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ERC grants to dozens of researchers from all universities (Rashi

ERC Starting Grants are designed to help young and promising scientists advance their research, form research teams and pursue the realization of bold and original ideas. The nomination and the candidates are required to present potential for scientific breakthroughs, intense ambition and the feasibility of their research proposal.

European Research Council. PR photo
European Research Council. PR photo

The European Research Council (ERC) published today (Tuesday) the results of the call for the ERC grant for 2022. The prestigious grant is designed to enable young researchers to fulfill their research goals as well as promote fruitful collaborations and assist in the first stages of technology commercialization.

Tel Aviv University leads in the number of grants, with 8 wins, of which 5 are female researchers

  • Prof. Liad Modrik (from the School of Psychological Sciences and Segol School of Neuroscience): A neuroscientist who will investigate the hypothesis that humans differ in the degree to which they are influenced by unconscious information. Our behavior and thought is influenced by both conscious and unconscious processes, and in this study the claim is that the extent to which unconscious processes influence behavior may be a stable personality trait that defines the individual's decision-making profile. The research will rely on brain imaging techniques and will also investigate the development of conscious and unconscious processing in children.
  • Dr. Adi Ashkenazi (from the School of Physics): Experimental particle physicist, who studies the properties of neutrinos, the most difficult to detect stable elementary particles. The winning proposal focuses on the nuclear effects involved in the detection of neutrino particle oscillations. Its purpose is to improve the models used to simulate neutrino interaction in the detector by using information from electron scattering experiments on identical atomic nuclei.
  • Dr. Raya Sorkin (from the School of Chemistry): A biophysical chemist who studies processes that happen in cell membranes. The winning proposal focuses on the effect of the curvature and surface tension of the cell membrane on the activity of proteins necessary for fertilization, communication between cells and infection by viruses. Understanding the role of these proteins and how their activity is controlled will contribute in the long term to the development of new fertility treatments, the development of non-hormonal contraceptives and new antiviral drugs.
  • Dr. Itai Epstein (from the School of Engineering): An electrical engineer who studies the interaction between light and two-dimensional materials, which consist of individual atomic layers, in order to break the limits of the interaction between light and material and develop innovative opto-electronic devices on the atomic scale. In the winning proposal, Dr. Epstein will investigate the possibility of developing innovative optoelectronic sources and detectors for terahertz radiation, based on two atomic layers of graphene, and with much higher performance potential than usual in the field.
  • Dr. Ella Daniel (from the School of Education): A developmental psychologist who focuses on the development of values, pro-social behavior and morality throughout life, from childhood to adulthood. The winning research deals with children and teenagers learning values ​​from a variety of role models. Parents talk to their children about values, hoping that they will learn to distinguish between good and bad. But children spend hours on social networks, admire influencers on YouTube, Tiktok or Instagram, and learn values ​​there as well. In the research we will use innovative and computerized methods, to learn what values ​​are learned in each context, how they are learned, and also what parents can do to ensure that the children learn values ​​online, without forgetting the ones they learned at home.
  • Dr. Hadas Sofer (from the School of Physics): Physicist studying quantum phenomena at the launch point of fast optics and materials science. In the laboratory we take "movies" of the movement of electrons inside crystals with the help of a laser that produces short flashes, one millionth of a billionth of a second long. The new project focuses on controlling electric currents in advanced quantum materials with the help of laser radiation, in a way that will open a window to new types of electronic devices. 
  • Dr. Haim Treves (School of Plant Sciences and Food Security): Physio-ecologist studying photosynthesis and metabolism in algae. His research interests deal with photosynthetic metabolism, metabolic fluxes, and interrelationships with algae and plant growth.
  • The main goal of the FRIDOM project is to gain a deep systems-level understanding of photosynthetic metabolism in algae, and the role it plays in determining the efficiency of photosynthesis and growth. To address these goals, the laboratory will implement a set of tools, which include advanced analysis of metabolic fluxes, and the use of synthetic biology in algae and model plants. 
  • Dr. Tomer Koren (from the School of Computer Science): A computer scientist in the field of computerized learning who researches theory and algorithms for mathematical optimization and their properties and uses in computerized learning and learning with reinforcements. The winning proposal focuses on exploring the generalization properties of these algorithms: their remarkable ability to make predictions about details of information they have never seen before. Its purpose is to strengthen the theoretical foundations behind the breakthrough successes of computer learning in recent years in order to better understand why the algorithms we use today succeed above and beyond expectations, and how they can be improved and optimized for future breakthroughs.

