Belgian Research Action through Interdisciplinary Networks (BRAIN-be)

Funded by the Belgian federal government to the tune of €18 million a year, BRAIN-be is a research framework programme aimed at aligning research potential with societal needs and at supporting the scientific potential of federal research institutions. This multi-year programme has 6 research focuses: ecosystems and biodiversity; geosystems and climate; cultural, historic and scientific heritage; federal public strategies; major societal challenges; and collections management. BRAIN-be supports 2- or 4-year network projects, and pioneering projects lasting a maximum of 2 years.

The BRAIN-be programme currently supports 15 ULB research projects:

3rd call for projects - 2014


Living close to green spaces and water is often associated with better health. But is the proximity of such spaces the sole factor positively influencing health? The aim of this project is to study the effects that living close to a green space - parks, gardens - or water - a lake or river - have on morbidity and health in Belgium. The many different types of such spaces and their geographical distribution, including such aspects as accessibility, will be considered, comparing them with air and noise pollution aspects

On the basis of official census data, information on diseases and mortality rates, age groups and socio-economic and socio-cultural factors, the researchers will look into whether there are any links allowing us to improve our knowledge on the relationships between green spaces, air quality, noise and health, thereby providing recommendations for designing such spaces.

Coordinated by the KULeuven, this project brings together teams from the ULB - Catherine Bouland, Research Centre for Environmental and Occupational Health, School of Public Health -, the UCL, the UH, the VUB and the ISP.


The starting point of this project is the wish to map the history of migration phenomena on the basis of a set of archives rich in material but as yet little explored: the 150,000 individual case files of foreigners drawn up by Belgium's Sûreté Publique between 1840 and 1890. Following a quantitative macro-study, research will move to a micro-level, looking at the migrants themselves.

Three categories of migrants have been singled out - excluded people, sailors and "knowledge workers" (researchers, technicians, students) - with a view to establishing their trajectories and networks. The goal is to assess the attitude - repressive or accommodating - of the Belgian State and its administration towards this growing "Europe on the move" in a context of heightened industrial rivalry. A further goal is to understand the mechanisms behind the demarcation of what was "national" and what was "foreign" by those directly subject to its effects - and not solely by those making this distinction.

Coordinated by the VUB, the project includes a team from the ULB - Kenneth Bertrams, Modern and Contemporary Worlds, Faculty of Philosophy and Letters.


This project will be developing a digital database allowing Belgian judicial archives pertaining to war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity to be identified, described and digitised. It will focus on documents produced by Belgian courts in post-conflict legal proceedings in the period 1914 - 2014. Though these archives constitute a unique documentary heritage, they are often not well-known and difficult to access.

The goal of the project is to produce a lasting, multidisciplinary search tool. Its aim is to include these files in a dynamic, interlinked and international archiving system, and to contribute to the planned database of the International Criminal Court, making these collections available online beyond Belgian borders.

Coordinated by the ULB - P. Lagrou from the Research Centre for Modern and Contemporary Worlds -, the project brings together teams from the National Archives of Belgium, KULeuven and the Phillip University of Marburg.


Starting in the mid-1990's, cultural institutions moved into the digital era. Now is therefore the time for these organisations to study the impact of these upheavals on the new practices and expectations of their clientele. The Maddlain project does just this, looking into the behaviour of the different clienteles of the State Archives (AGR), the Centre for Historical Research and Documentation on War and Contemporary Society (CEGESOMA) and the Royal Library (KBR) in accessing digital information.

After a phase dedicated to collecting and consolidating a large amount of information, the project will go on to conduct a three-step study, looking first at the behaviour of the clientele at large; then specifically targeting the e-learning practices of university students; and finally studying virtual research environments, looking at how researchers work. Once the project is completed, the three Federal institutions will use the results to fine-tune their data management and information offering with a view to better aligning them with the actual needs of these different clienteles.

Partners: Seth Van Hooland - ReSIC, ULB Faculty of Philosophy and Arts, KBR, AGR-ARA, iMinds.


Though the majority of stars have relatively low masses, these play a fundamental role in the production of chemical elements heavier than iron. Via convective mixing mechanisms, the stars transport to the surface of their atmosphere heavy elements produced in their inner layers, before expelling them into the interstellar medium.

Such low to medium mass stars thus actively participate in the Galaxy's steady chemical enrichment, in turn influencing the nucleosynthesis and formation of stars - and their attendant planets. The aim of the STARLAB project is to gain a better understanding of the key physical and chemical processes used in the evolution of these low to medium mass stars.

The project is the result of a desire for collaboration between the ULB Faculty of Science's Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (under Alain Jorissen), that of the KULeuven and the Uccle Observatory.


In this project researchers intend to contribute to the debate on how society should move towards becoming a low-/zero-carbon society, reconciling environmental and social objectives. They will be exploring the interdependencies and inequalities at micro-level, observing how politics can reconcile social and environmental objectives on the way to a low-/zero-carbon society.

Researchers will be looking into a range of issues: How can the apparent compromise between environmental objectives and those of distributive justice be understood in association with low-/zero-carbon policies? What are the mechanisms explaining how households are differently affected by these policies, thereby creating socio-environmental inequalities? What governance mechanisms are being used and what can Belgium learn from other countries?

Partners: UA (coordinator), the Federal Planning Bureau and the ULB - Tom Bauler and Grégoire Wallenborn from the Centre for Sustainable Development Studies

2nd call for projects - 2013


AFRIFORD is a project aimed at understanding how past climate changes and the activities of ancient indigenous societies have affected the current distribution and composition of African rainforests and the genetic diversity of their trees. Taking a multidisciplinary approach, the research includes paleo-ecological (palynology, anthracology) analyses of lake sediments and soil (UGent, MRAC, UPMC), dendrochronology (MRAC, UBern), vegetation modelling (ULg), and population genetics (ULB). This combination of skills will allow us to validate for the first time a scenario showing how tree species have reacted (distribution, adaptation) to environmental changes in the forests of Central Africa.

