Success for UiO at the European Research Council

Four out of seven Norwegian recipients of the European Research Council’s (ERC) Starting Grants are from UiO. The ERC announced the awards today.

From the left: Marianne Hem Eriksen, Kjetil Lysne Voje, Mareile Kaufmann, Alejandra Mancilla.

This is very good news! Behind these four prestigious awards lies enormous work put in by our talented younger researchers as well as long-term strategic work from the entire UiO, said a most happy Svein Stølen, Rector at UiO.

ERC Starting Grants are aimed at promising researchers who earned their doctorate 2-7 years ago, and the competition for funding is fierce. The four UiO awards go to research environments at the Faculty of Law, the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, the Faculty of Humanities, and the Museum of Cultural History.

Time and again, we have shown ourselves to be among the best in the Nordic region in this arena of independent research. It is very nice to receive a new award in natural sciences. At the same time, we are by far the best university in the Nordic region when it comes to social sciences and humanities, and one of the strongest in Europe, continued Stølen.

The Minister of Research and Higher Education, Henrik Asheim, is also impressed:

Congratulations to the entire University of Oslo on its success in the ERC. The European competition is fierce, and UiO´s results indicate that they work well and have succeeded in developing young and talented researchers, said Asheim. 

These are the projects:

Climate crisis and resources

Associate professor Alejandra Mancilla at the Faculty of Humanities receives EU funding to carry out research into resource conflicts caused by the climate crisis.

The award makes it possible to establish an interdisciplinary research team working on a topic that is too large and complex to be handled by one field alone. I am very curious about the synergy effects that will arise when we gather researchers in international law, geography, and environmental studies, said Mancilla.

The project will investigate the consequences of climate change for the management and distribution of the planet’s resources.

As a political philosopher, I believe that I have a duty to society to present my ideas and have them discussed openly. One should seek to influence political decision-making processes. Not by sitting at the negotiating table, but by discussing one´s views with those who negotiate. In that way I hope, regardless of what conclusions we come to, that the project Dynamic Territory will help to make this topic more visible among both experts and lay people, Mancilla concluded.

Digital technologies

Postdoctoral fellow Mareile Kaufmann at the Faculty of Law is doing research on digital technologies. Her project, “Digital DNA”, will continue to develop digital criminology as a field of research.

I have previously studied how digital data and algorithms change monitoring practices. At the same time, I am interested in understanding how different actors challenge, question, and play with these new monitoring technologies. “Digital DNA” gives me the opportunity to develop the research front by asking new questions about biology, technology, and the role of science, said Kaufmann.

Biotechnology is evolving rapidly. For example, there are now computer programs that use DNA samples to find out what people look like. This is different from the traditional DNA analyses.

– We need to understand how digital aids and growing databases of biological information about humans affect how evidence is created – and how these technologies are changing society. In what ways does the interaction between humans and machines function to create forensic knowledge? explained Kaufman.

Today we can change DNA – the very “gold standard” in forensic science – with digital technologies. What does this do to our understanding of evidence?

My research project seeks on the one hand to understand how digital data and technologies change the production of forensic evidence. On the other hand, I also go the “opposite way” by asking: in what ways does DNA affect digital technologies and evidence? In the next few years, I will probably spend a lot of time in laboratories, with IT developers and the police, to find answers to questions that are both practically oriented – but which also raise some existential issues, concluded a happy ERC awardee.

Evolution in the long and short-term perspective

Researcher Kjetil Lysne Voje at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences is studying whether evolutionary mechanisms that are at work throughout a few generations can also explain evolution in a more long-term perspective.

I interpret the award as a recognition of the work my partners and I have done in recent years. An ERC Starting Grant enables me to launch new, interdisciplinary and resilient projects, all of which aim at increasing our understanding of the factors that limit and enhance the species’ ability to change through evolution over different periods of time.

The project will investigate whether the good models we have for explaining evolutionary changes over a few years can also be used to explain evolutionary changes that occur over hundreds, thousands, and millions of years.

The goal is to develop a more comprehensive understanding of evolutionary changes across different time scales, and to uncover any gaps in our understanding of how species change over time, said Voje.

Body and politics in pre-history

Associate Professor Marianne Hem Eriksen at the Museum of Cultural History is described as one of Norway’s most innovative Viking archaeologists. Through her project BODY-POLITICS, she wants to tell  more diverse stories about the past and focus on other political fields than traditional, male-dominated arenas.

– I want to challenge romanticising and nationalist notions about the Iron Age and the Viking Age; and focus on social actors other than the elite. By focusing on the body as a political field, people as objects and objects as persons, idealised bodies and sexuality in the past, I hope to contribute to new, unconventional understandings of society in Scandinavian prehistory. I also have my own sub-project about children and childhood in the first millennium – a complex social group that we still know very little about in pre-historic times. I am really looking forward to putting together a team that can work with body and politics in pre-history over the next five years, said Hem Eriksen, and added:

I am very happy, surprised, and grateful for this award! Writing an ERC application is one of the most challenging things I have done in my academic life, but I also learned a lot. I recommend others to give it a go. Good research does not necessarily take place inside your comfort zone, either geographically or intellectually!

UiO had 28 applications for the ERC-2020 Starting Grant, of which 12 applications went on to step 2 and were finally assessed for possible approval of the ERC Starting Grant.

Source: University of Oslo

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