EUROPE: Research grants top 1,000

Professor Erika von Mutius is the thousandth top researcher to receive a grant from the European Research Council. Von Mutius is exploring new ways to tackle asthma and allergies. To mark the awarding of the grant, a ceremony attended by leading figures from the political and research scene was held in Munich in late June.

Von Mutius has received a five-year advanced grant that will enable her to undertake the project. This is aimed at developing new strategies to prevent asthma and allergies, and builds on previous work by von Mutius and her team.

Their study has shown that children growing up on farms where they are exposed to a wide variety of microbes are less likely to develop these conditions.

"Professor von Mutius is a fantastic role model for young women, and I hope that many will follow her in dedicating their work and their talent to science," European Union Commissioner Máire Geogheham-Quinn said at the event.

She also stressed the importance of investing in top talent in frontier research in "boosting innovation and the competitiveness of Europe vis-à-vis the rest of the world". It was with this aspect in mind that the European Commission created the ERC in 2007.

The ERC, emerging from the EU's Seventh Research Framework Programme, has a total budget of EUR 7.5 billion (US$9.2 billion) from 2007 to 2013. In Europe-wide peer-reviewed competitions, top scientists, scholars and engineers are chosen in any field of research. Researchers may be of any nationality and from anywhere in the world as long as they are based in or moving to Europe.

Currently there are two grants: the starting grants that support emerging research leaders in their early career stages and the advanced grants which address established, senior, top-level researchers.

The ERC aims to strengthen and shape the European research system. It is helping to create international benchmarks and trigger new thinking about research management and science policy at national level.

"The ERC has revolutionised European research funding within just a few years," Germany's Research Minister Annette Schavan said in Munich. "Today, it is definitely one of the most important new elements of the European research area."