies with the aim of optimizing child welfare and development.
According to Libertad González, “all countries in the OECD use a range of ‘family policies’ that seek, among others, to improve the lives of children in the short and in the long term. However, the available evidence is limited on the effects, for example, of public transfers to families with small children, or of extensions to paid maternity and paternity leave”. “Through this project I will try to compare the cost-effectiveness of different early interventions, with the aim of optimizing the use of public resources, in order to improve the long-term opportunities of future generations”.
3. Progressing towards a new architecture of mobile phone networks
“Mobile communications are one of the most significant technological revolutions in history, and they have become an essential part of modern life. The demand by today’s society is such that, every ten years, the technology becomes obsolete and a new generation of networks is needed”, says Àngel Lozano, full professor with the Department of Information and Communication Technologies (DTIC). Also head of the Research Group in Mobile Communications (WiCom), he leads the project “Post-Cellular Wireless Networks” (POSTCELL), which obtained an ERC Advanced Grant at the 2016 call.
This project aims to lay down the bases for future generations of mobile communications networks, beyond the current paradigm. “On the threshold of the 5th generation, we are finding that the mechanisms for improvement used in the past are exhausted, and the current architectures cannot make a new leap forward. There is a need for new architectures, and in the POSTCELL project we are studying a possible solution based on the ultradensification of the network”, reflects Àngel Lozano.
4. Using natural language to interact with computers
Gemma Boleda, researcher with the Formal Linguistics Group (GLiF) at the Department of Translation and Language Sciences, was awarded an ERC Starting Grant (call 2017) for “A distributional model of reference to entities” (AMORE). The project, which straddles linguistics and artificial intelligence, has a dual aim: on the one hand, to better understand how we use language to talk about what surrounds us, and on the other, to expand the ability of computers to communicate with us.
“Language is the most natural way we have to communicate, and project AMORE will mean that we can use it also with computers”, explains Gemma Boleda, who offers an example: “Now, GPS already speaks to us, but it works with pre-recorded maps, it can’t adapt to what we can see from the car. But, in the future, we will be able to ask it ‘where must I turn, over there where that big tree is?`; but for that we need to understand far better how people speak about what surround us”. The researcher is most satisfied with the funding received from the ERC, as “it enables me to dedicate myself to basic research on reference in language”.
5. A neurotechnological device to strengthen the memory
Salvador Soto-Faraco , ICREA researcher and head of the Multisensory Research Group of the Center for Brain and Cognition (CBC) at the DTIC, received an ERC Proof of Concept grant, in 2017 call, for “A mnemonic system based on stimulation-free neuroimaging” (Mneuronic). The aim of this project is the marketing of a non-invasive neurotechnological device that will help users improve memory retention. Based on technology that takes advantage of the natural fluctuations of neuronal excitability in the human brain, it could be used to assist both in the rehabilitation of patients with a slight or mild memory deficit and healthy users.
“A first application that will be researched with MNeuronic serves to improve the encoding of information in the memory of the user. For example, many people with mild cognitive decline exercise their memory as cognitive training, such as with the association of images, or with images and text. With MNeuronic, the training can be carried out in less time without losing effectiveness”, says Salvador Soto-Faraco. The researcher points out that other possible applications, based on the same technology, include early warning systems for drivers or training programmes to improve concentration.
6. Reflecting on the future of energy based on the relationship between society and nuclear energy
“History of nuclear energy and society” (Honest) is a project funded by the Euratom Research and Training Programme (2014-2018). It consists of an interdisciplinary consortium of 23 research institutions throughout Europe, coordinated by Albert Presas, a researcher with the NEXUS research group of the Department of Humanities. From a pioneering interdisdiplinary and integrated approach, the project aims to improve the knowledge of the dynamics established between nuclear development and society during the last sixty years.
Albert Presas, who highlights the fundamental contribution by the humanities and social sciences to this project, comments that “the main objective of Honest is to contribute to the debate on the energy of the future of contemporary societies and provide a theoretical framework to define the mechanisms of citizens’ decisions and participation with regard to the development of nuclear energy”. Thus, the results of the analysis will help this debate on future energy sources and the transition towards the production of new, safe, clean energy sources.
7. Taking advantage of the Transmedia skills of young people to apply them to the school environment
“Transmedia literacy. Exploiting transmedia skills and informal learning strategies to improve formal education” is a three-year project (2015-2018) involving a consortium of ten research institutions from Australia, Colombia, Spain, Finland, Italy, Portugal, the UK, and Uruguay. Transmedia Literacy, coordinated by Carlos A. Scolari, a professor with the Department of Communication, seeks to understand how teenagers learn outside of official institutions, based on how they use the new interactive digital media and collaborative platforms.
Having identified the skills learned in informal learning environments, the team will translate them into a series of didactic activities to facilitate their ‘exploitation’ in the classroom (Teacher’s Kit). According to Carlos A. Scolari, “Transmedia Literacy has enabled us to detect 44 first-level and 190 second-level skills, when to date only nine were being considered”. And he adds: “The Teacher’s Kit will go deeper into this map of transmedia skills and enable using them in the classroom, thus bringing the dynamics of school to the real world of young people”. The project will end with an international conference between 22 and 24 March 2018 on the Poblenou campus.
8. Greater efficiency in chemical safety and a reduction in animal experiments
Ferran Sanz, full professor of Biomedical Informatics with the DCEXS and director of the Research Programme on Biomedical Informatics (GRIB), a joint initiative of the IMIM and UPF, and Manuel Pastor, tenured lecturer of the same programme, are coordinating the University’s participation in EU-ToxRisk, a major European project that aims to achieve more efficient chemical safety assessments. The GRIB plays a key role in the project, which was started in 2016 and will have last for six years, as it coordinates the development of the computational methods and applications that will be used for the assessment of the toxicological risks of chemical compounds.
Ferran Sanz stresses the practical applications of the project: “EU-ToxRisk and the computational methods and applications that will be developed within the framework and under the coordination of UPF will enable moving towards a more efficient assessment of potential toxicological risks of chemical compounds of major social impact, such as cosmetics and pesticides. The new predictive strategies on which we are working will, on the other hand, enable reducing the use of animal experimentation”.
9. Innovative technology that will improve users’ viewing experience
”The achievement of the goals of our project will result in a disruptive technology that can be widely adopted in the market, vastly improving the viewing experience”, ensure Josep Blat and Marcelo Bertalmío, researchers, respectively, of the research groups in Interactive Technologies (GTI) and in Image Processing for Enhanced Cinematography (IP4EC), of the DTIC-UPF. Both lead the project “Enabling end-to-end HDR ecosystem” (HDR4EU), which will be carried out between 2017 and 2020, and is made up of an international consortium of companies, coordinated by UPF.
The project aims to help European companies linked to the audiovisual sector to become world leaders in the field of emerging HDR (high-dynamic-range) technology, which produces a sense of immersive realism in the viewer. According to the researchers, the investigations have three basic objectives: “To show future versions to the market and pilot versions of new technologies targeting HDR content; to allow the user to have the best possible HDR experience on their device of choice, via the production of tools for the hyperpersonalization of the content; and to provide content creators with tools to fully exploit the expressive possibilities of their media with HDR technology”.