ERC Consolidator Grants for Merlijn Hurx and Olivier Namur

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded its Consolidator Grants. Two KU Leuven researchers are among this year’s recipients: Merlijn Hurx and Olivier Namur.

ERC Consolidator Grants provide funding for excellent researchers with 7 to 12 years of post-PhD experience. The grants are awarded for a five-year period and may be worth up to € 2 million.

Merlijn Hurx: The how and why of cities in flood plains

Professor Faculty of Engineering Science, Department of Architecture

Urban deltas feature amongst the most densely populated parts of the world, but their success is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until 150 years ago, most civilisations preferred higher ground. There are important exceptions, however: the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt Delta (Low Countries), the Po Delta (Venice) and the Yangtze Delta (China) have been urbanised for centuries, though little is actually known about how these cities came to be.

"Lowlands situated near the estuaries of rivers were attractive because of trade opportunities, but we don’t really know exactly how these cities were built in areas so topographically unfavourable. This project will investigate the development of applied construction techniques, machinery and tools that were needed to build in water."

Climate change is also placing the protection of cities in climate-sensitive areas under increasing pressure. "For example, we know that wooden piles were used as foundations for buildings, but not what type of construction and exactly what type of wood is used for each building. Prolonged dry spells may cause subsidence due the shrinking of the soil and piles may rise above water, resulting in rot. Obtaining a more effective understanding of historical construction techniques and materials will therefore be essential in order to protect this heritage."

"It may no longer be possible to use solutions from the past, such as increasing the height of dykes in the Low Countries, as a response to contemporary challenges, but there are stille lessons to be learnt from the way things were done in the past. Innovation is often not the product of an individual genius but comes about by creating a culture in which different areas of expertise can come together, each with its own ideas and insights. Our project intends to look into how innovative solutions were obtained in the past and what factors were decisive. For example, to what extent did governments and market forces contribute towards innovation? These insights will therefore be relevant as we face up to the challenges of today and tomorrow."

Read more about URBAN-DELTA

Olivier Namur: was Mercury stripped soon after its birth?

Associate Professor BOF Faculty of Science, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, member of SIM˛ (KU Leuven Institute for Sustainable Metals and Minerals)

Mercury is the smallest planet in our solar system. But proportionally to its small size, it has the largest metal core. This huge ball of solid and liquid iron amounts for 70 percent of the planet’s total mass. In other planets, like Earth, this is at most 30 percent. Mercury is therefore more core than anything else, which makes it a planetary anomaly.

Professor Olivier Namur thinks he knows what Mercury owes its exceptionally large core to. "It may have been much larger when it was formed 4.5 billion years ago. But soon after young Mercury would have been stripped of its outer layers, consisting largely of silicates, minerals that also make up Earth’s mantle and crust. This would have been the result of a collision with another protoplanet." Incidentally, if such a collision has indeed occurred, then this also means that Mercury could have originated elsewhere than in its current close orbit around the Sun.

In the Ironheart project Namur will simulate in his lab the conditions that must have prevailed in young Mercury. He will then compare the chemical and physical characteristics of this ’lab-Mercury’ with measurements from the BepiColombo spacecraft, which will arrive at real Mercury by the end of 2025 and then study the planet closely for two years. "This way we can test our stripping hypothesis."

Read more about IronHeart       Visit the website of research group PetroLab

The ABC of ERC

The European Research Council (ERC) funds ground-breaking and innovative projects by Europe’s finest researchers through five types of grant:

Starting Grants

  • up to ¤1.5 million for 5 years
  • for promising early-career researchers with 2 to 7 years of post-PhD experience
  • Consolidator Grants

  • up to ¤2 million for 5 years
  • for excellent researchers with 7 to 12 years of post-PhD experience
  • Advanced Grants

  • up to ¤2.5 million for 5 years
  • for established researchers with a considerable academic track record
  • Proof of Concept

  • ¤150,000
  • for ERC grant holders to bring their research ideas closer to market
  • Synergy Grants

  • up to ¤10 million for 6 years