ERC researchers explore lockdown life

08 May 2020
Cover image of ERC researchers explore lockdown life

Stuck at home? Yes…we are too. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has forced more than a billion people to stay indoors and socially distance themselves, and the ERC is no exception. To help us all keep motivated, healthy and in good spirits, we asked ERC grantees to share their work - including tips for our quarantined life – in a new pandemic-inspired series of the #ERCasks podcast.

From exercise guidelines to sleeping hacks, researchers share the hard science behind our new current reality. With ideas on how to use our time wisely, as well as answers to questions that may be preying in our minds these days, ERC Asks more about the research behind lockdown life.



Lockdowns clean the air


Smog is giving way to cleaner air as lockdowns led to less vehicles, planes and industrial activity. Many cities around the world are seeing remarkable drops in pollutants and climate gases, leading many to enjoy some of the bluest skies and freshest air in decades. The ERC asks Prof. Cathy Clerbaux, a research supervisor at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, about the effects of pollutants on our health and the climate, what these extraordinary changes in the atmosphere mean for us in the short and long-term, and how cleaner air can be preserved when restrictions are lifted.

Cathy Clerbaux was awarded an ERC Advanced Grant in 2016.



Home schooling – don’t sweat it


Are you struggling with home schooling your little ones? Lockdown is forcing many of us to work from home, parent and teach our children (all in the face of big uncertainty). With many schools closed until further notice, it’s normal to feel a bit overwhelmed. How are we supposed to encourage children to learn in these trying times? How can we keep them motivated and confident? ERC asks Prof. Nienke van Atteveldt, learning specialist from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, what strategies we should employ towards home schooling. And her answers actually encourage us to kick back a little.

Nienke van Atteveldt was awarded an ERC Starting Grant in 2016.



Tossing and turning at night? Top sleep expert offers advice


We are living in trying and stressful times. Worried about the future and what it may bring, some of us may start experiencing sleep problems. Others, who suffered from insomnia even before this crisis, might find it even more difficult to get some good-quality shut-eye. In this podcast, ERC grantee and top sleep expert, Eus van Someren of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, explains why it is important to get enough sleep in times of crisis such as the one we are facing, and offers advice on improving our sleep quality. He also explains why many of us seem to be having strange dreams right now.’

Eus van Someren was awarded an ERC Advanced Grant in 2014 and an ERC Proof of Concept Grant in 2016



The secret to a resilient society? Democracy.


If you find yourself wondering what society will look like after COVID-19, don't’re not alone. ERC asks historian Bas van Bavel, of the University of Utrecht, how past societies have dealt with big crises – from plagues and war to natural disasters – and how they managed to come out strong. Prof. van Bavel looks at the actions of leaders and citizens in times of need, and analyses how power is administered in these critical moments. What makes a society resilient in the face of adversity? It turns out, the answer has a lot to do with the solidity of its democratic system.

Bas van Bavel was awarded an ERC Advanced Grant in 2013. 



A bit of empathy goes a long way


To a lot of us, lockdown means one thing: being cooped up in the house with the same people for a long time. Everyone can have a wobble or two in this difficult situation. But understanding others, and practicing empathy, is a great way to make our respective lives more positive. How can we find ways of being empathetic towards others? Can we learn to be better at empathy? ERC asks Dr Zanna Clay, a psychologist from Durham University who studies the nature and evolution of empathy from primates to children.

Zanna Clay was awarded an ERC Starting Grant in 2018. 



Exercise to boost your immune system

Lockdown measures implemented all over the world have led to a proliferation of online yoga, zumba and other types of exercise classes. Working from home also gives us more time to introduce exercise into our routine. We all know that exercise makes us healthier and happier but why? ERC-funded researcher Katrien De Bock of ETH Zürich explains what happens in our body when we exercise and what type of exercise is best for boosting our immune system.

Katrien De Bock was awarded an ERC Starting Grant in 2016.