March 13, 2017
The European Research Council, the first Europe-wide funding organization for basic research, was set up in 2007. Since its inception, the agency, which is managed by the Scientific Council, has funded more than 6,500 projects selected from over 62,000 applications through its funding lines (see right). A success rate of around ten percent shows how strong the competition is. “The decisive factor is the idea”, says Erwin Neher, recipient of the Nobel prize for medicine and one of the pioneers of the ERC, describing the basic principle. The best idea, determined in the competitive review based on excellence criteria, open doors to new knowledge − and science career paths. This basic idea, Neher recalls, who served as a representative of the Max Planck Society during the years of discussion before the ERC was founded in 2007, vied with the classical pattern of EU funding for acceptance. As Neher comments in an interview, maintaining that approach would have been tantamount to “conducting research in the way a construction company sets about building bridges in Spain.”
Because it all turned out differently, more than 1,000 top-ranking researchers have been funded to the tune of over 1.9 billion euros in Germany alone, the ERC wrote in a recent communiqué. Michael Kramer, director at the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy in Bonn and member of the Scientific Council of the ERC, explains: “When the ERC was set up in 2007, German Chancellor Merkel called it the Champions’ League of European research. Ten years later we have thousands of such champions in Germany. That means thousands of innovative ideas that were funded by the European Union.”
The Max Planck Society (MPG) has enjoyed an above-average rate of success with the ERC’s decisions. Since the ERC was set up, MPG scientists have received more than 180 ERC grants. The MPG is therefore the most successful German research institution. Despite this, the Max Planck Society is also working on developing promotional instruments to improve the conditions for excellent science in eastern and southern Europe. In this way, the MPG has provided key support for the introduction of the Teaming Excellence funding line.
Max Planck representatives will attend the official anniversary celebration of the European Research Council in Brussels on 21 March, among them Max Planck President Martin Stratmann. Peter Seeberger has also been invited to speak at the scientific conference, which will present highlights from ten years of ERC funding. The director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam will talk about the research behind Vaxxilon AG, which he founded with the Max Planck Society. The company, which was named Science Start-up of 2016 at the Falling Walls Conference in Berlin, is developing carbohydrate-based vaccines. It is hoped that this approach will make vaccines against bacterial infections cheaper, thereby improving access to vaccines in poorer countries.