European Research Council, ERC

Advanced Grants

Axel Cleeremans, RADICAL, Advanced Grant ERC (2013)

Centre for Research in Cognition & Neurosciences, UNI, Faculty of Psychological Science and Education

Consciousness - what it feels like to have experiences - is undoubtedly one of the most important scientific problems today. Here, I adopt a resolutely dynamical perspective on consciousness, suggesting that rather than being a single static property associated with some neural states and not others, it is instead extended both in space and in time. This mandates an experimental approach focused on the dynamics of change, at different time scales. The overarching goal of the project is to characterize the computational principles that differentiate conscious from unconscious cognition, based on a bold, original, and innovative theory about the role that neural plasticity and learning play in consciousness.

Cathy Clerbaux, IASI-FT, Advanced Grant ERC (2017)

Quantum and photophysical chemistry Department (Faculty of Sciences)

Cathy Clerbaux is a guest professor at the quantum and photophysical chemistry department (Faculty of Sciences) and a research supervisor at CRNS (France). Her project, IASI-FT (IASI - Flux and Temperature), of which ULB is a co-beneficiary, aims to detect indicators of climate change based on hyperspectral data collected by satellites. IASI’s satellite MetOp, placed in orbit a decade ago, has already provided billions of data points that will be processed using a combination of advanced statistical techniques and big data analytics, in order to extract new information on climate variables that are important but difficult to measure accurately from space: radiative fluxes, aerosols, temperatures, and ozone concentrations. The goal of the project is to better understand the natural variability of these measures and identify which ones can be linked to climate change.
For more information on the IASI mission, see this video.

Marc Henneaux, High-Spin-Grav, Advanced Grant ERC (2016)

Mathematics and Theoretical Physics Department, Faculty of Science - Director of the Solvay Institutes

Reconciling gravity with quantum mechanics, and unification of the fundamental forces are two of today’s Physics main challenges.In this project, Marc Henneaux will study extensions of Einstein’s gravity containing higher spin gauge fields. In spite of the impressive achievements already in store, it is fair to say that higher spin gravity has not delivered its full potential yet and still faces a rich number of challenges, both conceptual and technical. Supported by the European Research Council, Marc Henneaux's project has the objective to deepen our understanding of higher spin gravity, and its connection with tensionless string theory and consistent theories of quantum gravity.

Patrick Legros, OIO, Advanced Grant ERC (2014)

ECARES, Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management Faculty

Patrick Legros received an ERC Advanced to develop a new industrial organization theory, based on a richer view of the firm in which non-trivial conflicts of interest between shareholders, workers, managers and consumers will shape firm boundaries. This "Organizational Industrial Organization" (OIO) theory will generate new insights concerning the positive and normative analysis of industries, independently of whether firms in these industries have market power, while at the same time contributing to a new understanding of such fundamental concepts as the determinants of a company's size and product range, or the dynamics of mergers and divestitures. OIO will also address less traditional questions such as the impact of managerial labor markets, finance or corporate governance on industry performance.

Etienne Pays, APOLS, Advanced Grant ERC (2015)

Molecular Parasitology Laboratory, Faculty of Science

Etienne Pays is studying trypanosomes, a parasite causing sleeping sickness. In 1998, he discovered the gene allowing certain trypanasomes to get past the human body's immune defence mechanisms; in 2010, he discovered that a mutation of apolipoprotein-L1 allows some West African populations to resist these trypanosomes but that this evolutionary advantage is accompanied by a higher risk of kidney failure. Thanks to the ERC, Etienne Pays will be able to investigate the evolutionary capabilities of this parasite, subjecting it to controlled and increasingly higher doses of mutated apoL1 - and thereby possibly opening the door to new ways of treating kidney failure.

