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Three new ERC Advanced Grants go to LMU

26 Apr 2022

Synchronization in politics, sound change, and DNA mimics: The European Research Council awards three prestigious Advanced Grants to LMU academics.

LMU professors Klaus H. Goetz, Jonathan Harrington, and Ivan Huc were successful in the latest round of ERC grants, each obtaining an Advanced Grant. Jonathan Harrington is the first researcher at LMU to have received three ERC Advanced Grants. Ivan Huc receives it for the second time.

In each case, the award comes with funding of up to 2.5 million euros (in certain exceptional cases: 3.5 million euros). ERC Advanced Grants are aimed at established researchers from all disciplines whose highly innovative work pushes beyond the current frontiers of research and opens up new domains of investigation.

Overview of projects awarded an Advanced Grant

Prof. Dr. Klaus H. Goetz

© LMU

Professor Klaus H. Goetz is Chair of Political Systems and European Integration at the Geschwister Scholl Institute of Political Science at LMU.

Democratic policy-makers in Europe’s multi-level system grapple with multiple times, since different levels of government, parliaments, and administrative agencies follow distinct time rules and time preferences. Synchronization is, therefore, a critical, but very little understood dimension of public policy-making. It is designed to keep the system running by structuring the timing, speed, frequencies, sequences, durations, and time horizons in policy-making. However, simultaneous demands for “faster action”, “more time” and “extended time horizons” have pushed multi-level synchronization in opposing directions.

This is where the new ERC project of Klaus H. Goetz comes in. SYNCPOL - Synchronized Politics: Multiple Times and Political Power - analyzes the challenges for the synchronization of European policy-making; and it asks how the reshaping of synchronization arrangements alters the distribution of political power in Europe’s multi-level system. With SYNCPOL, Goetz wants to explore these questions across EU, national, and sub-national governments, parliaments, and administrative agencies for Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The focus will be on the domains of migration-asylum and public health policy.

Klaus H. Goetz studied Political Science and Italian at the University of Tübingen, the University of Massachusetts, and the London School of Economics (LSE). Having completed his doctorate at Nuffield College, Oxford University, he taught and researched at Nuffield College and at the German University of Administrative Sciences in Speyer. Between 1992 and 2006, he was a Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, and Reader in the Department of Government at LSE. Subsequently, he was Chair of Politics and Government in Germany and Europe at the University of Potsdam, before coming to Munich in 2013.

© LMU

Professor Jonathan Harrington is Chair of Phonetics and Digital Speech Processing and Director of the Institute of Phonetics and Speech Processing at LMU. His main research areas include experimental phonetics and laboratory phonology, the development of speech databases, and sound change. He is one of the few scientists worldwide to have received three ERC Advanced Grants.

In William Shakespeare’s times, ‘knee’ and ‘knot’ were pronounced with a /k/, just like German does today. But why did English and not German drop the /k/? This question is part of the so-called actuation of sound change, recognized as one of the greatest challenges in linguistics, and which is about explaining why sound change happens, and why languages can follow such different paths of sound change. The actuation puzzle remains unsolved principally because the beginning of sound change is so gradual that it is undetectable even with modern instrumentation. This is precisely where SoundAct (“The actuation of sound change”) from Jonathan Harrington comes in. The project seeks to explain why and how languages split and diversify. Harrington wants to determine how the cognitive mechanisms that control human speech processing, the social factors that bind individuals together, and the phonetic properties that shape a community’s dialect, can, in combination, cause the sounds of languages to become unstable and change.

The project’s methodological innovation is to recast the elusive actuation puzzle as an empirically tractable transformation of an input (A) into an output (B). Here A and B are two closely related, geographically proximal, living dialects, with the study investigating dialect pairs from Indo-European, Japanese, and Bantu languages. The sound patterns differ in whether one or more common sound changes have taken place. Experiments in human speech imitation and computational modeling then help estimate which combination of cognitive, social, and phonetic factors transforms A into B. The project has a wider scientific impact in that its results can be applied to other disciplines including ecology, economics, and geosciences, helping to understand complex systems.

Born in England in 1958, Jonathan Harrington studied at Downing College, University of Cambridge, obtaining a doctorate in linguistics there in 1986. After appointments at the University of Edinburgh and Macquarie University in Sydney, he took up the Chair of Phonetics and Digital Speech Processing at the University of Kiel in 2002. Since 2006, he has been teaching and researching at LMU. Harrington also received ERC Advanced Investigator Grants in 2011 and 2017. His latest success makes him the first person at LMU to have won this triple-crown.

Prof. Ivan Huc

© Jan Greune / LMU

Professor Ivan Huc is Chair of Chemical Biology for Drug Research in the Department of Pharmacy at LMU. His main research focus is on creating artificial molecules with folded shapes out of simple building blocks – so-called foldamers, which mimic natural models and the form and function of which can be controlled by chemists.

Many essential biological processes are based on the binding of proteins to DNA. To dock with DNA, the proteins must recognize its spatial structure – the famous double helix – and surface characteristics. Using synthetic molecules to influence this binding could open up new therapeutic approaches and yield better insights into biological processes. However, suitable molecules for that purpose have been lacking.

This is what Huc is seeking to remedy with his new project, FOLOF (Aromatic Foldamer Mimics of B-DNA: Targeting the Alpha-Helix). Based on so-called aromatic oligoamide foldamers, he wants to develop molecules that simulate the surface of particular double-helical DNA sequences. Specific proteins can then bind to these DNA mimics – thus hijacking them from their natural DNA binding partner. To achieve this goal, Huc proposes to expand his chemistry tool box to enable specific design objectives. He also intends to identify structural features that will help proteins bind to the mimics and optimize the design and synthesis of the synthetic molecules. Through a strategic combination of chemical synthesis, computational predictions, crystallographic structural analysis, binding studies, and screening tools, FOLOF will bring the production of abiotic molecular mimics of nucleic acids to a completely new level and further expand the potential and application possibilities of foldamers.

Ivan Huc studied chemistry at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris. Having obtained a doctorate from the University of Paris for work carried out at ENS and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Frenchman pursued his carreer at Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg. After that, he started his independent research at the CNRS at the European Institute of Chemistry and Biology (IECB) in Bordeaux. Subsequently he became co-director there and also fulfilled that role at the Institute of Chemistry and Biology of Membranes and Nano-Objects, Bordeaux, before moving to LMU in 2017. Having previously received an Advanced Investigator Grant from the ERC in 2012, this year’s grant is his second such distinction.

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