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EU supports three University of Zurich researchers with 7.9 million Euro

Three leading researchers at the University of Zurich have been awarded the European Union’s top research award, the “Advanced Grant” of the European Research Council (ERC). The EU will support University of Zurich research projects with a total of approximately 7.9 million Euro. 
Anna Maltsev


Two male academics and one female academic from the University of Zurich have been selected to receive the EU’s most prestigious research grant. Each will receive between 2.5 and 2.9 million Euro to support innovative research projects over the next five years. The award-winning projects are in the fields of brain research, neuropathology and film studies.

Improving our understanding of the brain's learning processes

One of the three awardees is Fritjof Helmchen, professor at the University of Zurich’s Brain Research Institute and co-director of the Neuroscience Center Zurich. His project aims at employing innovative methods to characterize brain dynamics at an intermediate level that until now has been difficult to access. The specific objective of his research group will be to advance optical measurement techniques and theoretical models to better understand the principles of information processing at the 'mesoscopic' scale of complex nerve cell networks in the mouse brain. The researchers will seek to determine, for example, how brain cell networks learn to react adequately to a particular sensory stimulus and trigger relevant behavior. In the long term, a better understanding of healthy signal flow throughout brain circuits and their adaptations during learning should provide a basis for better recognizing and understanding disrupted signal flow in the case of brain diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease. The project will be supported with a grant of 2.5 million Euro.   

On the trail of mad cow disease

The second award-winning project will be undertaken by the research group supporting Adriano Aguzzi, professor at the University of Zurich’s Institute of Neuropathology. For over 20 years, Adriano Aguzzi has worked on the prion protein PrP. Together with Charles Weissmann, Aguzzi showed in 1993 that PrP is necessary for the replication of prions, which are the cause of mad cow disease. Today the processes by which this disease causes brain damage remain unclear. The function of normal prion proteins are likewise unclear. In their ERC project, Adriano Aguzzi’s research group will investigate which molecules control prion production and reproduction and how prions damage the brain. The researchers will also seek to find out what role prion proteins play in the body’s normal physiology. Prof. Aguzzi will receive about 2.5 million Euro for his project.

Hiow digitization changes films

The third award-winning project was submitted by Barbara Flückiger, professor in the Department of Film Studies. Barbara Flückiger’s research explores the influence of technological innovations on the aesthetics and narrative of films, with the digitization of film over the last decade playing an increasingly central role. In her ERC project, Barbara Flückiger and her research team will systematically investigate the relationships between technological processes and the aesthetics of film colors through a new interdisciplinary approach.

The project will develop new software to analyze a large number of color films from each decade since the invention of film. Aesthetic analyses in film history will be supplemented with measurement methods from the natural sciences to investigate the chemical and physical characteristics of film colors. Fields of application for the aesthetic and technical analyses include digitizations and restorations of historic films that will be part of the research project. In addition, research findings will be contributed on an ongoing basis to a web platform developed by Barbara Flückiger, the Timeline of Historical Film Colors , providing access to other researchers, students and interested lay persons. The EU will support this project with a grant of 2.9 million Euro.

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Anna Maltsev

Media Relations

University of Zurich

Phone: +41 44 634 39