Pierre Vanderhaeghen, GENDEVOCORTEX, Advanced Grant ERC (2013)

IRIBHM & UNI, Faculty of Medicine

The mechanisms underlying the evolution of the human brain constitute one of the most fascinating unresolved questions of biology. The Pierre Vanderhaeghen's hypothesis? The key species-specific features of the development of the human cerebral cortex, in particular the generation and differentiation of pyramidal neurons, are linked functionally to the emergence of hominid-specific (HS) genes controlling corticogenesis. By identifying the function of hominid-specific genes in cortical developpment, we will uncover specific genetic mechanisms linking functionally the development and evolution of the human brain, with broad implications in neurobiology, developmental and evolutionary biology.

Consolidator Grants

Mauro Birattari, DEMIURGE, Consolidator Grant ERC (2016)

IRIDIA, Faculty of Applied Science

Swarm robotics is all about developing intelligent robots and getting them to work together to accomplish complex tasks. Developing such a technology remains a challenge and requires a great amount of lab work. With the help of the ERC, Mauro Birattari is going to design a way of automatically developing intelligent robots. Within the DEMIURGE project, the researcher and his team will be trying to develop a new tool able to self-determine all the IT parameters needed to create intelligent robots. They will start by defining a common language with the machine, enabling it to understand the problem posed. As the next step, the programme will determine the best way of solving it and select all the necessary parameters from a set of pre-programmed software and hardware modules, enabling the "swarm robots" to carry out the required task.

Cédric Blanpain, EXPAND, Consolidator Grant ERC (2013)

IRIBHM, Faculty of Medicine

Cédric Blanpain gained an ERC Starting Grant in 2007 in support of his research into understanding the role of stem cells in cancer. In 2013, Cédric Blanpain gained a new grant from the ERC, this time a consolidator grant, for his project EXPAND, Defining the cellular dynamics leading to tissue expansion. Thanks to this reaffirmed support from Europe, he will be continuing his work on stem cells, studying the mechanisms governing tissue expansion in the course of the development and repair of adult tissues.

Joel Fine, SymplecticEinstein, Consolidator Grant ERC (2015)

Differential Geometry, Faculty of Sciences

The project is based on a new link between two much studied subjects: symplectic geometry and Einstein's equations. A symplectic form is the minimal amount of information needed to formulate classical mechanics and is the starting point for quantisation. Einstein's equations describe the possible shape of the universe. The project is born out of a surprising connection between these two seemingly different geometries. To each 4-dimensional solution to Einstein's equations one can associate a 6-dimensional symplectic space. The goal is to exploit these twinned spaces to prove new results both in the study of Einstein's equations and in symplectic geometry.

Jean-Benoit Pilet, CureOrCurse, Consolidator Grant ERC (2017)

Center for the Study of Politics, CEVIPOL, Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences

While fewer and fewer Europeans trust their representative institutions, politics tend to multiply institutional reforms aimed at revitalizing representative democracy. The delegation of some political decision-making powers to selected citizens and to selected experts is one of such reforms. However, delegating political decision-making to selected experts/citizens empowers the non-elected, the opposite definition of representative democracy.
Jean-Benoit Pilet’s new research project will examine this paradox: are such reforms a cure or a curse for representative democracy? Will they boost citizens’ support for representative democracy, or will they deepen the gap with central institutions? The project will collect data across Europe in order to conduct a comprehensive inventory of all actual cases of empowerment of citizens and experts and the preferences of Europeans regarding these. A combination of online survey experiments and of panel surveys will also be conducted.

Samuel Fiorini, ForEFront, Consolidator Grant ERC (2013)

Department of Mathematics, Faculty of Science

Samuel Fiorini is studying the theory of complexity, at the interface between mathematics and computer science. The key issue of this theory is P vs. NP. We already have an efficient algorithm enabling us to solve P problems. On the other hand, NP problems require rapidly growing computation time. The P vs. NP issue involves using mathematics to demonstrate that all problems in NP are also in P, or conversely that P and NP are different, which would mean that for a great number of problems any algorithm would have to resort to an exhaustive search to find an optimal solution, resulting in prohibitively long computation time. Samuel Fiorini is using a geometric approach to study the theory of complexity. His project is called ForEFront, Frontiers of Extended Formulations.