Prof. Dan Farr, Vice President for Research and Development and Head of the Nanomedicine Laboratory at Tel Aviv University: "We are very proud of our researchers, and happy about their success. It is exciting to see that Israel in general and Tel Aviv University in particular continues to be at the forefront of global science. Happily, this is the first time that the grants also include research in the field of humanities, and I wish the researchers great success in their groundbreaking and important work."

Four winners from the Technion

Four faculty members from the Technion won the prestigious ERC Starting Grants from the European Research Commission.

Technion vice president for research, Prof. Kobi Rubinstein, said that "the achievements of the four faculty members place us at the forefront of the most outstanding universities in Europe. Just as importantly, there is an exceptional gender representation here - a reason for pride for all of us and of course for the outstanding female researchers themselves."

These are the four Technion researchers who won the grant:

These are the four Technion researchers who won the grant:

  • Dr. Inbal Talgam-Cohen From the Faculty of Computer Science Taub deals with algorithmic game theory, which has become an important and highly accomplished field of research, and with "contract design" - a field that earned Professors Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström the Nobel Prize in Economics for 2016. According to her, "No algorithm is an isolated island. Algorithms constantly interact with interested human actors, and algorithm designers must take this into account. The basic idea in our project is to incentivize actions of the relevant actors, so that the output of the algorithm is realized in these actions. A contract is a central tool for encouraging action for a common goal, and in this project we seek to lay the theoretical foundation for algorithmic contract design as a new field, relevant among other things to complex computing environments." The future research in this field has dramatic consequences, including reducing algorithmic failures resulting from selfish choices, encouraging a more efficient investment of effort for the benefit of society, and driving the transition from traditional domains to online platforms such as work or digital medicine.
  • Dr. Naama Geva-Zatorski from the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine is engaged in the study of the microbiome - the population of intestinal bacteria - and their influence on various health aspects. The winning research will focus on colitis and Crohn's - chronic inflammatory diseases that affect the digestive system. "The immune system plays a very important role in the development of inflammatory bowel diseases and according to our research and that of others, the intestinal bacteria influence the functioning of the immune system. In the current study, we will examine the interaction between the intestinal bacterial populations and the patient's body, in colitis and Crohn's patients, and the effect of this interaction on the severity of the disease."
  • The research will harness innovative approaches from various fields including microbiology, immunology and computational and systems biology. As part of the project, the researchers will develop an innovative technology for the analysis of intestinal bacteria in their natural environment and with high resolution. They believe that a thorough understanding of the mechanisms of the interaction of the intestinal bacteria with the host (man) during the development of the diseases, is expected to lead to the development of innovative approaches to the diagnosis of the diseases and their treatment.
  • Dr. Ofra Amir from the Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management deals with human-computer interfaces, and in the winning project she will promote the cooperation between humans and artificial intelligence. According to her, "in order for this collaboration to be effective, people need to be able to understand and anticipate the behavior of the systems they work with. Drivers in autonomous cars, for example, will have to anticipate situations where the car will fail and hand over control to them, while doctors will have to understand the treatment that an artificial intelligence system recommends to ensure that the recommendation matches the patient's preferences. Explanation methods for artificial intelligence (explainable AI) are designed to support users through transparency of the way the system operates and the way its decisions are made. The project will develop new computational methods and human-computer interfaces that will allow users to effectively and usefully investigate the decision-making of artificial intelligence systems."
  • Dr. Nega Ron-Harel from the Faculty of Biology studies T cells, which are white blood cells that play a critical role in the immune system. The aging of these cells contributes to the aging of many organs in the body and diseases associated with old age. "In the current study, we will test the hypothesis that between T cells and their microenvironment in the body, there is a mutual interaction that can become a negative vicious circle in the conditions of disease and aging. Today, quite a bit is known about the effect of cell aging on their environment, but the opposite effect has not been studied enough. In the aforementioned study, we will examine how the microenvironment in the old mouse dictates the decline of T cells and examine the hypothesis we developed based on our previous studies - that interfering with aging pathways in the lymph nodes and spleen may 'rejuvenate' the immune system and restore its effectiveness to curb many diseases typical of old age. "

Prof. Nega Ron-Zvi from the University of Haifa won a grant in the amount of 1.5 million euros

The individual research grant, one of the most important of the European Union's grants, the ERC Starting in the amount of approximately 1.5 million euros, was awarded to Prof. Nega Ron-Zvi from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Haifa for her research on: codes for error correction and calculation.

