Unravelling the mysteries of the Sun’s magnetic field
The Sun provides the energy necessary to sustain life on Earth, making it a star of unique importance for humanity. It is also the only star whose surface we can explore at relative proximity. The Sun’s magnetic field is intricately structured and interacts with turbulent plasma to create much of what we see on its surface and in its atmosphere. However, there are considerable gaps in our understanding of the processes that drive the evolution of the solar magnetic field.
In this newly funded research project, Sami Solanki and his team will use the latest observational equipment to answer longstanding questions about our sun’s anatomy, including the Solar Orbiter and the world's largest solar telescope, the DKIST telescope on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
His aim is to make use of the first clear views of the solar poles, and the highest spatial resolution ever in both the extreme ultraviolet and visible spectrums. The project will also explore a new spectral window onto the solar photosphere and chromosphere, all of which will contribute significantly to our understanding of the fundamental physics behind the Sun’s inner workings.
Sami Solanki, a Swiss astronomer, is currently serving as Director at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research.
Researcher: Sami K. Solanki
Project: New Windows onto the Sun: Probing the Sun’s magnetic field with an array of new missions and observatories (WINSUN)
Host Institution: Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (Germany)
ERC grant: 2,49 million euro for 5 years
Breaking the cycle of crime and economic inequality
Economic inequality and segregation imply vastly unequal opportunities in many dimensions – the labour market, healthcare, informal networks, exposure to police – that can impact the chances of ending up in trouble with the law. Once caught in the justice system, it can be hard to break free, especially if a criminal record increases the barriers to employment. This cycle of crime and economic inequality can even be perpetuated across generations, if the impacts of a criminal record spill-over to an offender’s family members.
To determine how to break this cycle, Randi Hjalmarsson’s newly funded research considers the roles played by three central societal institutions – police, prisons, and firms.
The first part of the study will focus on the use and impact of police implicit bias training. The second part will evaluate both the potential spill-over effects of extended prison sentences on family members and the impact of in-prison healthcare on the offender, their family and society. The third and final part will aim to improve our understanding of employment opportunities – or lack thereof – for individuals with criminal records. This final part will emphasise both the potential role of firm hiring decisions and offender informal networks.
Randi Hjalmarsson is currently a Professor of Economics at the University of Gothenburg. She is a labour economist, whose research delves deep into the economics of crime and the innerworkings of the criminal justice system.
Researcher: Randi Hjalmarsson
Project: Breaking the Inequality-Crime Cycle: Biases in Police Decisions, 'What Works' in Prison, and Firm Demand for Workers with Criminal Records (POLICE-PRISONS-FIRMS)
Host Institution: University of Gothenburg (Sweden)
ERC grant: 2,29 million euro for 5 years
Building an equitable approach to the world’s language technologies
Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a branch of Artificial intelligence that enables computers to understand and generate human language. This can help to facilitate communication, education, healthcare, and other essential areas of human life. Yet, this technology is not distributed equally and is available only for a small part of the world's people, mainly those living in the Global North. This is due to the scarcity of resources needed to develop NLP for the majority of our over 7,000 living languages.
In this project, Anna Korhonen aims to establish an approach to NLP that prioritises global fairness and inclusivity. To achieve this, her team will profile the world’s languages and their populations in terms of their readiness for NLP and investigate the multitude of methodological challenges in achieving equity at different levels of NLP readiness. Finally, the project will design transformative approaches to NLP that can be combined to make language technologies globally more equitable.
This highly interdisciplinary project will involve both AI researchers and social scientists.
Anna Korhonen is a Professor of Natural Language Processing at the University of Cambridge, where she is directing the Centre for Human-Inspired Artificial Intelligence.
Researcher: Anna Korhonen
Project: Towards globally equitable language technologies (EQUATE)
Host Institution: The Chancellor Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge (UK)
ERC grant: 2,49 million euro for 5 years
The next generation of mRNA therapeutics
mRNA vaccines have proven to be a game-changer in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, paving the way for mRNA-based therapies to become more widely used in medicine. However, there are still significant knowledge gaps in our understanding of mRNA metabolism at the organismal level, which limits the optimisation and refinement of these therapies. To address this, Andrzej Dziembowski and his team will investigate ways to increase the stability of mRNA, allowing for their deeper integration into therapeutic medicine.
