The first five-year competitive research grants granted by the European Union to Israelis have been won by five young scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the total amount they will receive is â‚¬6.38 million.
HU was one of only a few institutions to boast as many as five grant winners. The research grants are being given through the European Research Council (ERC), a new research funding body created under the EU's 7th Framework Program for Research.
In the competition, about 200 promising research leaders - all of whom received their doctorates two to nine years ago - were chosen from more than 9,000 applicants. The successful candidates represent over 30 nationalities and are based in some 170 host institutions in 21 different countries. Israel ranked seventh in the number of total grant winners by country.
The starting grants are designed to boost researchers' careers, in any area of science or scholarship, at the time they are establishing themselves as independent research leaders. The winners' average age is 35, and about one-quarter are women.
The winners were chosen for having presented excellent, ground-breaking research ideas and having displayed proven potential to establish independent research careers and become world leaders in their fields.
"In view of the intense competitiveness of the program, this represents an outstanding achievement for the Hebrew University," said Prof. Hillel Bercovier, the university's vice-president for research and development.
The five Hebrew University winners and their research projects are: Dr. Sigal Ben-Yehuda of the medical faculty for investigation of the nature of dormant bacterial spores; Dr. Tsachik Gelander of the Einstein Institute of Mathematics on group theory and geometry; Dr. Adi Mizrahi of the Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, for the use of optical imaging to probe long-term neurophysiological changes in vivo; Prof. Re'em Sari of the Racah Institute of Physics on planets in the solar system and beyond, how they form and evolve; and Dr. Assaf Fiedler of the Chemistry Institute on new methodology for the design of drugs that act by modulating proteins, with applications for cancer and AIDS.
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