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University of Limerick awarded €5m in ERC funding for ‘cutting-edge, exploratory’ research

Tue, 31 Mar 2020

Two University of Limerick researchers have been successful in securing a combined €5m in European Research Council funding.

Professor Orla Muldoon and Professor Michael Zaworotko have been awarded almost €2.5m each in ERC Advanced Grant funding.

The funding awards for UL are two of just four awarded to Ireland and are the first ERC Advanced Grants to be hosted at the University.

In total €450 million has been awarded for long-term frontier research to 185 researchers by the ERC, the premiere European funding organisation, as part of the EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020.

Professor Muldoon, founding professor at the Department of Psychology and Director for the Centre for Social Issues Research at UL, has been awarded almost €2.5m for her project ‘SIMTIC - A Social Identity Model of Trauma and Identity Change: A Novel Theory of Post-Traumatic Stress, Resilience and Growth’.

Professor Michael Zaworotko, Bernal Chair of Crystal Engineering and Science Foundation of Ireland Research Professor at University of Limerick’s Bernal Institute, was also awarded almost €2.5m for his project ‘SYNSORB - SYNergistic SORBents’.

UL Vice President for Research Professor Norelee Kennedy said the awards were a “fantastic achievement” for Professor Muldoon and Professor Zaworotko and reflected their standing as “world leaders” in their respective fields.

“These are very significant funding awards for our researchers and for the University. The research speaks to the University’s research profile of excellent research with impact that addresses societal challenges,” said Professor Kennedy.

“Both Prof Muldoon and Zaworotko lead high calibre research groups and these awards will add further to the knowledge and understanding of these major challenges. We are delighted with the success of these applications,” she added.

Professor Muldoon’s project was recommended for funding because of its “ground breaking potential as it bridges the relationship between social and political forces, clinical trauma and behavioural medicine”.

“At its core the project has a single aim - to develop a new social paradigm to understand the impact of extreme stress and trauma. The research will explore the foundations of differing responses to stress and trauma,” she explained.

The research proposes to examine how shared experience and the social relationships they generate, impact on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), cognitive functioning and biological responses to stress.

“In an important paradigm shift, this work will consider the idea of collective growth as a potential attribute of groups that may drive attitude change and collective political action in the wake of trauma,” she explained.

The award will fund a team of researchers led by Professor Muldoon that will allow Psychology at UL to enhance its presence as a major global centre for social psychological research. The funding creates four post-doctoral positions, four PhD scholarships and the development of a new biometric research facility at UL.

The project is due to start on September 1, 2020 and last for five years. The total grant amount is €2,493,707.

Professor Zaworotko, who is also co-director of SSPC, the pharmaceutical research centre based at UL, said his project “will address the high energy footprint of gas and vapour purification by single-step purification processes that involve the use of a new generation of solid materials called sorbents.

“These sorbents act like sponges for impurities by capturing them spontaneously and releasing them upon mild heating.

“The most important vapour is water vapour. Water vapour is everywhere in the atmosphere, even in the most arid regions, but harvesting pure water from water vapour using existing desiccants uses so much energy that it is not commercially viable despite the water stresses faced by much of humanity.

“Gases such as CO2 and acetylene are impurities in commodity production and must be removed using processes that typically involve chemical reactions.

“These processes collectively use around 20% of global energy supplies and demand for water and industrial commodities continues to grow. Our goal is to discover and develop new sorbents that reduce the energy footprint of these processes by 50-90%, thereby significantly reducing the energy and, in turn, carbon footprint of these processes.”

The total grant amount is €2,497,297.

Of the award, Professor Zaworotko added: “I am delighted of course but I am more than delighted for UL.

“This goes back to the vision - and risk - of the Bernal Project and now the Bernal Institute at UL. I hope that this award will have a lasting effect through my ability to impact the next generation of researchers at UL.”

The President of the European Research Council (ERC), Professor Mauro Ferrari, said the grants would “back cutting-edge, exploratory research, set to help Europe and the world to be better equipped for what the future may hold. That is the role of blue-sky research.

“These senior research stars will cut new ground in a broad range of fields, including the area of health. I wish them all the best in this endeavour and, at this time of crisis, let me pay tribute to the heroic and invaluable work of the scientific community as a whole,” he added.