Starting Grants

Laurent Bouton, PEMP, Starting Grant ERC (2015)

ECARES, Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management Faculty

The focus of Laurent Bouton's is on how electoral systems function and their effect on the economy. His work is based on models allowing predictions to be made about strategic voting behaviour and the characteristics of the different electoral systems. Current models tend to be quite limited, based for example on the hypothesis that there are only two candidates or on much simplified hypotheses regarding strategic voting behaviour. The goal of this ERC project is to develop new mathematical models better depicting reality and of use to economists and political scientists in particular.

Geoffrey Compère, HoloBHC, Starting Grant ERC (2013)

Mathematics and Theoretical Physics Department, Faculty of Science

String theory provides with a consistent framework which combines quantum mechanics and gravity. Two grand challenges of fundamental physics - building realistic models of black holes and cosmologies - can be addressed in this framework thanks to novel holographic methods. The Geoffrey Compère's first objective is building the first model in string theory of an extremal black hole. If successful, this program will pave the way to a description of quantum gravity effects that have been conjectured to occur close to the horizon of very fast rotating black holes. His second objective is to derive new universal properties of the cosmological horizon of de Sitter spacetime using tools inspired from the gauge/gravity correspondence. These results will contribute to understand its remarkable entropy, which, according to the standard model of cosmology, bounds the entropy of our observable universe.

Vinciane Debaille, ISoSyC, Starting Grant ERC (2013)

G-Time Lab, Faculty of Sciences

Meteorites, undifferentiated or not, are privileged witnesses of solar system accretion processes and early planetary evolution. Short-lived radioactive chronometers are particularly adapted in dating and understanding these early differentiation processes. This proposal is dedicated to two main questions: what is the initial composition of the solar system and terrestrial planets?; Having refined these parameters, how and when silicate bodies differentiated? The final goal of the present proposal is to determine if Earth and other planets are chondritic or not (i.e. their initial composition), and to understand the implications of their refined starting composition on their geological evolution in terms of early planetary differentiation.

Antoine Gloria, QUANTHOM, Starting Grant ERC (2013)

Department of Mathematics, Faculty of Sciences

Antoine Gloria is doing his research in mathematics in the field of partial differential equations, used to describe various phenomena in such fields as physics, mechanics or engineering. The aim of the homogenisation theory is to understand how the actual behaviour of a material obtained by a microscopic assembly of several different materials emerges from the behaviour of each of these constituent materials taken separately (or how, the equation satisfied by the material at a macroscopic scale can be deduced from the equation satisfied by the assembly of materials at the microscopic scale). When the microscopic materials are arranged in a periodic manner, the actual behaviour of the composite material is generally fairly well understood. This is however not the case when the composite material is modelled by a random assembly of materials at a microscopic level, as real materials usually are. The purpose of this research project is to gain quantitative insight on the stochastic homogenisation theory. One of the proposed applications of this theory is the quantitative derivation of (continuum) rubber elasticity theory from the statistical physics of polymer chain networks, that is, the derivation of "ab initio" constitutive laws for rubber-like materials. Coordinator: ULB, Beneficiary: INRIA (Lille).

Nathan Goldman, TopoCold, Starting Grant ERC (2016)

Department of the Physics of Complex Systems and Statistical Mechanics, ULB Faculty of Science

Nathan Goldman has gained an ERC Starting Grant for his project on quantum physics. The project will be looking at the topological phases of matter, a field at the intersection of mathematics and technological applications. The aim of the project is to exploit the properties of ultra-cold gases (atoms trapped and artificially manipulated by light) and to identify the topological properties specific to these atomic clouds. The researcher and his team will be developing theoretical tools allowing not just the identification of these signatures in the lab, but also the manipulation of new phases of matter accessible at very low temperatures (close to absolute zero).

