Back Three UPF researchers advance in their scientific challenges after obtaining ERC Consolidator Grants 2022
Three UPF researchers advance in their scientific challenges after obtaining ERC Consolidator Grants 2022
Luigi Pascali and Antonio Penta (Department of Economics and Business) and Stefano Biagetti (Department of Humanities) have been awarded the grants by the European Research Council, which will allow them to carry out their innovative projects over five years. In addition to the three grants awarded to Pompeu Fabra University, the second institution in Spain for the number of grants achieved, is that of Elvan Böke, a researcher at the Center for Genomic Regulation.
The European Research Council (ERC) has announced the results of the 2022 Consolidator Grant announcement, selecting 321 excellent researchers, with total funding of €657 million, under the EU’s Horizon Europe programme. With these five-year grants, the selected researchers, who have between 7 and 12 years of post-doctoral experience, will be able to reinforce their independence and their research teams, and they will help them gain a foothold as leaders in their respective fields.
Of the 24 researchers who will be carrying out their research in Spain, three will do so at Pompeu Fabra University, and one at the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG), which enjoys UPF participation. UPF, with three grants (totalling some 4.4 million euros in funding), is the second institution in Spain for the number of grants achieved, only behind the CSIC, which has obtained four. As for the other fourteen institutions, the University of Barcelona has obtained two, and all of the other centres, one each.
UPF, with three grants (totalling some 4.4 million euros in funding), is the second institution in Spain for the number of grants achieved, only behind the CSIC
Two of the UPF professors selected are linked to the Department of Economics and Business: Luigi Pascali, with the project “The historical roots of global inequality (ROOTS)”; and Antonio Penta, ICREA research professor, with the project “Personality, Preferences, and Reference-Dependence (Pers_and_Preferences)”, will integrate the study of personality in mainstream economics. The third researcher of the University to obtain a grant is Stefano Biagetti, linked to the Culture, Archaeology and Socio-Ecological Dynamics Research Group (CaSEs) at the Department of Humanities, whose project “(Re)Constructing the Archaeology of Mobile Pastoralism: bringing the site level into long-term pastoral Narratives (CAMP)” will be examining pastoral sites in arid lands using an innovative methodology.
Finally, Elvan Böke, principal investigator of the laboratory of Oocyte Biology & Cellular Dormancy of the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG), will carry out the project “Molecular mechanisms through which oocytes evade ageing (ACTIVEDORMANCY)”. Endowed with some two million euros, the project focuses on the molecular mechanisms whereby oocytes (immature eggs) have the ability to survive up to 50 years in the ovaries without losing the ability to fuse with sperm and produce new generations.
More than 300 researchers selected, who will be carrying out their projects in 18 EU states
The 321 researchers selected under the Consolidator Grant 2022 announcement propose to carry out their projects at universities and research centres in eighteen EU member states, in addition to other countries associated with Horizon Europe. Among the EU countries, the highest number of grants has been awarded to Germany (62 projects), France (31) and Spain (24).
Regarding the nationality of the people selected in this call, which included 2,222 applicants representing the various areas of knowledge, there are investigators from 37 different countries, notably Germany (52 people), Italy (32), France (31), and the UK (31).
The three projects of the UPF researchers
Undestanding the roots of global inequality from the perspective of economics
One of the key questions in economics is why some nations are poorer than others. Recent research has established the ancient origins of global inequality and has determined, on the one hand, that regional differences in economic, technological and political development were exceptionally persistent until the beginning of the European colonial period; and on the other, that once large migrations were explained, disparities dating back to the time of the urban revolution still explain much of comparative development today.
“ROOTS aims to close this gap in the literature using standard statistical methodologies in economics with global datasets from paleoclimatology, archaeogenetics, archaeology, and anthropology.”
To understand the roots of global inequality, Luigi Pascali will investigate why some regions had an early start in the process of civilization, and he will do so by answering research questions such as: what caused this early transition? and why did it happen in some regions and not in others? These issues marked the beginnings of modern social science, but have surprisingly given rise to little empirical knowledge.
According to Luigi Pascali, “ROOTS aims to close this gap in the literature using standard statistical methodologies in economics with global datasets from paleoclimatology, archaeogenetics, archaeology, and anthropology”. This will be undertaken jointly with Marco Madella, an ICREA research professor at the UPF Department of Humanities, and coordinator of the CaSEs Research Group.
The Consolidator Grant will cover three research projects: the first two projects will focus on the origin of complex hierarchies, while the third will study the spread of complex hierarchies through space and time to the present day.
Enhancing the integration of the study of personality within economics
In recent years there has been an explosion of empirical research showing the relevance of personality traits in explaining various measures of financial success. However, these concepts are borrowed from psychology and it is difficult to relate them to standard economic models. This limits researchers’ ability to understand the channels through which personality traits affect economic outcomes and to predict or evaluate the outcomes of possible policy interventions in this area.
The objective of the “Pers_and_Preferences” project, which will be conducted by Antonio Penta at the UPF Department of Economics and Business, is to provide clear definitions of important aspects of personality in terms of the fundamental concepts of economics (i.e., preferences); derive new choice-based indices to measure their intensity, and explore their relationship to the measures of personality traits that have been used in empirical work.
“Through this research, we intend to better integrate the study of personality within mainstream economics, balancing the richness of the notions received from the psychology literature with the desires of economic methodology"
The first step of the project will be to conduct a theoretical analysis of the attitudes towards success and failure, which are central in important personality traits, and also in influential economic theories, such as prospective theory, the theory of aspirations, and others. This will provide a unified view of various economic models of reference-dependence and will allow exploring experimentally the extent to which these economic notions can capture key characteristics of personality traits.
“In general, with this research we intend to better integrate the study of personality within mainstream economics, balancing the richness of the notions received from the psychology literature with the desires of economic methodology”, says Antonio Penta, who will carry out the project together with Larbi Alaoui, a Ramón y Cajal researcher with the UPF Department of Economics and Business.
Study of pastoral sites in arid lands through an innovative methodology
In 2021, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) officially recognized pastoralism as a successful strategy to achieve food security by efficiently exploiting the variability inherent in natural resources. Although new archaeological techniques have improved our ability to interpret pastoral archaeological sites, these sites remain difficult to approach with traditional means, mainly due to the scarcity of material remains and the lack of stratigraphy.
The CAMP project, to be conducted by Stefano Biagetti at the Department of Humanities, focuses on the study of pastoral societies in arid lands, through the development of an innovative and reliable methodology to study archaeological sites in this environment. It is a multi-regional project, targeting six key dryland areas of the Old World (five in Africa and one in Asia), where pastoralism has played a pivotal role in food security strategies since the adoption of domesticated livestock.
“CAMP will provide a broadly applicable methodology that can increase our knowledge about past human adaptation to drylands and provide information on the design of historically sustainable development strategies”
The new multidisciplinary methodology integrates established research protocols (topographic mapping, multi-element analysis, phytolith and isotope studies); unconventional approaches (organic residues from anthropogenic sediments) and original techniques (application of portable X-ray fluorescence to large anthropogenic surfaces and data modelling through geostatistics).
According to Stefano Biagetti, who will be basing his research on a pilot test he carried out in 2021 with a team of researchers, “CAMP is a unique opportunity to advance in the study of pastoralism. It will provide a broadly applicable methodology that can increase our knowledge about past human adaptation to drylands and provide information on the design of historically sustainable development strategies”.