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The human brain is outstanding among mammalian brains, containing around 100 billion neurons (more than the number of stars in the Milky Way) and over 100 trillion connections between them. Yet, when it comes to making decisions, this impressive organ does not prevent us from making errors – even avoidable ones.
On a clear summer night, look up to the sky and what do you see? Ordinary matter such as planets, stars maybe even an asteroid. Millions of little specks, as far as the eyes can reach. This ordinary matter, also known as baryonic matter, is the primary observable component of our universe. But is what we see all that is out there?
Dr Joaquim Alves Gaspar is a man of the sea. After many years in the Portuguese Navy, he gave up plans to become an admiral in favour of pursuing a PhD in the History of Cartography. This second career led him to receive an ERC Starting Grant, the first awarded in this budding discipline. With his highly multidisciplinary team (he likes to say that, to work with him, one must be a mathematician fluent in Latin), and the experience obtained as a navigator and navigational instructor, Dr Gaspar hopes to understand how and when the first nautical charts were created. The MEDEA-CHART team is the best place in Portugal, and probably in the world, to study the history of nautical cartography, hoping that this work will provide the domain with its rightful recognition within world history.
Severe traffic jams not only have an impact on mobility, they also raise environmental and health issues linked to fuel consumption and air and noise pollution. Prof. Ludovic Leclercq is developing new traffic control models that could tackle road congestion while integrating a green dimension.
How does the past inform the lives of children and young people? A global team of EU-funded researchers is examining this issue by assessing how stories from classical antiquity impact on popular culture and society. The project’s results and outputs will provide valuable resources for scholars and teachers.
If you raise your eyes to the sky, you won't see it but you might sense it passing by. On 12 January just before sunrise in Europe, PicSat, a cube satellite as big as a shoebox and barely as heavy as a brick, will be launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India. Supported with a grant from the European Research Council, it is the first nanosatellite to embark on one of the greatest space adventures: exploring, from afar, an exoplanet.
Headscarves, mosques and halal shops — many EU citizens are Muslims, but visible signs of their faith are often viewed with distrust. What some Europeans see as a right to express their identity, others regard as a threat to societal core values. Insights from ERC-funded research into emblematic controversies may help to find a way forward.
While women inherit two X chromosomes, the expressions of one of them is shut down during embryonic development. Men have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. The switching off of women’s second X chromosome is thought to compensate for the presence of only one X in males versus two in females, to balance for X-linked gene products between the sexes. X-chromosome inactivation is also one of the clearest examples of what epigenetic mechanisms do to our genetic material: the DNA of the genes on the X is still present but not actively expressed or needed. Prof. Edith Heard was awarded ERC grants to understand the intricate processes behind the phenomenon, with unexpected results that changed the way gene regulation is now looked at.
Artur Avila is a franco-brazilian leading mathematician and an ERC grantee since 2010. At the age of 16, he won the International Mathematical Olympic gold medal and before finishing high school, he received a scholarship for the Instituto Nacional de Matemática Pura e Aplicada (IMPA) of Rio de Janeiro. He is now senior researcher both at the National Center for Scientific Research - CNRS and IMPA. In this interview, Prof. Avila tells us about his international career and the research he conducts both in Brazil and France.
As empirical experiments are almost impossible in astronomy, research in this field relies heavily on observation. Prof. Andrzej Udalski set new frontiers in observational astronomy, in particular in the search for extra-solar planets, using a cutting-edge gravitational microlensing technique which enables the study of celestial objects irrespective of the light they emit.