Awards: Ten ERC Starting Grants for LMU

Sep 03, 2019

Ten early-career researchers have won ERC Starting Grants in conjunction with LMU.

Ten early-career researchers representing a wide range of disciplines have received Starting Grants from the European Research Council (ERC) with LMU as host institution. Each of these grants is worth approximately 1.5 million euros. Submissions are evaluated solely on the basis of the applicant’s previous scientific record and the quality of the proposed project. Moreover, LMU offers the option of appointment to a Tenure-Track Professorship to successful grantees, which can be converted into a permanent faculty position, subject to a positive assessment of performance.

Among the five awardees already based at LMU is Professor Alexander Bartelt (Faculty of Medicine, Institute for Cardiovascular Prevention, Professor Christian Weber). Dr. Alice Gabriel works with Professor Heiner Igel (Chair of Seismology and Geophysics) in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Dr. Thomas-Christian Jagau with Professor Christian Ochsenfeld (Chair of Theoretical Chemistry) in the Department of Chemistry, Dr. Richard Merrill (Division of Evolutionary Biology, Department of Biology II, Professor Jochen Wolf) and Dr. Berenika Szymanski-Düll with Professor Christopher Balme at the Institute for Theater Studies.

The other successful applicants who have applied with LMU as host institution are: Dr. Arezou Azad (University of Birmingham, UK), Dr. Francisco Balzarotti (MPI for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen), Dr. Alvaro Hacar (Leiden University in the Netherlands), Dr. Wolfgang Tress (École Polytechnique Fédérale, EPFL) in Lausanne, and Dr. Pierre-Héli Monot (University of Potsdam).

The awardees and their projects:

Dr. Arezou Azad is a specialist in the history of the Islamic world from Birmingham University (UK).

Her ERC project “Going Local in the Perso-Islamic Lands” (acronym GO.LOCAL) will trace the spread of Islam in Afghanistan and Central Asia. In particular, she will attempt to gauge the relative importance of local adaptations in the Islamisation of the region.

Arezou Azad earned her PhD at Oxford University. In 2011-2015, she co-led a project there on the Art and Cultural Heritage of Balkh in Northern Afghanistan, which traced the history of the city since the coming of Islam. In 2013 she moved to the School of the History of Cultures at the University of Birmingham. She is now a Visiting Researcher in the Institute for Islamic Studies at the Free University of Berlin, having received a Research Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. She has also earned the prestigious Arts and Humanities Research Council grant for research in the UK.


Professor Dr. Alexander Bartelt is at the Institute for Cardiovascular Prevention (IPEK), which is part of the LMU Medical Center.

In his ERC project on Adapting Protein Fate for Muscle Function and Fitness (acronym: PROTEOFIT), Bartelt will study, at the molecular level, how we can improve the function of muscle proteins for enhanced exercise and protection from metabolic disease. The project investigates the dynamic regulation of protein degradation in enabling the musculature to meet the metabolic and physiological demands associated with enhanced physical activity. By characterizing the targets of protein degradation in physically fit and obese humans, the results will contribute to the development of new approaches to the treatment of metabolic disorders such as atherosclerosis, diabetes and obesity.

Alexander Bartelt is a biochemist and molecular biologist by training. He received his PhD from Hamburg University where he studied the metabolis of brown adipose tissue. He completed his postdoctoral training Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, where he worked on the immunometabolic responses of brown adipose tissue to stress. Since 2018 Bartelt has been leading a German Center for Cardiovascular Research (Deutsches Zentrum für Herz-Kreislauf-Forschung) Junior Research Group and in 2019 he was appointed Professor of Cardiovascular Metabolism. Bartelt is a member of the Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 1123 and his excellent research was recognized by national and international awards, stipends, and fellowships.

For further information on Alexander Bartelt’s work, see:


 Dr. Alice-Agnes Gabriel is a lecturer in Professor Heiner Igel‘s Chair of Seismology in the Institute of Geophysics. Her research is concerned with the physical processes that are responsible for earthquakes.

The bewildering complexity of faulting behavior has hindered the development of reliable earthquake forecasts. In her ERC project, entitled “Truly Extended Earthquake Rupture” (acronym: TEAR), Gabriel wants to answer the following questions: What impact do local deformations in fault zones have on earthquakes? What are the scales and physical processes governing how and when faults slip?

To do so, she will use a combination of methodologies drawn from applied mathematics, seismology and computer science, together with laboratory studies of the behavior of rock under stress and large-scale earthquake modelling on high-performance computers. Her goal is to construct a mechanistic model of fault slippage that can serve as the basis for more realistic and timely assessments of earthquake hazard in the future.

Alice Gabriel studied Physics at the Technical University in Dresden, and obtained her PhD in Geophysics at the ETH Zürich in 2013, shortly after moving to LMU in 2012.

For further information on Alice Gabriel’s research, see:


Dr. Alvaro Hacar is an astrophysicist whose primary research interest is in the process of star formation. He previously won a Veni Grant from the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) for a project devoted to analyzing the birth of massive stars. From the analysis of state-of-the-art observations obtained with the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, this work revealed the existence of a previously unknown filamentary organization of the gas in the Orion Nebula, the nearest stellar nursery of massive stars.

The primary aim of Hacar’s ERC project EMERGE (“Emergence of High-Mass Stars in Complex Fiber Systems”) is to investigate the role of these filaments in promoting the formation of especially massive stars. Specifically, he plans to use ALMA to quantify the relative contributions of various types of interactions within filamentary networks during the formation of high-mass stars across the Milky Way.

