European Funding for Three Investigators from the University of Basel
Three researchers from the University of Basel have successfully applied for a starting grant of the European Research Council (ERC): Biomedical specialist Dr. Nicola Aceto, mathematician Professor Gianluca Crippa and physicist Professor Philipp Treutlein will receive funding of up to 1.7 million Euros over the next five years. In addition, the Swiss National Science Foundation will compensate neurophysiologist Professor Tania Rinaldi Barkat for the ERC Starting Grant which she was not able to transfer to the University of Basel, due to Switzerland’s temporary third country status.
Dr. Nicola Aceto has been conducting his research at the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel since 2015. In his research project he studies cell-cell junctions in breast cancer. This cancer is particularly dangerous not because of the symptoms related to the primary site but because of the development of incurable distant metastases. Understanding the molecular mechanisms driving breast cancer metastasis is critical to develop therapies tailored to this disease.
Based on blood samples, Nicola Aceto was able to show that groups of cancer cells, held together by certain proteins that are part of cell-cell junctions, can break off the primary tumor and form a metastatic lesion up to 50 times more efficiently than single migratory cancer cells. The ERC research project aims to define the role of specific cell-cell junction components in the development of metastasis, and to address their involvement in cellular signaling and response to therapy. The ERC is funding the project “Holding hands: cell-cell junctions in breast cancer metastasis and resistance to therapy” with 1.75 million Euros over the next five years.
Differential equations describe physical phenomena
In 2011 Professor Gianluca Crippa was appointed Assistant Professor and in fall 2012 became Associate Professor at the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science of the University of Basel. His project focuses on partial differential equations arising in the mathematical description of physical phenomena involving transported quantities, such as mass or electric charges.
Often, in the context of fluid motions, physical behavior appears to be disordered and chaotic. The key line of attack of the project thus consists in the development of new measure theoretical tools in order to better understand such phenomena. One particular research focus lies on the mixing properties of fluids: how well and how fast can, for instance, oil and water blend together due to the action of water currents? The ERC is funding the project: “Flirt: Fluid flows and irregular transport» over five years with up to one million Euros.
Technological applications of quantum mechanical effects
Professor Philipp Treutlein was promoted to Assistant Professor in 2010 and to Associate Professor for experimental physics at the Department of Physics in 2015. Atoms and other microscopic particles obey to the laws of quantum mechanics: they sometimes behave like particles and at other times like waves, and in a state of superposition they can even be in more than one place at the same time. These properties are already being used in various ways, for instance, in atomic clocks and other precision measuring devices. Treutlein’s ERC project explores whether quantum mechanical effects can also be observed in bigger mechanical structures and could be used for technological purposes.
To this end, mechanical vibrations of millimeter-sized membrane oscillators are coupled to atoms using light. Existing technology used to quantum mechanically control atoms can thus also be used to cool and control the mechanical vibrations of much bigger membrane oscillators. Besides fundamental insights into the quantum physics of macroscopic systems, this research project could also lead to novel mechanical sensors of force, mass and electromagnetic signals. The five-year project “Modular mechanical-atomic quantum systems” will receive 1.5 Million Euros of ERC funding.
SNSF steps in for lost ERC Grant
In addition to the three ERC Starting Grants, the University of Basel is delighted to have received a further grant: Professor Tania Rinaldi Barkat, Assistant Professor for neurophysiology at the Department of Biomedicine since 2015, receives compensation from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) for the ERC Starting Grant she was approved in 2014, but later could not transfer from the University of Copenhagen to the University of Basel due to Switzerland’s third country status at the time. In the interest of the research location Switzerland, the SNSF is compensating the 1.5 million Euros that were originally promised to the investigator by the ERC.
Professor Rinaldi Barkat’s research project seeks to understand the brain’s capacity to understand different types of sound. In her research, she focuses on the development of the auditory cortex, a brain region that processes acoustic signals. The project aims in particular at better understanding the functions of neural circuits.
ERC Starting Grants
The ERC Starting Grants – a subprogram of the European Program for Research and Innovation (Horizon 2020) – rank among the most renowned funding contributions for early career researchers in Europe. Through these grants, the ERC promotes innovative fundamental research and supports excellent and independent young researchers over the course of five years. The grants aim to facilitate the build and consolidation of independent research teams.
Since mid-September 2014 and currently restricted until end of 2016, Switzerland is associated with the ERC. This allows researchers in Switzerland to participate in the program. The implementation of the Mass Immigration Initiative and the consequent effects will show if this will still be possible after January 1, 2017.
This year, 21 scientists in Switzerland have been awarded ERC Starting Grants, three of which are going to the University of Basel.