Risto Iloniemi

First research project led by Finnish university receives ERC Synergy Grant

23 Oct 2018

Professor Risto Ilmoniemi of Aalto University has become the first Finnish researcher to receive a Synergy Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). The two other teams complementing Ilmoniemi’s research group are the team of Professor Emeritus Gian Luca Romani from G. d'Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara, Italy, and the team of Professor Ulf Ziemann from the University of Tübingen, Germany.

Risto Ilmoniemi has several decades of experience in developing brain imaging techniques and is regarded as a leading specialist in magnetoencephalography (MEG) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Between 2012 and 2016, Ilmoniemi held a research post as Academy Professor funded by the Academy of Finland.

The ERC Synergy Grant was awarded to the ConnectToBrain project, which will help develop new techniques for brain research, disease diagnostics and patient care. The project seeks to radically improve the techniques for brain stimulation therapy.

ERC Synergy Grants are intended to enable 2–4 principal investigators and their teams to undertake joint research projects that would not be possible by the individual investigators working alone. The funding can be up to a maximum of 10 million euros for a period of six years. The aim is that the research conducted by the teams results in pioneering results. The ERC Synergy grant scheme is part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 funding programme.

Applications for ERC Synergy Grants are submitted in a single-stage process, but the evaluation is carried out in three steps. At step 3, principal investigators are invited for an interview to present their project to a panel in Brussels. The ERC received 300 proposals for the 2018 Synergy Grant call. A total of 295 proposals and 971 applicants were evaluated, and 154 proposals with 520 applicants from 24 different countries passed step 1 of the evaluation. Most of the proposals that qualified for evaluation step 2 involved applicants from at least two countries and three host organisations.

This is the first time a Finnish-based researcher has been awarded a Synergy Grant, which is perhaps the most challenging of the ERC funding schemes. Nine applicants from Finland participated in the 2018 call. 73 proposals made it to the interviews at step 3. Synergy Grants were awarded to 27 projects, which puts the success rate at 9 per cent (of all evaluated proposals).

The ERC funds researcher-driven, excellent frontier research. The projects to be funded are selected solely based on their scientific quality. The review of applications also focuses on the novelty and boldness of the research idea with a view to paving the way for completely new avenues of research.

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Photo by Olli Häkämies

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