Back UPF is the Spanish institution awarded the most Starting Grants by the European Research Council in the 2023 call

UPF is the Spanish institution awarded the most Starting Grants by the European Research Council in the 2023 call

The University has been awarded four grants of between 1.5 and 2.5 million euros, with which the researchers Katerina Petrova and Dmitry Kuvshinov (Department of Economics and Business), Chiara Santolin (Department of Information and Communication Technologies), and Javier Santos Moreno (Department of Medicine and Life Sciences) will be able to drive their own cutting-edge projects.


Imatge inicial

Four researchers from Pompeu Fabra University from three different departments, two women and two men, have been selected in the European Research Council’s (ERC) 2023 ERC Starting Grants call, the results of which were published today, 5 September.

They are Katerina Petrova and Dmitry Kuvshinov (Department of Economics and Business, DEE), Chiara Santolin (Department of Information and Communication Technologies, DTIC) and Javier Santos Moreno (Department of Medicine and Life Sciences, MELIS), who will be able to enjoy these grants over the coming five years, endowed with between 1.5 and 2.5 million euros, within the framework of the European Union’s Horizon Europe programme.

Katerina Petrova and Dmitry Kuvshinov, both assistant professors with the DEE-UPF and also affiliated professors of the Barcelona School of Economics (BSE), are to conduct the projects “Uniform inference with time series” (PERSISTENCE), which will provide a new econometric approach to understanding hypotheses, and “Safety, Liquidity, and Crises” (SAFECRISES), which will collect new historical data to investigate the contribution of safe assets and liquidity to episodes of financial crisis.

Meanwhile, Chiara Santolin, a postdoctoral researcher linked to the Speech Acquisition and Perception (SAP) group of the Center for Brain and Cognition (CBC) of the DTIC-UPF, will promote the “Gates to Language” (GALA) project, which will study the type of computations required for the human brain to start learning language. Finally, Javier Santos Moreno, a postdoctoral researcher linked to the Translational Synthetic Biology Research Group (SYNBIO) of the MELIS, will be leading the project “Engineering biological timers and their applications” (TICK-TOCK Do and Die), which seeks to develop the ability to program time in living cells.

23 grants will be carried out in Spain, four at UPF, the institution to most benefit

Of the 23 Starting Grant grants to be carried out at Spanish institutions, Pompeu Fabra University, with four, has obtained the most, ahead of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (with three) and the University of the Basque Country (with two). All are included in the 400 grants of the 2023 call, targeting young scientists and scholars, which together amount to 628 million euros.

The Starting Grants will allow researchers from different fields of knowledge who are at the start of their scientific careers to launch their own cutting-edge projects, train their research teams, and pursue their best ideas.

The selected applicants will lead their projects at universities and research centres located in 24 countries across Europe. Germany (87 grants), France (50), the Netherlands (44) and the United Kingdom (32) are the countries that have been awarded the most projects. The researchers come from Europe and beyond, and represent a total of 44 nationalities, particularly German (66 researchers), Italians (57), French (32) and British (24).

The 400 projects to be conducted have been chosen from a total of 2,696 proposals (with an overall success rate of 14.8%), reviewed by panels made up of prestigious researchers from all over the world. Women researchers have received 43% of the grants, four points more than in the 2022 call.

The four selected UPF projects

Developing a new econometric approach that will have a practical application

Katerina Petrova, with PERSISTENCE, proposes a novel econometric approach to test hypotheses and build confidence intervals in the presence of generic time series regressors with an arbitrary persistence degree. The project will develop inference for a broad class of regressor processes commonly found in macroeconomic and financial data, both as regards stationary and non-stationary processes, as well as multivariate systems containing mixed components.

“The main contribution of the PERSISTENCE project is to place a large class of non-standard processes, with a wide range of dynamics and memory properties, under a common econometric framework that delivers standard inference regardless of the stochastic properties of the regressor”, Katerina Petrova affirms. This approach, in addition to its generality and theoretical coherence, can be easily implemented and is thus suitable for general practical application.

Investigating the contribution of safe assets and liquidity to financial crises

We usually think that crises are caused by economic agents taking on too much risk, for example, firms and households borrowing too much. But in many recent and historical crisis episodes, something went wrong in the markets for safe and liquid (as opposed to risky) assets: i.e., those assets whose values should be stable, and which are, in principle, easy to sell (for example, government and mortgage bonds). 

The proposal led by Dmitry Kuvshinov will build the first long-run database of quantities and prices of safe and liquid assets, covering many countries over the last 150 years, and investigate the contribution of these assets to crises and macro-financial instability. “SAFECRISES will analyse which assets are truly safe and liquid, how their quantities and prices have evolved in the long run, and how they interact with macroeconomic and financial risks before and after systemic crises”, Dmitry Kuvshinov explains.

Implementing temporary programs in living cells to perform autonomous tasks

In recent years there have been major breakthroughs in our ability to modify cells, including bacteria and yeast and human cells, to perform useful tasks. We can introduce mutations into their genome to make them safer or use chemical signals to control their behaviour. However, we are still not able to program cells to perform complex tasks over time.

With the TICK-TOCK Do and Die project, Javier Santos Moreno aims to develop the tools that allow us to implement temporary programs in living cells so that they carry out tasks autonomously, without human supervision. “In the future, cells equipped with these tools could allow us to eliminate a toxic spill or stimulate the growth of a crop for a certain time, and then self-destruct to avoid altering ecosystems”, Javier Santos Moreno asserts.

Analysing the nature of the mechanisms that allow humans access to language

Language is one of the most salient features that distinguish human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom. However, non-human animals can process and learn many linguistic structures.

Chiara Santolin, through the GALA project, will analyse whether certain computations made by humans at the beginning of language learning stem from evolutionarily ancestral perceptual mechanisms. To do so, she will compare a unique combination of species, sensory modalities, and methods (brain imaging and behavioural techniques).

“GALA is a new approach to exploring the onset of language learning. This project will provide new empirical evidence concerning the nature of the mechanisms that allow humans access to language”, Chiara Santolin states.



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03. Good health and well-being
08. Decent work and economic growth
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