Europe’s financial backing for Leeds' research leadership

Researchers have been congratulated after Leeds finished in the top 10 UK university recipients of a prestigious European funding source for the first time.

Professor Pietro Valdastri and members of his research team

Robotic tentacles to help surgeons operate inside the body and understanding what characterises the will of the people are among the new programmes backed by the highly selective European Research Council (ERC) during 2018.

In total, we received more than €19m in ERC funding. Since the referendum when the country voted to leave the EU, we have actually risen from 12th to seventh place in the ranking, produced by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Professor Lisa Roberts, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation, said: “Congratulations to all the researchers who have secured international funding, and have won support from the European Research Council in particular. 

“This is a prestigious source of funding, and I would encourage all researchers to continue to foster and build on international collaborations. If anyone needs any further advice on this, then I’m sure colleagues who have had international funding success would be willing to share their approaches, and there is excellent support from the Research and Innovation Service. Contact Ben Williams, Head of European Funding.”

The European Research Council supported nine diverse programmes at Leeds during 2018, worth a total of €19,291,485. Seven programmes were launched during the year, while two received approval and funding:

Novel Lifesaving Magnetic Tentacles

Lead academic: Professor Pietro Valdastri

School: Electronic and Electrical Engineering

Grant: €2.7 million

Details: This programme aims to examine how to enable intelligent tentacle-like robots to help surgeons by reaching deep into the human anatomy. It will combine robotics, magnetics, manufacturing and medicine approaches, and is the first time such robotic systems have been proposed. Success in the programme would ultimately lead to improved quality of operations and better results for patients.

Group Thinking: New Foundations

Lead academic: Professor Robert Williams

School: Philosophy, Religion and History of Science

Grant: €2 million

Details: This project aims to transform understanding of collective representation, its nature and its significance. It seeks to reveal the underlying unity between the facts that constitute the beliefs and desires of individuals, and the facts that constitute the beliefs and desires of groups. Claims about 'the will of the people' are a central and hotly contested part of public discourse, and this project will bring rigour to such talk by identifying the facts that must be checked to determine whether the claims are right or wrong. 

In addition to the European Research Council funding, in January the European Commission supported two substantial PhD training networks led by Dr Paolo Actis from the School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering (SENTINEL) and Dr Bruce Turnbull from the School of Chemistry (SynBioCarb), worth more than €8 million. They are aimed at building skills among postgraduate researchers and sharing knowledge across boundaries.

Together, funding for the programmes demonstrates European confidence in our depth of experience in interdisciplinary research and the breadth of its expertise. 

The University’s Vice-Chancellor recently highlighted the success in a message to staff.

UK funding for world-leading research 

As well as European funding, Leeds also receives financial support to deliver world-leading and internationally excellent research from a number of UK sources. 

In November 2018, new data from the Times Higher Education magazine showed Leeds was in the top 10 UK universities for UK research council funding

Earlier in the year, Research Fortnight listed Leeds as among the top three universities for securing funding to carry out Global Challenges Research Fund and Newton Fund studies, making a difference around the world. These funding streams are part of the UK Government’s official UK Aid programme. 

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), has also announced that Leeds will receive more than £15m to fund three Centres for Doctoral Training in the latest funding announcement.

Celebrating our success

Help us celebrate the research successes of colleagues across the University.

We have launched a new monthly Research Round-up feature, and are now seeking success stories to shine the spotlight on. See For Staff for full details of how to get involved.

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