Awardees hail from Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Computer Science and Neuroscience/Medicine
The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded five early-career Technion researchers with Starting Grants, recognizing the great promise in their research fields. These grants, part of the EU’s Horizon Europe Program, are awarded to talented early-career scientists who completed their doctoral degrees only two to seven years ago, and have already produced excellent work, showing great promise. The grants, totaling €628 million across Europe, aim to support groundbreaking research across various disciplines, fostering scientific excellence and innovation.
Technion Researchers and Their Projects are:
Assistant Professor Assaf Zinger from the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering is a member of the Global Young Academy. Drawing from the elegance of biological systems, Prof. Zinger and his team emulate the intricate designs perfected by evolution over eons, using nanoparticles. By harnessing the intricate blueprints nature has sculpted over millennia, the Zinger lab forges novel pathways toward targeted drug delivery and disease detection of multiple cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, and traumatic brain injuries. This ERC grant will allow Prof. Zinger and his team to engineer human breast milk biomimetic nanoparticles, dubbed “MILKOSOMES,” with the aim of shuttling oral medicines into the body that under other conditions could not be distributed properly.
Assistant Professor Yuval Shagam from the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry is a member of the Helen Diller Quantum Center. He focuses on understanding molecular chirality: a molecule or ion that cannot be superposed on its mirror image. Such molecules are often distinguished as either “right-handed” or “left-handed.” Molecular chirality plays a central role in many fields, ranging from reaction dynamics to drug development. Molecules of opposite handedness, known as enantiomers, can have different smells and different medicinal properties among other things. For example, in thalidomide, while one enantiomer is used to sooth nausea, the other enantiomer was found to be toxic for a fetus. This makes development of sensitive tools for detection of chiral contaminants particularly important. The ERC grant will allow Prof. Shagam and his team to realize the first trapped chiral molecular ion experiment in order to measure parity violation and detect the structural differences between enantiomers. The outcome can lead to an improved understanding of molecular physics as well as important applications for quantum-controlled chemistry experiments and quantum information technology.
Assistant Professor Charlotte Vogt from the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry established the Vogt Laboratory of Catalysis for Fuels of the Future. She is also a member of the new Resnick Sustainability Center for Catalysis. Prof. Vogt works to solve problems of climate change and pollution by improving or inventing more sustainable processes. Metal nanoparticle-based catalysts are essential to shifting societal reliance away from fossil-fuel resources. Most of these catalysts are currently found by slow, trial-and-error processes. This grant will allow Prof. Vogt and her team to advance the field through the development of a methodology to generate fundamental understanding of supported metal nanoparticle catalyst dynamics at work under relevant high-pressure conditions.
Assistant Professor Hila Peleg from The Henry and Marilyn Taub Faculty of Computer Science focuses on interaction models for program synthesis. Program synthesis is the task of automatically ﬁnding a program that satisﬁes the user intent expressed in the form of some speciﬁcation. The ERC grant will allow Prof. Peleg to create program synthesis for exploratory programming, and boost the productivity and correctness of programmers even when their initial specification of the task is lacking. The algorithms and interaction models developed will significantly improve programmers’ ability to write correct code quickly.
Assistant Professor Ben Engelhard from the Department of Neuroscience in The Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine focuses on the brain’s dopamine system, which has been shown to be involved in many cognitive and behavioral processes. The ERC grant will allow him and his team to investigate his theory that learning is implemented by multiple dopamine-based learning systems working in parallel circuit loops. Success of this project will enable a new understanding of how the brain learns complex tasks, as well as pave the way for the development of new brain-inspired deep reinforcement-learning algorithms.
Technion’s talented researchers will embark on these projects with significant grant support, forming their teams and catalyzing advancements in their respective fields. The ERC Starting Grants are expected to create over 2,600 jobs across Europe and represent an impressive overall success rate of 14.8%.
ERC President Professor Maria Leptin congratulated the recipients: “It is part of our mission to give early-career talent the independence to pursue ambitious, curiosity-driven research that can shape our future.”