13. June 2024

South Moravia, a region renowned for its commitment to innovation and research, continues to make significant strides in the European Research Area, particularly through the achievements of the European Research Council (ERC) grantees. Today, the CEITEC consortium hosted a scientific ERC conference at CEITEC Masaryk University (MU). The conference had an exclusive line-up – ERC President Maria Leptin, who is in the Czech Republic for a two-day visit, and 12 holders of prestigious ERC grants conducting research in the Czech Republic. Current ERC Scientific Council member Alice Valkárová took also part in the programme.

Maria Leptin, President of the European Research Council (ERC), who is visiting Czech Republic on 12-13 June for the first time in her current capacity, opened today’s ERC Scientific Mini Conference, held in Brno at CEITEC MU. The conference brought together a vibrant community of researchers, ERC grantees, and aspiring scientists. Maria Leptin's keynote address was a highlight of the event, providing deep insights into the ERC’s strategic priorities and its pivotal role in advancing European research. During the morning, a total of 12 holders of prestigious ERC grants took the stage: Matthew Rampley (Masaryk University), Michal Holčapek (University of Pardubice), Robert Vácha (CEITEC MU Brno), Filip Matějka (CAS Prague), Zuzana Musilová (Charles University), Petr Neugebauer (CEITEC BUT Brno), Anežka Kuzmičová (Charles University), Kateřina Rohlenová (CAS BIOCEV), Zdeněk Lánský (Charles University), Adam Williamson (FNUSA-ICRC), Josef Málek (Charles University) a Pavel Jungwirth (CAS Prague). They represent all scientific domains and funding streams offered by the ERC.

Created by the EU in 2007 and currently part of the EU’s Horizon Europe programme, the ERC plays a pivotal role in fostering ground-breaking research across Europe. Its impact is profoundly felt in the EU-13 countries (countries that joined the EU in 2004 and later), including the Czech Republic, where around 70 top researchers have been supported by the ERC in highly competitive grant calls, worth around EUR 125 million in total. The South Moravian Region stands out in its efforts to support excellence in research by including the number of ERC grant holders employed in research organisations in the region as an indicator of strategic objectives. No wonder this strategic focus has attracted top-tier researchers and substantial funding, propelling the region to the forefront of scientific innovation.

One notable example of ERC success in South Moravia is the work being done at the Central European Institute of Technology (CEITEC). Pavel Plevka, a renowned researcher at CEITEC MU, has been awarded both an ERC Starting Grant and subsequently a Consolidator Grant. His research in structural virology has advanced scientific knowledge and significantly contributed to the institute's prestige, where he now serves as the Director. The main attraction of the CEITEC Consortium is its technological edge, perhaps best demonstrated by the unique CEITEC Nano facility at the CEITEC Brno University of Technology (CEITEC BUT). It is the largest clean room facility of its kind in Central Europe, which boasts, among other things, three ERC grantees and more are sure to come to CEITEC BUT.

The high level of scientific research carried out in the Czech Republic is also evidenced by other researchers who have received ERC funding. Pavel Jungwirth from IOCB Prague commented on his goals with the ERC funding, stating: "Thanks to the ERC grant, we want to create a computational tool with which scientists will be able to investigate the behaviour of ions in the biological environment, which may have far-reaching implications for the development of new drugs or their transport into cells."  

"The ERC grants have been instrumental in allowing our researchers to pursue ambitious projects that have a global impact. Moreover, the ERC grantees share common values and seed in Czechia the next-generation scientific community focused on scientific excellence and discovery," says Pavel Tomančák, head of the CEITEC consortium.

Various support schemes for ERC applicants are available in the Czech Republic to further bolster the region's success. Importantly, a dedicated support group led by Professor Zdeněk Strakoš offers expert guidance and mentoring to ERC applicants, ensuring that Czech researchers are well-prepared to compete at the highest levels. Additionally, the ERC CZ funding program provides substantial financial support to ERC applicants who are ranked highly by the ERC but cannot be funded due to a lack of funds at the European level. This funding for researchers with the ERC seal of excellence substantially enhances their chances to develop their ground-breaking ideas and succeed in future ERC competitions.

Maria Leptin, President of the ERC, emphasized the importance of these support structures: "Supporting researchers through national and regional schemes is crucial for creating a base from which they can apply in the ERC competitions. The Czech Republic’s commitment to providing such support is exemplary and has already shown remarkable results. I hope this will continue in the years to come, as we must nurture all research talent across Europe to tackle the challenges the world is facing."

During her stay in Brno, the ERC President also visited the CEITEC Nano core facility at CEITEC BUT, which provides researchers with state-of-the-art equipment, expertise and methods in nanotechnology and advanced materials.

The continued dedication to fostering a vibrant research environment in South Moravia and the Czech Republic promises to elevate Czech science to where it belongs—to the top among the advanced European R&D nations. As the region builds on its strategic focus on excellence and tries to attract the best researchers, it is well-positioned to continue its ascent among the leaders in European scientific innovation.