Young researchers favour work in UK

December 21, 2007

Winners of ERC grants choose British institutions to undertake blue- skies research. Zoe Corbyn reports.

The UK is the prime location for the crème de la crème of Europe's early-career researchers to take forward their work, to judge from the first tranche of grants awarded by the agency set up to fund talented new researchers across Europe.

The European Research Council has started notifying about 300 early-career researchers that they have won starting grants of between €500,000 (£357,000) and EUR2 million over five years.

The winners, who have an average age of 35, will undertake blue-skies research projects at 170 host institutions in 21 countries.

While German researchers - followed by Italian, French and then British - have won the most grants, the UK clearly emerges as the most sought-after research location.

UK universities will host about 19 per cent of winners (with many already working here). France will host 13 per cent, followed by Germany with 11 per cent and the Netherlands with about 9 per cent.

Amanda Crowfoot, director of the Brussels-based UK Research Office, said the UK had done "extremely well" on the number of successful host institutions. "[The result] indicates the strength of the UK research base and the ability of its research institutions to attract and retain the best international researchers," she said.

Funded as part of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme for research, the awards have been controversial because they are designed to concentrate the best research at the best European institutions and do not use national quotas.

The ERC has said research excellence is the only criterion for its judgments.

The winners were chosen from more than 9,000 hopefuls following a massive peer-review exercise. The number of grants awarded in the first call of the scheme is larger than expected. The ERC had said previously it would allocate 200 to 250 starting grants in the first year.

Of the young researchers selected in this first call, 26 per cent are women. The first grants will be signed in February next year.

The agency, which has a budget of €7.5 billion over seven years, is now calling for applications for its second grant stream for advanced-career researchers.

"We are committed to further improve the procedures, which worked well despite the unprecedented number of applicants, and to adapt them to the requirements of the recently announced second programme, the Advanced Investigator Grants," said Fotis Kafatos, the president of the ERC.

zoe.corbyn@thes.co.uk

'A WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS PRESENT'

Rachel Edwards, from Warwick University's physics department, is one of only 78 women across Europe to win a starting grant for early-career researchers in the first call of its kind from the European Research Council.

"It is absolutely amazing - it is a wonderful Christmas present," said the 31-year-old, who has just started work as a lecturer in the department after undertaking a four-year postdoctoral placement there.

Dr Edwards's grant, worth €1.6 million (£1.14 million) will see her establish her own research team looking at how to apply "non-contact" ultrasound to test the integrity of gas pipes and railway tracks, as well as ultrasonic exploration of single crystals.

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