Alvaro Hacar studied Physics and Astrophysics at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, where he also obtained his PhD. He subsequently held postdoctoral positions at the University of Vienna and at Leiden University. At LMU, Dr. Hacar will collaborate with Professor Andreas Burkert (Chair of Computational Astrophysics).


Dr. Thomas-Christian Jagau studies quantum chemical phenomena and heads an Emmy Noether Junior Research Group on “Non-Hermitian Quantum Mechanisms in the Theory of Electronic Structure” based at LMU’s Department of Chemistry.

In his ERC project T-CUBE (Theoretical Chemistry of Unbound Electrons), Jagau plans to investigate the interactions of unbound electrons in complex chemical environments, such as molecules in solution, polymeric networks and biomolecules. Chemistry has traditionally been concerned with processes in which the electrons remain bound to the nuclei of reacting species. However, it is now possible in high-energy settings such as plasmas, as well as in laser physics and radiation biology to create environments in which free electrons can play a significant role. The mobile electrons in plasmas can interact with molecules, and initiate reaction pathways that are otherwise inaccessible, before leaving the molecule again. In this case, the free electron functions as a catalyst. The principal goal of T-CUBE is to develop quantum chemical methods that will allow such processes to be modelled with the same degree of accuracy as is now standard for theoretical treatments of bound electrons.

Thomas-Christian Jagau studied Chemistry at the University of Mainz, and did his doctoral research there under the supervision of Professor Jürgen Gauss, obtaining his PhD in Theoretical Chemistry in 2013. With a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Humboldt Foundation, he then worked in Professor Anna Krylov’s group at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. In 2015 he joined the Department of Chemistry at LMU as a Liebig Fellow of the Chemical Research Foundation (Fonds der Chemischen Industrie) and has led an Emmy-Noether Junior Research Group since 2017. In 2019, he won the annual prize for research awarded by the Consortium of German Chemistry Professors (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Deutscher Universitätsprofessoren für Chemie).


Dr. Richard Merrill currently heads an Emmy Noether Group in the Division of Evolutionary Biology. His research group is devoted to dissecting the genetic bases of behaviors which contribute to the evolution of new species.

His ERC project with the acronym “SpeciationBehaviour” will investigate the genetic and neural basis of reproductive isolation in tropical butterflies by examining the role of sensory perception during the process of speciation.

Richard Merrill studied Biology at University College London and then University of Oxford. He obtained his PhD at Cambridge University in 2012, where he subsequently worked as a Research Fellow before moving to his present position at LMU in 2017.


Dr. Pierre-Héli Monot will work at LMU‘s Faculty of Languages and Literatures. In his ERC project on “The Arts of Autonomy: Pamphleteering, Popular Philology, and the Public Sphere, 1988-2018” (acronym: ArtsAutonomy) he will undertake the first systematic study of contemporary pamphlets in Europe and the US, and analyze their content from philological, historical and political perspectives. In addition, he plans to carry out case studies on the reach and impact of particular pamphlets.

Pierre-Héli Monot studied English and American Literature, as well as Modern and Contemporary History, at the Humboldt University in Berlin, and obtained his PhD in 2014. He went on to do postdoctoral research at Göttingen University, LMU and King’s College, London. In 2019 Pierre-Héli Monot took up his present position in the Institute of Philosophy (Ethics and Aesthetics) at the University of Potsdam. Monot is a member of the Junge Akademie Section of the Academy of Literature and the Sciences in Mainz.


Dr. Berenika Szymanski-Düll is an Assistant Professor at LMU Munich's Institute for Theatre Studies. Her research interests center on the interfaces between art and society. She has carried out studies on this topic in the context of the DFG-funded project “Global Theatre Histories” and contributed to the DFG Research Network “Performance Art Behind the Iron Curtain”.

In her ERC-funded project entitled “Crossing Borders: The Agency of Nineteenth-Century European Theatre Migrants” (acronym T-MIGRANTS), Szymanski-Düll will carry out the first systematic analysis of nineteenth-century European theatre migrants stressing their crucial involvement in processes of modernity and global entanglement within the theatre business. Focusing on three geographic areas (Europe, the USA and South America) the project will map and contextualise theatre migrations and examine the consequences they had on an institutional and aesthetical level. In doing so the project will make a crucial contribution towards a transnational theatre historiography and to our understanding of historical and contemporary discourses on migration processes.

Berenika Szymanski-Düll studied Dramaturgy, Slavic Philology and Intercultural Communication at the Bavarian Academy of Dramatic Arts August Everding and LMU Munich, where she obtained her PhD. Her subsequent career took her to University of Bayreuth, the Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies (LMU and Regensburg University) and the University of California at Berkeley.


Dr. Wolfgang Tress is a nanophysicist, and he studies novel materials whose properties are of interest for photoelectronic applications. His research focuses in particular on perovskite semiconductors, which have recently emerged as a promising basis for solar cells and electronic circuit elements.

In his ERC project on “Defect Engineering, Advanced Modelling and Characterization for Next-Generation Opto-Electronic-Ionic Devices” (acronym ‘OptElon’) Tress will characterize perovskite-based architectures further. The primary goal of the study is to modify their properties with a view to developing highly efficient and stable solar cells, and opening up new applications for perovskites – as components of neuromorphic computers, for example.

Wolfgang Tress is currently based in the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. He studied Electrical Engineering in Ulm and obtained a PhD in Physics at the Technical University in Dresden, before working as a postdoc at Linköping University in Sweden. At LMU he will collaborate with Professor Thomas Bein at the Department of Chemistry.