Professors Emmanuelle JAVAUX (Faculty of Sciences) and Gaëtan KERSCHEN (Faculty of Applied Sciences) have each just been selected to receive highly coveted ERC Starting Grants from the European Research Council. Close to a total of 3 million Euros are being invested in the two researchers' very high level research projects, exploring unexpected and audacious pathways in the study fields of the early evolution of life on Earth (E. Javaux) and controlling vibratory phenomena on aeroplane structures (G. Kerschen).
The ERC Starting Grants are one of the major instruments deployed by the European Research Council to fund exploratory research projects in Europe, stimulating scientific excellence and the creativity of researchers who are at the early stages of their careers. The extremely selective process (a 12% success rate for applications presented during the 2011 call for projects) only retains the best researchers and very high level research projects, know as high gain, high risk, in other words projects in which the researchers demonstrate both their skills and their audacity in tackling very new research pathways which are likely to, should they prove successful, greatly enrich knowledge of the area concerned.
The ERC also funds very experienced researchers (ERC Advanced Grants) as much as fledgling researchers (maximum 12 years after a doctorate degree) working at a high level (ERC Starting Grants). The funding can reach a maximum of 1.5 million Euros for an ERC Starting Grant, and 3.5 million Euros for an ERC Advanced Grant. ERC Synergy Grants can also be attributed for exceptional projects submitted by a small number of researchers working together.
Created in 2007 by the EU, the European Research Council (ERC) channels its activities into the battle against ‘the European brain drain’ (in ensuring significant funding and independence within research) and the strengthening of the international attractiveness of European research (by attracting foreign researchers to join European teams). The ERC benefits from a budget of 7.5 billion Euros for the 2007-2013 period, and has for five years funded 2,500 high level researchers in Europe.
At the University of Liège, four researchers to date are benefiting from an ERC Starting Grant in the fields of Sciences and Technologies:
In addition the ULg is expecting decisions over the coming weeks and months concerning some dozen applications for ERC Starting Grants, ERC Advanced Grants and ERC Synergy Grants.
NOVIB - The Nonlinear Tuned Vibration Absorber – Pr Gaëtan Kerschen
To reduce aeroplanes’ consumption levels, and thus their emissions, it is necessary to reduce their mass. But reducing their mass leads to exposing them even more to structure instabilities and vibrations. These vibration problems remain a major challenge for both civil and military aviation. They limit the performances of these aircraft, when they do not quite simply threaten their integrity.
Today, few aeroplanes are equipped with vibration absorbers because the absorbers currently used are designed on the basis of linear calculation whilst the phenomenon of aeroelastic flutter which they need to overcome is intrinsically a non-linear phenomenon. Contemporary absorbers are thus largely ineffective in dealing with aeroelastic flutter.
Professor Gaëten Kerschen’s project offers to reverse the paradigm: as aeroelastic flutter is fundamentally a non-linear phenomenon, why not try to design an absorbing system which is itself non-linear? ‘It’s a little like inventing a very complicated method to counter an even more complicated phenomenon,’ points out Gaëten Kerschen. But at the outcome of this research, beyond the new fundamental knowledge reaped in the field of engineering, a solution might have been discovered to what currently forms one of the major obstacles to the development of less heavy, and thus more economical, aeroplanes. Moreover, the results could of course be applied to many other areas of aviation.
With a total of 1,320,000 Euros over five years, NOVIB is pursuing three successive objectives:
Four doctoral researchers and two post-doctoral will be recruited by Pr Gaëtan Kerschen to carry through this project over the next five tears.
