Academics Dr Karen McAuliffe, Dr Frederick Verbruggen, Dr Michael Cant and Prof Stuart Bearhop have all received a combined total of  five million Euros for pioneering research in their fields

Grant award of €5 million will fund pioneering University research

Four of Europe’s most promising scientists from the University of Exeter have received a total of more than €5 million to advance cutting-edge research which will help develop a deeper understanding of the world.

From the multilingual evolution of European law to the mechanisms of the human brain and patterns of animal behaviour, the grants will fund five-year studies which are at the forefront of research.

The four academics all warded off fierce competition to successfully bid for European Research Council grants. The scheme is designed to support a new generation of top scientists across Europe. Thousands applied, but only one in nine was awarded a share of the €800 million cash pot.

Professor Stuart Bearhop and Dr Michael Cant, both from The University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation, each received €1.5 million. They are the only two academics in their category to be awarded grants at the same University, bolstering the Centre’s international reputation as a cutting-edge research hub. 

Prof Bearhop said: “We are all delighted to receive such significant grants, which recognise the international value of the pioneering research we are carrying out at the University of Exeter, in a wide range of areas. We are all still in the relatively early stages of our academic careers, and this five-year allocation means we can concentrate on the research which will enhance our understanding of the world.

“My work will track large numbers of migrating geese. It will assess for the first time how a wide range of factors impact on them throughout the whole annual cycle. That migration is one of the most dramatic phenomena in nature, and this will give a deeper insight, and could help shape future management and conservation.”

Dr Michael Cant said: “My work will focus on patterns of development in wild banded mongooses. These are excellent study animals because they live in highly social groups in which all group members cooperate to rear offspring. I will be examining how care and attention received early in life affect the health of individual mongooses across their lifespan.”

European law expert Dr Karen McAuliffe’s grant of €1 million will enable her to examine the impact of language and translation on the development of the EU legal order. The senior Law lecturer said: “The application process for the ERC grant was particularly tough, so it’s excellent news that four academics from the University of Exeter were successful, and testimony to the high quality of the research taking place.” 

Dr McAuliffe, who used to work for the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg, said: “Court of Justice judgments are drafted by multiple authors in a language that is generally not their mother tongue. Those documents are then translated into the other 22 official EU languages and often the ‘official’ version of a judgment will be a translation of the original document.  My work will investigate the cultural and linguistic compromises at play in the creation of the Court’s multilingual case law. I will be trying to find out what impact, if any, that drafting and translation process has on both the development and substance of EU law. The project is likely to lead to a new understanding of how EU law is made.”

Dr Frederick Verbruggen, a senior lecturer in Psychology and one of the founding members of the Centre for Cognitive Control and Associative Learning, received more than €1.1 million. He aims to develop a detailed account of which brain mechanisms allow people to change their behaviour, using a variety of techniques such as brain stimulation and the recording of brain activity.  

Dr Verbruggen said: “My work aims to contribute to a better understanding of the regulatory brain systems and how deficiencies in such systems can lead to behaviours such as over-eating and problem gambling. Ultimately, the research will provide a cognitive-neuroscience model of behavioural change, which could be used to help develop a better framework for more effective treatments for clinical disorders.”

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science at the European Commission, said: “In a global knowledge economy we need new ideas to compete. So investing in world-class frontier research and in the next generation of scientists is one of Europe's top priorities. After just five years ERC grants are world-renowned, and help us retain and attract the best of the best.”

Date: 5 November 2012