A total of 395 research proposals were submitted in this round, of which 37 projects will be supported, as announced by the European Research Council (ERC). This means the University of Bremen was one of the successful nine percent who will receive funding – three times. Bremen will receive around 8.5 million euros in funding. These are the first ERC Synergy Grants for the university.
The 37 successful research groups will receive a total of 395 million euros of funding from the EU to tackle some of the world's most challenging research problems from various academic disciplines at 114 universities and research institutes in 19 countries.
The Projects in Detail:
Relics of Ancient Cellular Biochemistry in High-CO2 Subsurface Ecosystems.
In the Archaen Park project, scientists aim to gain insights into life under environmental conditions, and find previously unknown metabolic pathways that enabled microorganisms to live on the primordial Earth 4,000 to 2,500 million years ago.
Conditions on Earth during an early stage of its history, in the Archean Eon, were different from today: the Earth's atmosphere contained no oxygen, but plenty of carbon dioxide (CO2). Despite this, there were living beings who were able to survive. The first microorganisms formed biomass in the ocean from CO2 and not light as plants do today, presumably using chemical energy to do so. Researchers suspect that CO2-rich subsurface ecosystems still harbor microorganisms that prefer or even require extremely high CO2 concentrations.
The work planned is foundation research that will provide new insights into the microbial carbon cycle. However, the research findings may also stimulate biotechnological and geotechnical innovations that could be applied to biomass production by microorganisms or to finding ways to store excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Applicants: microbiologist Prof. Dr. Ivan Berg (University of Münster), geochemist Prof. Dr. Kai-Uwe Hinrichs (Faculty of Geosciences and MARUM – Center for Marine Environmental Sciences at the University of Bremen), geomicrobiologist Dr. Jens Kallmeyer (Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum), microbiologist and computational biologist Prof. Dr. Alexander Probst (University of Duisburg-Essen)
Total funding: 11.5 million euros
Bremen's share: over 3 million euros
Into the Blue – Resolving past Artic Greenhouse Climate
What are the global implications of an ice-free Arctic? How will the Arctic develop as climate warming increases? What does an ice-free Arctic mean for our environment and our society? Researchers aim to answer these questions with the “i2B – Into the Blue” project, looking back to the past and forward to the future. The different research expertise enables a synergetic project of paleoclimatic, environmental science, and marine geology research.
The melting Arctic has long preoccupied researchers, as the specific impacts have been unclear. Past analyses of the dynamics of changes in sea ice and land ice have been insufficient. As a result, important basics for a climate projection in the Arctic are missing. The project now aims to compensate for this. Among other things, expeditions to the Arctic are planned in order to quantify the changes from the climate archives.
Applicants: marine geologist Dr. Jochen Knies (UIT The Arctic University of Norway), paleo-ecologist Dr. Stijn De Schepper (NORCE), climate modeler Prof. Dr. Gerrit Lohmann (Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI)). Lohmann is a professor at the University of Bremen.
Total funding: 12.5 million euros
Bremen's share: over 3 million euros
The Role of Silica in the Dawn of Life on our Planet
To investigate how life emerged from nothing, i.e., how the transformation from a mineral world to life occurred, the PROTOS project is looking at the geochemical processes that took place during the first billion years of this planet's history. Researchers are combining biogeochemical, physicochemical, and materials science research to answer some of science's most important and unanswered questions: Is it even possible for life to arise in a world of water and minerals? How can the oldest remains of life be unequivocally confirmed, and how can life on other planets be identified?
Experiments will show how fluids interact with rocks, what role minerals play, especially silica, in triggering prebiotic reactions in the primordial ocean and in the self-organization of mineral-organic structures – which may have led to the first living cells. Silica’s contribution to the fossilization and preservation of the earliest microorganisms and biomorphs – inorganic structures that have similarities to organic forms such as bacteria or other microorganisms – will also be investigated.
Applicants: crystallographer Prof. Dr. Juan Manuel García-Ruiz (Agencia Estatal Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, CSIC), chemist Prof. Dr. Helmut Cölfen (University of Konstanz), petrologist Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Bach (Faculty of Geosciences and MARUM – Center for Marine Environmental Sciences at the University of Bremen), geobiologist Dr. Mark van Zuilen (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, CNRS).
Total funding: just under 10 million euros
Bremen's share: over 2 million euros
Irene Strebl, Bremen State Councillor for Environment, Climate and Science congratulates the researchers, “I am very pleased that the researchers have had this particularly remarkable success and that three projects are now being supported by ERC Synergy Grants at once. It confirms Bremen's strong role in the field of marine and climate research both nationally and internationally. Research projects like these will help to better understand past and future developments and thus allow, for example, even more accurate projections on the effects of climate change.”
The President of the University of Bremen, Prof. Dr. Jutta Günther, is delighted about the award, “It is phenomenal that we have been successful with no less than three projects in the highly competitive European funding of ERC Synergy Grants. I warmly congratulate the applicants and their teams and am delighted that the climate and marine sciences at the University of Bremen, in collaboration with the Alfred Wegener Institute, are so passionately engaged in conducting such groundbreaking research. It's a huge success and a boost for our participation in the German Excellence Initiative.”
Vice President for Research and Transfer, Prof. Dr. Michal Kucera highlights, “The result confirms Bremen’s outstanding scientific standing in climate and marine sciences in Europe, with the University of Bremen at its center. The funding format of the Synergy Grants shows that our excellent researchers have an exceptional network in Europe. I am very proud of this historic success.”
ERC Synergy Grant
The ERC Synergy Grant is a European Union funding program that supports groundbreaking, interdisciplinary research. It supports collaborations between two to four principal investigators from different disciplines to advance innovative, high-risk, high-return projects. In doing so, the grant provides substantial funding over a period of up to six years to help groups of outstanding researchers pool diverse skills, knowledge, and resources. The ERC Synergy Grant program is part of the EU's research and innovation program, Horizon Europe.
List of selected projects: https://erc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/2023-10/erc-2023-syg-results-all-domains.pdf
ERC Synergy Grant: https://erc.europa.eu/apply-grant/synergy-grant