Contact : Gaëtan Kerschen, +32 4 366 48 52 | firstname.lastname@example.org
To study the origins, evolution and distribution of life in the Universe – which is the subject area of astrobiology – it is useful, even vital, to know beforehand the different stages of the early evolution of life on Earth. ‘It’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle,’ explains Emmanuelle Javaux. ‘We already have a good number of the pieces but you have to put them in the right order. Plus there remain many grey areas, and scientific controversies are proliferating.’ Up until recently, for example, the first unambiguous morphological traces of life had been dated to 2.7 billion years ago, but a study published in Nature in 2010 – and to which Emmanuelle Javaux contributed – made a big splash by pushing back this date to 3.2 billion years ago, the discovered microfossils suggesting in addition an unexpected biological complexity for this epoch. Other clues, primarily geochemical, suggest a much older origin of life, towards 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago, but remain disputed. More complex microfossils, decorated with large appendices, bear witness to the evolution of the eukaryote cell and its cytoskeleton, before 1.45 billion years ago (another study published by Emmanuelle Javaux and her colleagues in Nature in 2011).
The greatest difficulty in micropaleontology resides in recognising real traces of life, in their dating and characterisation. Clear criteria and reliable methods are required. That is what enables the evolution of life to be reconstructed, and in particular here the emergence and evolution of biological complexity, the ultimate goal of the very ambitious ELiTE project, which is pursuing four objectives.
is on the basis of unique fossil materials with their origins in Southern and
Central Africa, Russia, China, the USA, etc. and current material analogous to
ancient life traces that the ELiTE project team will work (3 doctoral
researchers, 3 post-doctoral researchers, 1 spectroscopist), together with
numerous researchers across the world (Europe, the USA, Australia, Canada,
etc.), including Annick Wilmotte at the ULg (a cyanobacteria specialist). The ELiTE
project has funds of 1,470,800 Euros for the next five years.
Contact: Emmanuelle Javaux, +32 4 366 54 22 | email@example.com
Tissue engineering is the interdisciplinary field which combines biomedical and engineering sciences in the search to replace sick or malfunctioning organs by living implants. Despite two decades of research, tissue engineering is faced with problems regarding the quantity and the quality of the generated products. The protocols and procedures followed in the laboratories are primarily based on trial and error; they require a huge amount of manual interventions and lack clear early time-point quality criteria to guide the process. As a result, these processes are very hard to scale up to industrial production levels.
The BRIDGE project, which Liesbet Geris has been developing since 2011, together with the Catholic University of Leuven, aims at applying the methods of in silico modeling (computational) to the biomedical field of tissue regeneration, and more specifically that of bone tissue. It is a question of understanding better the biomimetic processes at work, of stimulating them in silico in order to, eventually, control them in vivo in innovative healthcare protocols for the patients.
The BRIDGE project is in particular aiming at:
‘The research in tissue engineering on the one hand, and in the mathematical modelling of biological processes on the other, have progressed over the last two decades. With the BRIDGE project we are integrating them for the first time in a systematic manner in order to design and control the processes of bone tissue engineering,’ states Liesbet Geris.
The BRIDGE project, begun in December 2011, has been
granted funds of 1,191,440 Euros for a duration of five years. Two doctoral
students are working on the modelling part of the project; a postdoctoral
researcher and a laboratory technician are developing the experimental aspects
together with the Catholic University of Leuven.
Contact: Liesbet Geris, +32 4 366 95 87 | firstname.lastname@example.org
AFRIVAL is a project which is being developed by the Department of Life Sciences and the Environment at the Catholic University of Leuven and the University of Liège’s Chemical Oceanography Unit. The five year funding (1,745,262 Euros, of which 729,840 has been earmarked for the ULg) will allow the role played by tropical rivers in the carbon cycle to be explored on a catchment scale. The project benefits from a wide scale of analytical approaches to better understand the biogeochemistry of these systems, markers such as stable isotopic signatures and the Carbon 14 dating of various carbon pools, biomarkers and measurements of processes such as respiration rates, primary production rates and CO2 air-water fluxes. Fieldwork within the framework of AFRIVAL will take place in Kenya, Zambia, Mozambique, Niger, Gabon, Madagascar and the Congo Basin (Democratic Republic of Congo). This project is being built upon the basis of previous joint projects in tropical estuaries and mangroves in South East Asia and Eastern Africa.
Contact: Alberto Borges, +32 4 366 31 87 | email@example.com
ULg Presse-Communication, +32 4 366 52 17 | +32 494 57 25 30 | firstname.lastname@example.org