The field of research of Prof. Ron-Zvi, who in 2019 won the Kirill Prize, one of Israel's prestigious prizes for young researchers, deals with the seam between calculation and communication. One of the main tasks in the field of digital communication is ensuring reliability, that is, the ability to deal with errors ('noise') in transmission. For this purpose, the transmission is coded with error correction codes that make it possible to decode the original transmission even if errors occurred in it. As part of the ERC's prestigious research grant, Prof. Ron-Zvi will focus on designing error correction codes that guarantee maximum reliability and efficiency in various situations.

Error correction codes allow us reliable communication in a variety of cases: in cellular communication, whenever we send information on the network (emails, uploading or downloading materials in Dropbox, etc.) and in cases where servers duplicate information in order to back it up. In the latter case, the more efficient the error correction codes will be, the more it will be possible to "make do" with smaller server volumes, which will lead to a reduction in the electricity consumption of the server farms, which currently consume about 3% of the global electricity consumption. Therefore, the development of better and more reliable codes for correcting errors is of great importance to ensure reliable, fast, accurate and even more sustainable communication.

Prof. Gur Elroy, Rector of the University of Haifa, welcomed the win: "We are proud of Prof. Noga Ron-Zvi's win at the ERC in the field of computer science, which indicates our great investment in the field of data science in recent years. It also testifies to the growing understanding that sustainability is related to every field, and also through the development of algorithms and codes we can ultimately affect a reduction in the use of resources and a reduction in electricity or improve digital accessibility and deal with the digital divide, which is critical to reducing gaps. We at the University of Haifa will continue to invest in our young researchers and will continue to encourage them to think in all their research about how in the end they can influence society."

ERC grant to Ben-Gurion University researchers also in the junior track 

grant ERC A prestigious award on behalf of the European Commission was awarded to Prof. Jennifer Usher from the Department of Politics and Government and Dr. Yair Hartman from the Department of Mathematics at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, for their research on political participation and gang theory, respectively.

In recent decades, data has been received about two conflicting global trends: on the one hand, a clear decrease in electoral participation mainly among the lower class groups and on the other hand, an increase in the rate of participation in non-electoral activities (such as protest), especially among higher class groups. The research that won the prestigious grant deals with the question of how citizens combine different types of political activity that is not related to the election system? How do citizens combine voting, protest, or activism in social networks in an era where there is no equal representation for all citizens?

"My project is motivated by interesting and contradictory trends in political participation in recent decades, around the world," she explains Prof. Jennifer Usher From the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. "Obviously, turnout has decreased while non-electoral participation, such as protest, has increased. The main concern is that these trends may contribute to the inequality in the representation of citizens. Currently, we know little about this relationship between participation and representation. Although we are all familiar with the image of 'more and more people taking to the streets', there is new evidence of an alarming decline in voter turnout. This is an ideal moment to launch this project on participation and representation in the digital age."

Prof. Osher is an associate professor in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University. She served as a visiting research fellow at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on the relationships between public opinion, political participation and policy outputs.

Another winner is Dr. Yair Hartman from the Department of Mathematics at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. In his research, Dr. Hartman uses probabilistic tools to understand properties of mathematical objects that have nothing to do with probability. A simple example of this can be if we follow a female passenger on the subway, who repeatedly calls out the next station to which she goes. Surprisingly, from an understanding of her accidental trip, it is possible to reveal, among other things, geometric features of the metro structure. 

"I wish to apply this idea of ​​using random processes as a tool for researching deterministic phenomena in the context of operator algebras - a mathematical theory related to the formal foundations of quantum physics," explains Dr. Hartman. "There are fundamental questions in this theory that the mathematical community has been trying to solve for decades, without success. The hope is that the new point of view and the probabilistic tools will help solve some of these questions." 

Dr. Yair Hartman I am a faculty member in the Department of Mathematics at Ben-Gurion University, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University. Researches bundle theory, random transitions, geometric set theory and ergodic theory.

ERC grants for young researchers are given under the European Union's research and innovation program. This is one of the most prestigious research grants for researchers at the beginning of their scientific career that indicates extraordinary scientific potential. The research grant reaches 1.5 million euros over five years.

These grants join the 10 million euro grant given for international research with the participation of Prof. Ehud Miron from the Desert Research Institutes at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Maria Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “We are proud to empower young researchers to follow their curiosity. ERC Laureates bring an extraordinary wealth of scientific ideas, and will certainly advance our knowledge. Some of them already have practical applications on the horizon and I wish success to all of them."

President of the European Research Council, Prof. Maria Leptin, said: “It is a pleasure to see this new group of brilliant minds at the start of their careers, ready to take their research to new heights. Europe as a whole - both at the national and European level - should continue to back up and empower its promising talents. We must encourage young researchers driven by immense curiosity to follow their most ambitious scientific ideas. Investing in them and their research is investing in our future."

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