Four researchers at the University of Cambridge have won advanced grants from the European Research Council (ERC), Europe’s premier research funding body.

One hundred and eighty-five senior scientists from across Europe were awarded grants in today’s announcement, representing a total of €450 million in research funding. The UK has 34 grantees in this year’s funding round, the second-most of any ERC participating country.

ERC grants are awarded through open competition to projects headed by starting and established researchers, irrespective of their origins, who are working or moving to work in Europe. The sole criterion for selection is scientific excellence.

ERC Advanced Grants are designed to support excellent scientists in any field with a recognised track record of research achievements in the last ten years.

Professors Mete Atatüre and Jeremy Baumberg, both based at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, work on diverse ways to create new and strange interactions of light with matter that is built from tiny nano-sized building blocks.

Baumberg’s PICOFORCE project traps light down to the size of individual atoms which will allow him to invent new ways of tugging them, levitating them, and putting them together. Such work uncovers the mysteries of how molecules and metals interact, crucial for creating energy sustainably, storing it, and developing electronics that can switch with thousands of times less power need than currently.

"This funding recognises the huge need for fundamental science to advance our knowledge of the world – only the most imaginative and game-changing science gets such funding," said Baumberg.

Atatüre’s project, PEDESTAL, investigates diamond as a material platform for quantum networks. What gives gems their colour also turns out to be interesting candidates for quantum computing and communication technologies. By developing large-scale diamond-semiconductor hybrid quantum devices, the project aims to demonstrate high-rate and high-fidelity remote entanglement generation, a building block for a quantum internet.

"The impact of ERC funding on my group’s research had been incredible in the last 12 years, through Starting and Consolidator grants. I am very happy that with this new grant we as UK scientists can continue to play an important part in the vibrant research culture of Europe," said Atatüre.

Professor Judith Driscoll from Cambridge’s Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy was also awarded ERC funding for her work on nanostructured electronic materials. She is also spearheading joint work of her team, as well as those of Baumberg and Atatüre, on low-energy IT devices.

"My approach uses a different way of designing and creating oxide nano-scale film structures with different materials to both create new electronic device functions as well as much more reliable and uniform existing functions," she said. "Cambridge is a fantastic place that enables all our approaches to come together, driven by cohorts of inspirational young researchers in our UK-funded Centre for Doctoral Training in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology – the NanoDTC."

Professor John Robb from Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology was awarded an ERC grant for the ANCESTORS project on the politics of death in prehistoric Europe. The project takes the methods developed in the ‘After the Plague’ project and the taphonomy methods developed in the Scaloria Cave project and apply them to a major theoretical problem in European prehistory - the nature of community and the rise of inequality.

"This project is really exciting and I’ll be working with wonderful colleagues Dr Christiana ‘Freddi’ Scheib at the University of Tartu and Dr Mary Anne Tafuri at Sapienza University of Rome," said Robb. "The results will allow us to evaluate for the first time how inequality affected lives in prehistoric Europe and what role ancestors played in it."

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