Three Imperial academics have won ERC Starting Grants to pursue their ‘ambitious research ideas’.
The grants – worth up to €1.5million euros each over five years – are awarded to emerging science talent through the Horizon Europe programme to launch their own projects and form teams. The UK received 70 grants in this wave of new funding from the ERC.
President of the European Research Council Professor Maria Leptin said: “It is a pleasure to see this new group of bright minds at the start of their careers, set to take their research to new heights.
“I cannot emphasise enough that Europe as a whole – both at national and at EU level – has to continue to back and empower its promising talent.
“We must encourage young researchers who are led by sheer curiosity to go after their most ambitious scientific ideas. Investing in them and their frontier research is investing in our future.”
Dr Chun Ann Huang, Department of Materials – New battery materials
Energy storage for electric transportation and for storing electrical energy generated from intermittent renewable sources is one of the promising routes to transition to zero pollution.
However, improvements in the performance, manufacturing methods and sustainability of the existing energy storage devices still meet significant challenges.
This project – led by Dr Chun Ann Huang – aims to develop new materials and advanced manufacturing technologies to make ordered electrode nano- and microstructure for rechargeable batteries including Li ion, Na ion, and solid-state batteries.
Dr Huang explains: “We will use a new type of correlative imaging of combining X-ray computed tomography (XCT) and X-ray incoherent scattering to operando map the chemical species inside batteries and understand the underlying phenomena in order to address the multifaceted challenges of energy storage.”
The funding will be used to build a team of postdoctoral research associates, synthesise new battery materials and develop advanced manufacturing technologies to make ordered nano- and microstructure at scale. Dr Huang’s research will work with the Research Complex at Harwell and Diamond Light Source – the UK’s national synchrotron science facility.
Dr Huang added: “Receiving the ERC Starting Grant is a great honour. The grant encourages curiosity-driven science, and I am excited to freely explore risky, blue-sky research in advanced manufacturing and characterisation for batteries and other energy applications.
“My department has always been extremely supportive and I look forward to continuing to work with so many super-talented colleagues and growing my research group over the next five years.”
Dr Ben Schumann, Department of Chemistry – Cell biology
Dr Ben Schumann, from the Department of Chemistry and group leader of the chemical glycobiology laboratory, has received a grant to study glycans, carbohydrate-based molecules that carry out various roles vital to cell survival.
In this project, Dr Schumann and his team will develop chemical tools to directly image and map how glycans are added to proteins to create glycoproteins, in living cells.
Dr Schumann said: “This process, called glycosylation, cannot be predicted from an organism’s genetics, and understanding how it works is an unmet need in biology.
“Using chemical tools alongside mass spectrometry and cutting-edge microscopy techniques, we hope to reveal the details of glycosylation, providing insight into a major essential process in cell biology.”
Dr Rupert Myers, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering – Zero emissions cement
Cement production is one of the most difficult-to-decarbonise industrial sectors – it contributes around seven per cent of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
It has also not been possible historically to recycle old cement into new cement.
However, emerging science and technology can cost-effectively produce new cement by carbonating end-of-life concrete, which offers a way to overcome these environmentally and industrially important issues.
Dr Ruper Myers, who is leading the project, said: “This project will deploy several new ideas and approaches to develop the material and process chemistry and engineering underpinning this technology, to enable the production of zero emissions cement and functional recycling of end-of-life concrete at the market scale, including in Europe and globally.
Dr Myers added: “It’s a real privilege to be recognised by my reviewer colleagues and the funding panel through this Starting Grant. I’m grateful that the ERC has funded this important research area.”