Dirk Jacobs, EQUOP - Opportunities for migrant youth in educational systems..., Starting Grant ERC (2011)

GERME, Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences

Dirk Jacobs was awarded an ERC Starting Grant to study segregation at school. In most industrial nations, and especially in Belgium, Germany, Austria, and Holland, there is a performance gap between immigrant children and those without an immigrant background. Social and ethnic segregation seems to be one of the most significant contributing factors. In his research project, Dirk Jacobs intends to differentiate the causes behind this high level of segregation, and show how they manifest in unequal opportunities for immigrant children. The research project will also look in to the impact of school resources and different teacher profiles.

Justine Lacroix, RESIST, Starting Grant ERC (2010)

Centre of Political - Faculty of Social and Political Sciences

Justine Lacroix was awarded an ERC Starting Grant for her "Human Rights versus Democracy? Towards a Conceptual Genealogy of Skepticism about Human Rights in Contemporary Political Thought" project. While there is tome upon tome of literature on Human Rights, there are few critiques of Human Rights from a political thought standpoint. This is the original approach adopted by Justine Lacroix: she begins by analysing critiques of Human Rights from six thinkers in the field, including the 1789 Declaration, such as Burke, De Maistre, Bentham, Marx, Comte and Schmitt. This sample is designed to illustrate the great diversity in opinions on Human Rights, including as it does conservative, reactionary, progressive, and revolutionary authors. Then, she will compare and contrast her observations on classical authors with contemporary investigations into the dominant role played by the discourse in Human Rights within our societies.

François Leo, QuadraComb, Starting Grant ERC (2017)

OPERA, Faculty of Applied Sciences

François Leo's project aims to make the production of optical rulers — currently a very expensive technology — more simple and affordable. Commonly used in many disciplines, they are composed of a wide range of frequencies of light, each known with an extremely high degree of precision, allowing them to measure distance and time with high accuracy. Manufacturing these rulers is however currently a multi-stage process that requires several large and expensive pieces of equipment, making it accessible only to specialised laboratories. During his project, François Leo is hoping to develop optical rulers that can be produced in a single manufacturing step, which would reduce equipment size and make the rulers more accessible. His starting point will be patterns that appear spontaneously in nature: new frequencies are created naturally under certain conditions, and they could be used to produce an optical ruler.

Alessandro Parente, VADEMECOM, Starting Grant ERC (2016)

ATM, Faculty of Applied Sciences - Combustion and Robust Optimization (BURN) Joint Research Group

Alessandro Parente has gained an ERC Starting Grant for the "VADEMECOM (VAlidation driven DEvelopment of Modern and Efficient COMbustion)" research project. The goal of the project is to develop new combustion technologies using experimental and theoretical approaches and digital simulations. The researcher is particularly interested in "MILD" combustion, a very flexible and highly efficient form of fuel combustion causing virtually no pollution, the mechanisms of which are not yet completely understood.

Jean-François Raskin, inVEST, Starting Grant ERC (2011)

Computing Department - Faculty of Science

Jean-François Raskinwon an ERC Starting Grant for his inVEST project - from verification to automatic synthesis of critical programmes. Today, the majority of complex systems are computer controlled. Control software can be found in a broad range of applications, including public transport, aerospace, and the medical sectors. For these critical applications, the software must be verified. The inVEST project aims to provide the theoretical foundations to automatically develop verified control software using mathematical descriptions. Jean-François Raskin's work will use and expand upon logic theory, automation theory, and game theory.

ERC grants finished

Cédric Blanpain, Stem cells in epithelial cancer initiation and growth, Starting Grant ERC (2007)

IRIBHM, Faculty of Medicine

An FNRS researcher and the head of a group at the IRIBHM (interdisciplinary research institute on human and molecular biology) within ULB’s Faculty of Medicine, Cédric Blanpain is known internationally for his research on adult stem cells and their possible links with certain types of cancer. Among other achievements, Cédric Blanpain has contributed to the development of original methods to specifically mark and isolate adult skin stem cells, allowing to study their role in carcinogenesis.