Partners: Olivier Hardy - Evolution Biologique et Ecologie, Faculté des Sciences ULB, ULg, UGent, MRAC, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Université de Bern.


Organism names are used in a wide range of scientific, environmental management and policy domains. Specialist expert-managed taxonomic databases are therefore essential for ensuring the relevance and quality of stored biological data. Ensuring data interoperability, a number of these databases are used directly for monitoring biodiversity. The main goal of the AquaRES (Aquatic Species Register Exchange and Services) project is to ensure the quality and interoperability of aquatic species databases through developing specialised web services. Such services are needed to allow fast and automatic data exchange between the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), the Register of Antarctic Marine Species (RAMS) and the Freshwater Animal Diversity Assessment (FADA), while at the same time making the data available to such projects as the Encyclopedia of Life (EoL), the Catalogue of Life (CoL), the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and to such e-Science initiatives as the Biodiversity Virtual e-Laboratory (BioVeL) or LifeWatch.

For more info:

Partners: Bruno Danis - Laboratoire de Biologie marine, Faculté des Sciences ULB, IRSNB-KBIN, VLIZ

More information.


The goal of the multidisciplinary research project HECTOR (Hybrid Electronic Curation, Transformation and Organization of Records) is to model the transformation, organisation and storage of hybrid files (paper, computer records and electronic data) within the Belgian federal administration. The intention of the project is to provide a seamless framework for digitisation procedures, post-digitisation evaluation and selection policies, meta-data diagrams and classification plans, efficient access management policies and policies for the parallel management of documents and hybrid files, with a view to facilitating the transition towards a reliable, secure and efficient system of e-government.

Partners: Seth Van Hooland - ReSIC, Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres ULB, UNamur, AGR-ARA.


Home to much of the world's marine biodiversity, the Southern Ocean is experiencing unprecedented environmental changes on a major spatial and temporal scale, changes that could profoundly alter the biology of the Southern Ocean. The goal of the vERSO (Ecosystem Responses to global change: a multi-scale approach in the Southern Ocean) project is to evaluate the impact of the main stress factors associated with global change on Antarctic benthic ecosystems, using a multi-scale approach looking at representative taxa from different size classes of the benthos. To achieve this goal, research is to be conducted on connectivity and adaptation, on trophic ecology and sensitivity, and on resilience; data will be merged and analysed using proven forecasting models.

For more info:

Partners: Bruno Danis - Laboratoire de Biologie marine, Faculté des Sciences ULB, UGent, KUL, VUB, ULg, Museum des Sciences naturelles, Musée d'histoire naturelle, Université de Bourgogne

More information.

1rst call for projects - 2012:


The project "Landslides in Equatorial Africa: Identifying culturally, technically and economically feasible resilience strategies" (AfRe-Slide) is looking at resilience in the face of landslides in Uganda and Cameroon. The project involves a combination of disciplines (volcanology, geography, economics and anthropology). For the ULB, Dr. Astrid de Hontheim (ULB Centre of Cultural Anthropology) is in charge of the project's anthropology side. Her research, to be done in the region of Mt Cameroon and Mt Rwenzori (Uganda), will focus on cultural representations related to land, the reorganisation of land rights, power relations and the use of social networks when landslides occur.

Partners: Véronique Joiris - Centre d'Anthropologie culturelle, Faculté des Sciences sociales et politiques ULB, VUB, KUL, MRAC.


The goal of the "Food4Sustainability" project is to identify the conditions under which food systems can be reformed with a view to achieving a low-carbon society. This is a transition needing to take account of both extrinsic (economic and financial rewards) and intrinsic (social norms and values adhered to by those concerned) motivations. The CERMi will be working on innovative and efficient financial structures aimed at reducing the impact of food systems on climate change.

Partners: Marek Hudon - CERMi, Faculté Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management ULB, UCL, KUL.


The "Reconnaissance et ressentiment" project is looking at experiences and memories of the Great War in Belgium. Going under the name of MEMEX-WWI, the project brings together historians, political scientists, philologists and psychologists. It is devoted to the collective memory of the First World War on both sides of the linguistic border, using press analyses and public surveys. Researchers will also be looking at what Belgian soldiers went through emotionally in combat, analysing their letters and diaries.

Partners: Olivier Klein - Centre de recherche en psychologie sociale et interculturelle, Faculté des Sciences Psychologiques et de l'Education ULB, KUL, UCL, UGent, Ceges.


The project "Measuring equivalent incomes: The implementation of individual well-being measures from Belgian data" gathers scientists in economic theory, health economics, social policy, econometric theory, and applied econometrics. These scientists will develop new measures of individual well-being that take into account that well-being is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. They will also gather an unique data set on Belgian households that will allow to compute these measures. As such they will be capable to answer questions related to poverty, gender inequality or more general socioeconomic inequality.

Partners: Bram De Rock - ECARES, Faculté Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management ULB, UCL, KUL, UA.


The project "Transnational dynamics of social reform in the Low Countries" focuses on the history of social reforms in the period 1815-1914, particularly in the "Low Countries" (what is now mainly Belgium and the Netherlands). The projects show how social security policies were able to emerge in this period on local, national and European scales. The overall goal of the project is to demonstrate the connection between local activism, national reform agendas and the transnational circulation of ideas and practices on social support. The ULB's contribution will mainly be in the form of support for the semi-automatic collection of data.

Partners: Seth Van Hooland - ReSIC, Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres ULB, UGhent, UCL, UMaastricht, Archives de l'Etat.