The stability of mRNA molecules is affected by the length of the Poly(A) tail, which has in turn an effect on how well therapeutics work. The preliminary data gathered by Dziembowski’s team revealed that the variability in the way poly(A) tails are processed in different cells is much larger than previously thought. Their newly funded ViveRNA project will enhance the accuracy of the method used to determine the properties of mRNAs. With the help of primary cell culture, and synthetic biology approaches, the project will facilitate the design of next-generation mRNA therapeutics.
Professor Andrzej Dziembowski currently heads the RNA biology laboratory at the International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Warsaw. He is also affiliated with the University of Warsaw.
Researcher: Andrzej Dziembowski
Project: Principles of endogenous and therapeutic mRNA turnover in vivo (ViveRNA)
Host Institution: International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Warsaw (Poland)
ERC grant: 2,4 million euro for 5 years
How to make flowers prettier, bees happier and people calmer about food supply
Animal pollinators are key to sustaining life on Earth. As the human population grows, the decline in pollinator populations poses a threat to our food supply. Bees are the most important insect pollinators in agriculture, but we still do not understand exactly how cultivated plants attract and reward them.
Abdelhafid Bendahmane has now won funding for a research project aimed at creating a toolbox that can help make cultivated flowers and plants more attractive to bees as a food resource, by changing the plants’ structure and chemistry. By understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying these processes, we can contribute to sustainable harvests and better understand how plants and pollinators have evolved together over time.
To achieve this goal, Bendahmane and his research team will investigate how the genetic differences in plant structures result in separate varieties (molecular genetics) and precisely measure their characteristics (precision phenotyping). The research will examine if specific plant features that previously attracted bees have been lost due to newer cultivation practices.
Bendahmane will study melon and cucurbits crops, such as cucumbers, watermelons, and pumpkins, which are essential to the livelihoods of poorer farmers. Often, the quality of these crops is low because of poor pollination, therefore coming up with better reproduction solutions is vital.
Abdelhafid Bendahmane is a Research Director at the French National Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment (INRAE)’s Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics.
Researcher: Abdelhafid Bendahmane
Project: Improving flower attractiveness for pollinators: Study of developmental, morphological and chemical cues in relation to bee foraging (NectarGland)
Host Institution: French national research institute for agriculture, food and the environment (France)
ERC grant: 2,50 million euro for 5 years
Understanding the causes of domestic violence in the EU
Domestic violence is a serious problem in our society. In the European Union, one out of every three women over 15 years old has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from their partner or ex-partner. The goal of this research project proposed by Núria Rodríguez-Planas is to understand how different factors, such as motherhood, gender norms, and income increases for low-wage working women, affect a woman’s risk of experiencing domestic violence. The long-term objective is to improve the health and well-being of women and their children in Europe.
In addition, the project will also explore how women’s experiences of gender-based discrimination as well as attitudes towards hegemonic masculine norms can influence their risk of victimisation. Finally, the project will analyse whether increasing earnings to vulnerable women helps prevent domestic violence in high-income countries.
Her research team will use a new approach to tackle this issue. They will combine big population-based data sources and advanced quantitative methods to analyse information about large groups of people, instead of only studying small groups of women with a high-risk of victimisation.
Núria Rodríguez-Planas currently works as a professor at the City University of New York (CUNY), Queens College and will conduct this research from Spain. She is specialised in labour economics, education economics, cultural economics, European labour markets and gender issues.
Researcher: Nuria Rodriguez Planas
Project: The Causal Effect of Motherhood, Gender Norms, and Cash Transfers to Women on Intimate Partner Violence (WomEmpower)
Host Institution: University of Barcelona (Spain)
ERC grant: 2,49 million euro for 5 years