Estelle Cantillon, Market Design and the Evolution of Markets, Starting Grant ERC (2007)

ECARES, Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management Faculty

A business engineer at ULB, a doctor in economics from Harvard University, and a professor at the Harvard Business School, Estelle Cantillon has now returned to Belgium as a qualified FNRS researcher, conducting research at the European Centre for Advanced Research in Economics and Statistics (ECARES), within the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management. Her area of research lies between industrial economics and the design and organisation of markets. Her project “Market Design and the Evolution of Markets” has received an award from the ERC and deals with financial markets as well as other markets such as emissions trading.

Frédéric Bourgeois, Legendrian contact homology and generating families, Starting Grant ERC (2009)

A former researcher at ULB’s Faculty of Sciences, Frédéric Bourgeois has been studying symplectic geometry since he completed his PhD thesis at Stanford University. A specialised branch of differential geometry, symplectic geometry is the study of geometric spaces that feature contact structures (rather than, e.g. distances and angles as is the case in Euclidean geometry). This is, for instance, the case of geometrical optics. In addition to its key role in mathematics, symplectic geometry is relevant to the work of many physicists and engineers. The project that has received an ERC grant deals with remarkable and important objects in contact geometry (equivalent to wavefronts in optics): Legendrian subvarieties. More specifically, Frédéric Bourgeois will study two sophisticated invariants for Legendrian subvarieties: Legendrian contact homology and generating families homology.

Marco Dorigo, Engineering Swarm Intelligence Systems - E-SWARM, Advanced Grant ERC (2010)

IRIDIA, Faculty of Applied Science

A researcher with the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research and Development in Artificial Intelligence (IRIDIA) at the Applied Science/Graduate School of Engineering, Marco Dorigo was awarded a European Research Fund Advanced Grant for his "Engineering Swarm Intelligence Systems - E-SWARM" project. The aim of the project is to develop rigorous engineering methodology for the design and implementation of "swarm intelligence" artificial intelligence systems. In the future, "swarm intelligence" could be an important tool for finding solutions to certain complex problems. To develop the foundations of this discipline as well as an appropriate methodology, the scientists of the E-SWARM project will solve various difficult problems in the fields of optimisation, robotics, networks, and data mining.

Read his portraitpdf (in French).

Bram De Rock, A revealed preference analysis of household consumption models - RPH, Starting Grant ERC (2010)

ECARES, Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management Faculty

Bram De Rock was awarded an ERC Starting Grant for his "A revealed preference analysis of household consumption models" (RPH) project. Researchers agree that a standard approach that treats the household as a single decision maker cannot be used to process the consumer habits of households with several members. In spite of this consensus, the alternative approaches vary in how they handle decision making within the household and the parameters used. The RPH research project will focus on the development of additional revealed preference (RP) methodologies.

Read his portraitpdf (in French).

Marc Henneaux, Symmetries and Dualities in Gravity and M-theory, Sydugram, Advanced Grant ERC (2010)

Mathematics and Theoretical Physics Department, Faculty of Science - Director of the Solvay Institutes

String Theory currently offers one of the best opportunities for resolving the challenges posed by both reconciling gravity with quantum mechanics, and unification of the fundamental forces. Marc Henneaux, the head of the Mathematics and Theoretical Physics Department - Faculty of Science, is seeking the answers to these fundamental questions. He is particularly interested in the concept of symmetry. Recently, fascinating new structures have been revealed in certain fields of gravity. These structures show an infinite number of symmetries, and are described by mathematical objects that are as yet only partially understood. Supported by the European Research Council, Marc Henneaux's project will take an in-depth look at the symmetries in gravity and string theory, advancing towards a complete formula.