ERC Starting Grants: record number of grants won

(22-11-2022) In the last ERC Starting Grant call of 2022, Ghent University has obtained no less than 10 new ERC grants. This is a record number per call for our university, and also the highest number of grants obtained by a Belgian university in one call.

ERC grants in numbers

The success rate of this last call was 26%, double the amount of the European average. With this success, Ghent University celebrates a new milestone having hosted 100 grantees, the ERC projects of our VIB and IMEC affiliated researchers included. In total 108 researchers received ERC funding since the start in 2007. In these last 15 years, Ghent University won 143 ERC projects, of which 120 main grants, each with a budget between 1,5 and 2,5 million euro. 23 projects are Proof-of-Concept grants, which are follow-up projects to a main grant, each worth 150.000 euro.

Excellence in research

Ghent University is a breeding ground for research talent. The research strategy of all faculties and the central administration have been designed to stimulate excellence in research. The enlarged central EU Team can now offer more training and tailored support to all applicants in the frame of the Ghent University Funding Academy. ERC winners are very keen to help new applicants by sharing their experiences and challenging them to think out of the box.

“At Ghent University we nurture talent and support our researchers as much as possible to conduct ground breaking research. This has led to an ever increasing acquisition of external funding, including from the ERC. We are very proud of all of these talented researchers.” (Professor Ignace Lemahieu, Director of Research)

Research on a European and global level

A recent study called Mapping Frontier Research conducted by ERC and its Executive Agency has shown that research funded by ERC is very relevant for science and society. Professor Dirk Inzé, Director of the Center for Plant Systems Biology of the VIB, professor at Ghent University, and double awarded ERC grantee, chaired this study as a member of the ERC Scientific Council.

“The ERC funds investigator-driven frontier research across disciplines of science. An in-depth analysis of over 6700 projects funded between 2014-2021 revealed a wealth of topics and highlighted synergies between disciplines. It also portrayed the large contribution of ERC projects in addressing European and global challenges, often by bringing innovative solutions. Congratulations to all UGent ERC grantees for their commitment to top-notch research at the frontiers of knowledge.“ (Professor Dirk Inzé)

New Starting Grants projects

The 100th researcher awarded an ERC grant at Ghent University is Prof. Emilie Caspar, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences. Find out more about her brain research in Rwanda.

Get to know all of our 2022 grantees and their research below. Ghent University will also organize a celebration event in Spring 2023 where all ERC grantees will be invited.

Emilie CasparDISOBEY – Emilie Caspar

The core goal of this project is to uncover the neuro-cognitive mechanisms of disobedience. Why, in a given situation, some people will obey immoral orders while others will not? With DISOBEY, Emilie aims to resolve this fundamental question by using a neuroscience approach. She tests civilians, military, but also former genocide perpetrators and rescuers in Rwanda using Magnetic Resonance Imagery.

SIESS - Nick Bultinck

In the SIESS project, Nick focusses on the quantum mechanical behavior of a recently discovered family of materials that are superconducting at high temperatures, and are almost perfectly two-dimensional (they are only a few atoms thick). The goal of the SIESS project is to develop theoretical models and numerical simulations to explain the experimentally observed properties of these enigmatic materials.

Caroline De TenderMiCoS - Caroline De Tender

So far, there’s limited to no information available on the plastic distribution in European (agricultural) soils. The goal of Caroline’s project MiCoS is to understand how the current level of microplastic pollution affects soil and plant health. She explores whether plastic-degrading microorganisms can be applied to reduce the introduction and accumulation of plastics.



HYBRIPEST – Nicky Wybouw

Mating with an incompatible partner can result in offspring that suffer from sterility and inviability. These defects are caused by multiple processes, including incompatible gene interactions and cytoplasmic incompatibilities that are mediated by bacterial symbionts such as Wolbachia. Incompatible mating is a strong isolation barrier that drives speciation and is also being harnessed for pest control. HYBRIPEST will unravel the major molecular-genetic mechanisms, and their interactions, that shape hybrid defects within a single system of closely related mite species

Pieter GeiregatNOMISS – Pieter Geiregat

Portable opto-electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops, smartwatches and the likes are based on the interaction of short wavelength radiation, i.e. visible light, with matter. Using longer wavelengths however holds a massive potential, for instance to quantify molecules in chemical sensors, tracking glucose in blood samples or greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the devices used in these studies are very expensive, bulky and often composed of restricted chemical elements (Hg, Pb, …). Within the project NOMISS, Pieter will therefore explore a route towards low-cost, safe and flexible infrared opto-electronics.

Gillian MathysVIOLENCE WORK - Gillian Mathys

VIOLENCE WORK studies everyday violence in former Belgian Central Africa—Burundi, Congo, and Rwanda (19th-20th C). This project combines hitherto neglected source materials and a novel conceptual entry point—violence work(ers)—to foreground the everyday violent practices crucial to creating and maintaining the colonial state. The project’s core claim is that violence work was not performed exclusively by formal violence workers—the men in uniform—but rather by a range of actors (colonizer and colonized) in- and outside the state. This study will undergird further research on how colonial legacies persist and interact with local and new repertoires of violence work, contributing to dismantling persistent colonial myths about these regions and their inhabitants as inherently violent.

F SauvageDYE-LIGHT - Felix Sauvage

Ocular diseases affect the quality of life of millions of patients. Despite improvements in pharmacological treatments, the arsenal of medications to treat severe ocular diseases today remains rather restricted to traditional drugs. DYE-LIGHT hypothesizes that strategies which would allow the use of P-Ls in the eye at much lower energy than today, could considerably improve safety and pave the way for both novel ocular therapies and advanced surgical interventions. DYE-LIGHT will explore vital dyes, as used by ocular surgeons to stain tissues, as photosensitizers. If successful, this might open new perspectives to improve the efficacy of retinal drug and gene delivery.

Kasper van gasseLASIQ - Kasper Van Gasse

In LASIQ Kasper will develop, for the first time, an on-chip titanium-sapphire mode-locked laser capable of generating low-noise optical frequency combs in the 650-1100 nm wavelength range. Optical frequency comb generators are light sources capable of generating a spectrum of millions of equally spaced laser lines. Such light sources allow to down-convert optical frequencies (THz) to the microwave domain (GHz), enabling precision laser spectroscopy and the construction of optical atomic clocks.


Samuël CogheCATTLEFRONTIERS - Samuël Coghe

This project explores the transformations in cattle production in Southern and Central Africa during the colonial and early postcolonial period (1890s – 1970s). During this period, (post)colonial governments, scientists, entrepreneurs and settlers promoted a broad range of interventions to overcome the allegedly uneconomic attitudes of African pastoralists and turn cattle into profitable commodities. CATTLEFRONTIERS breaks new ground by offering the first history of these transformation processes from hoof to table, for multiple empires and over a long time frame. The project uses and adapts the concept of ‘commodity frontiers’, from the global history of capitalism, for Africa’s cattle economies.

Ruben Van CoileAFireTest - Ruben Van Coile

Within AFireTest, Ruben and his research team aim to develop the necessary methods and tools for a science-based approach to fire testing and fire safety in the built environment. A concept of ‘Adaptive Fire Testing’ will be developed whereby fire tests are adapted to the specifics of the building product and its application, allowing for detailed insight in fire performance.

About the ERC

The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept Grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between their pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation.

Researchers within and outside of Ghent University who wish to apply for an ERC Starting Grant with our university as host institution, can contact the EU Team for advice and support.