Research Council to Fund Most Innovative Studies

The world’s most daring scientists and researchers will be chomping at the bit to obtain grants from the newly-formed European Research Council (ERC). The ERC was established to encourage exploration beyond the current boundaries of knowledge, and is part of the European Union’s Seventh Research Framework Program (FP7). FP7’s goal is to help Europe become the “most dynamic competitive knowledge-based economy in the world.” And they’re putting their money where their mouth is.

On Feb. 27, 2007, the current president of the European Council and Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, joined with leading researchers to announce the new funding opportunities. (To read the BBC article, click here .) The ERC has a budget of about $10 billion, and FP7 has a budget of about $67 billion (though it wasn’t clear from their web site if that was the budget for just 2006, or 2006-2013). But regardless of the timeframe, $67 billion is more than three times as much money as the U.S. allocated to reconstruct Iraq. The EU is getting serious about driving scientific innovation.

ERC president, Professor Fortis KafatosERC president, Professor Fortis KafatosIf you’re an independent researcher with affiliations to a legal organization (university, research organization, corporation with a research arm, etc.), a PhD in your respected field (science and humanities), willing to reside in Europe, and pushing the envelope with your studies, you are eligible for an ERC grant.

The ERC divides its grants into two categories. The first is called a Starting Grant and is for people who completed their PhDs between two and eight years ago. Starting Grants can be up to five years long, and provide between approximately $132,000 - $528,000 per year, for a total of $660,000 - $2.64 million over the life of the grant (using today’s exchange rates). The second type of grant is the Advanced Grant. It also can be requested for up to five years, and will provide approximately $132,000 - $660,000 per year, for a total of $660,000 - $3.3 million.

The ERC web site states that it aims to:

  • “support the best of the best scientific efforts in Europe across all fields of science, engineering and scholarship.
  • encourage wholly investigator-driven, or 'bottom-up' frontier research.
  • encourage the work of the established and next generation of independent top research leaders in Europe.
  • reward innovative proposals by placing emphasis on the quality of the idea rather than the research area.
  • harness the diversity of European research talent and channel funds into the most promising ideas.
  • raise the status and visibility of European frontier research and the best researchers of today and tomorrow.
  • put excellence at the heart of European Research.”

The aim that grabbed me was the one about fostering “bottom-up frontier research”. By taking a grassroots approach to innovation, they’re hoping to see ideas that might normally be tossed aside for “safer” research parameters – safer meaning “easier to fund” – pursued, in the hopes that at least a handful truly change the world.

Emily Swan
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