DKK 34 million for young researchers

Enzymes and proteins Synthetic biology Fuel cells Energy storage Hardware and components
Three young DTU researchers have each received one of the coveted European Research Council grants for independent basic research of EUR 1.5 million or just over DKK 11 million.

The grants from the European Research Council (ERC) are the so-called Starting Grants, which are awarded to talented young researchers. According to the ERC, inventiveness, a willingness to take risks, and groundbreaking research ideas are key to receiving funding. With the grants, the researchers can build their own research teams and—together with a team of postdocs and PhD students—go on to create groundbreaking research results.

The grant recipients are Senior Researcher Søren Bredmose Simonsen from DTU Energy, Associate Professor Andreas Laustsen from DTU Bioengineering, and Senior Researcher Minhao Pu from DTU Fotonik.

Søren Bredmose Simonsen from DTU Energy will be conducting research into the storage of electricity from renewable sources in electrolytic cells by converting them into chemical fuels. This is actually a well-known technology, but it is not competitive as regards storage of fossil fuels. Electrolytic cells of the solid oxide electrolyser cell (SOEC) type utilize power—e.g. solar or wind—to reduce water or CO2 to hydrogen or carbon monoxide. This makes the technology interesting in terms of storing energy from renewable sources. However, commercialization will require much more knowledge about the processes in the cells, because—depending on the chemical environment inside the cell—the nanostructures in which the electrolysis processes take place behave differently. Different methods are currently used, depending on the focus of examination. So-called electrochemical impedance spectroscopy is excellent for showing which chemical processes take place while the cell is active, but cannot indicate anything about the behaviour of the nanostructures. Transmission electron microscopy, on the other hand, can do this, but conversely, it can only be applied to cells that are no longer active. Søren Bredmose Simonsen therefore wants to find a way to achieve ‘live images’ of nanostructures while the cell is operational, in order to better uncover the correlation between cell structures and activity.

Watch video about Søren Bredmose Simonsen.

Andreas Laustsen from DTU Bioengineering wants to develop a biotechnologically produced antivenom against snakebite envenoming. The WHO estimates that 5.4 million people are bitten by venomous snakes each year, and 2.7 million of them get snakebite envenoming. Of these victims, between 80,000 and 140,000 die. The antivenoms used today are based on immunized animal blood. They are expensive and may cause a number of severe allergic reactions, even anaphylactic shock. The goal is for the new antivenom to contain recyclable antibodies (i.e. each antibody protein can neutralize several venom toxins in the body) and for the antivenom to be able to neutralize several different types of snake venom. A cheaper, more effective antivenom with fewer side effects could have a significant societal impact—especially in low and middle-income countries. In addition to antibodies against snake toxins, the biotechnological tools developed in the MABSTER project may pave the way for completely new ways of designing biotherapeutic agents against cancer, infectious diseases, and parasitic infections, which can be difficult to target precisely due to frequent mutations.

Read more about Andreas Laustsens ERC-project.

Watch video about Andreas Laustsen.

Minhao Pu from DTU Fotonik (department of Photonics Engineering) wants to develop optical frequency combs on an unprecedented scale. An optical frequency comb is an instrument which creates very short light impulses using a laser and is capable of measuring wavelengths down to a precision of 15 decimals. The high accuracy makes them applicable in e.g. atomic clocks and GPS devices. However, due to their price, size and power consumption, they are mainly used in laboratories. This project aims to develop an optical frequency comb in chip scale. One of the challenges will be to integrate components such as lasers, comb generators, frequency doublers, and detectors on the same chip, as they rely on different processes and material platforms. If frequency combs can be sufficiently reduced in size, the applications would be significantly extended to include high-precision collection of distance measurements (LIDAR), high-speed communication, chemical sensors, medical imaging, and metrology.

Watch video about Minhao Pu.

About ERC Starting Grants

ERC Starting Grants are designed to support excellent Principal Investigators at the career stage at which they are starting their own independent research team or programme.

  • Applicant Principal Investigators must demonstrate the ground-breaking nature, ambition and feasibility of their scientific proposal.
  • Starting Grants may be awarded up to a maximum of EUR 1 500 000 for a period of 5 years.
  • However, up to an additional EUR 500 000 can be requested in the proposal to cover (a) eligible "start-up" costs for Principal Investigators moving to the EU or an Associated Country from elsewhere as a consequence of receiving the ERC grant and/or (b) the purchase of major equipment and/or (c) access to large facilities.
  • The Principal Investigator shall have been awarded their first PhD at least 2 and up to 7 years prior to 1 January 2019.
  • A competitive Starting Grant Principal Investigator must have already shown the potential for research independence and evidence of maturity, for example by having produced at least one important publication as main author or without the participation of their PhD supervisor.
  • Applicant Principal Investigators should also be able to demonstrate a promising track record of early achievements appropriate to their research field and career stage, including significant publications (as main author) in major international peer-reviewed multidisciplinary scientific journals, or in the leading international peer-reviewed journals of their respective field. They may also demonstrate a record of invited presentations in well-established international conferences, granted patents, awards, prizes etc.

Source: European Commission.