European Commission awards €6.3 mil. to research focused on human rights and ecology, imaginary borders in film, photonics and bioarcheology

No fewer than four Vrije Universiteit Brussel researchers are receiving the European Commission's prestigious European Research Council Starting Grant this year. Togtether, the four grants total more than €6,3 mil. in research funds. Researchers Liliana Lizarazo-Rodriguez, Martin Virte, Christophe Snoeck and Kevin Smets and their respective teams will use the ERC Starter Grants to carry out research in fields spanning human rights and ecology, integrated photonics, bioarcheology and borders in fiction films. This is one of the first times that a Starter Grant is being awarded to a project focused on film. Since the launch of the European Commission's Horizon 2020 programme in 2014, Vrije Universiteit Brussel has won backing for more than 160 research and innovation projects, totalling €78 million in European funding. 

The researchers and their projects 

Liliana Lizarazo-Rodriguez - ERC Starting Grant Social Sciences and Humanities -  SH2 Institutions, Values, Environment and Space

  • Project: CURIAE VIRIDES - How the third wave of global judicial (and social) activism is filling ecological governance gaps and challenging the liability-remedy paradigm

In this project Liliana Lizarazo-Rodriguez and her team will explore the progressive transformation of human rights litigation into more eco-centric litigation and the role of (activist) courts. It focuses on how social litigation is greening as well as the consequences of this development for victims of ecological damage. The project seeks to assess the reach of this activism and explores the institutional quality of eco-centric judgements.

Liliana Lizarazo-Rodriguez studied Law in Colombia, Spain and Belgium. Her research interests include sustainable development, business and human rights. She is an adjunct professor at VeCo/IES (VUB), assistant professor at the University of Antwerp, and visiting lecturer at Sciences Po. She is attorney at law in Spain and Colombia and is a member of the West Flanders Bar. As a researcher, she has collaborated on Business & Human Rights projects commissioned by the Federal Institute of Sustainable Development (FIDO/IFDD).

Kevin Smets  ERC Starting Grant Social Sciences and Humanities -  SH5 Cultures and Cultural Production

  • Project: REEL BORDERS -  Fiction Film and Borderlands 

With this project, Kevin Smets and his team will focus on the role of film in a number of important political and social issues. They will study the articulation of borders and border conflicts in fiction films released during the last 120 years by concentrating on three historically complex border regions: Northern Ireland, Morocco-Spain and Syria-Turkey. Smets and his team will also conduct a large-scale participatory film project with people living in these border regions and will organise a film festival and exhibition about the project in collaboration with Cinematek. This is one of the first times such a large Starting Grant has been awarded to a project focused on film.

Kevin Smets is a lecturer at the VUB Communication Studies Department. A historian by training, he obtained a PhD in Film Studies and Visual Culture. His research interests focus on the intersection between media, migration and conflict. He is currently working on a textbook about film history. He is a member of the Jonge Academie and active in several international networks.

Christophe Snoeck - ERC Starting Grant Social Sciences and Humanities  - SH6 The Study of the Human Past

  • Project: LUMIERE - Landscape Use and Mobility in EuRopE - Bridging the gap between cremation and inhumation

This ERC project aims to shed light on changes in mobility, migration patterns and landscape use of early populations in Europe by bringing together information obtained directly from both cremated and inhumed individuals using state-of-the art bioarchaeology. The aim is to identify and characterise the movement of people on a local, regional and European scale to explain how and why people moved, as well as how they used their surrounding landscape between the Neolithic to the Early Medieval period, when both cremation and inhumation were practised.

Christophe Snoeck combines his multi-disciplinary expertise in the fields of archaeology and geochemistry to answer key archaeological questions. He is a research professor and post-doctoral at the VUB research groups Analytical, Environmental and Geo-Chemistry (AMGC) and the Maritime Cultures Research Institute (MARI). Since 2018, he has also been the scientific coordinator of the inter-university CRUMBEL project, which focuses on studying cremated populations from Belgium to better understand population dynamics between the Neolithic and the early medieval period.

Martin Virte - ERC Starting Grant in physical sciences and engineering - PE7 Systems and Communication Engineering 

  • Project: COLOR’UP All-optical sub-THz signal filtering with multi-COLOUR lasers

Martin Virte and his team will investigate how multi-colour lasers could be exploited to process optical signals at ultra-high frequencies. The so-called ‘mm-wave frequency range’ has high potential to be able to go beyond 5G technology – to 100 to 300 GHz instead of 5G’s current 40 to 50 GHz. The main issue is that these signals are very difficult to manipulate with electronics. The field of Microwave Photonics develops light-based solutions to help overcome the limitations of electronic systems.

Martin Virte is a professor at the Engineering faculty. He received his master’s in engineering with a major in Photonics from the French Centrale Supélec. Virte has worked for the research group B-PHOT Brussels Photonics since 2011 where he obtained his PhD degree in 2014 in co-tutelle with Supélec.

European Research Council

The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the first pan-European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe. In addition to its Starting Grants for junior, early-career top researchers, the ERC also awards the following types of funding: the ERC Advanced Grants for senior research leaders, the ERC Consolidator Grants for excellent, independent researchers, the ERC Synergy Grants for groups of excellent researchers who together have a synergetic effect on their research field, as well as the ERC Proof of Concept Grants that allow researchers to take the first steps toward the commercialisation of an ERC-funded project.