The European Research Council (ERC) distinguished Cecília Roque and Elvira Fortunato, professors and researchers at the NOVA School of Science and Technology (FCT NOVA), with two "ERC Proof of Concept Grants". FCT NOVA thus reinforces its pioneering position by leading the number of ERC grants recived: it goes from nine to 11.
The ERC awarded a total of 166 "Proof of Concept" grants – each worth €150,000 – to European researchers. Four of these grants came to Portugal – and half for projects born at FCT NOVA.
This is the third ERC grant for Elvira Fortunato, professor at the Department of Materials Science and researcher and director of CENIMAT|i3N, who has now won the grant with the project "e-GREEN: From forest to electronics: green graphene". This project comes as a response to the increase in electronic waste, which is already the fastest growing waste stream, accumulating 250 million tons per year. A new sustainable approach, both in terms of materials and processes, is the proposal: “The e-GREEN project aims at the direct formation of 3D patterns based on graphene for the formation of printed circuits on flexible recyclable substrates, bypassing the need to use scarce and non-ecological metallic materials in addition to expensive, polluting and time-consuming processes”, says Elvira Fortunato.
This project follows another awarded ERC grant project, DIGISMART ("Multifunctional Digital Materials Platform for Smart Integrated Applications"), whose objective is to revolutionize the way in which integrated circuits and electronic components are produced, using "eco-friendly" materials. It was through DIGISMART that it was possible “to obtain a broad variety of materials based on graphene, materials that are of renewable origin - such as cellulose, nanocellulose and cork - using a new process derived from graphene induced by laser. This method was assumed as a promising approach due to its multifunctionality, cost/effectiveness, process, scalability, simplicity, high efficiency and good reproducibility. The objective of “e-GREEN” is to develop a proof of concept based on several prototypes in order to evaluate electrical performances and carry out an extensive market analysis. The technological process will open new doors for sustainable electronics.
Led by Cecília Roque, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Principal Investigator at the Biomolecular Engineering Laboratory of the Applied Biomolecular Sciences Unit (UCIBIO), the project "ENSURE: Non-invasive follow-up of urinary tract cancers" consists of the creation of an innovative non-invasive, rapid and low-cost method of bladder cancer surveillance – making use of the “electronic nose” technology developed in a previous ERC grant awarded to the researcher (Project “SCENT: Hybrid Gels for Rapid Microbial Detection”). This “electronic nose” includes sustainable materials sensitive to gases, and a device that uses artificial intelligence algorithms to distinguish a set of odors. Based on this technology and on the team's preliminary results, the foundations are laid for clinical application in the diagnosis and follow-up of patients: “Our key objective is to drastically reduce the number of times patients have to undergo invasive and painful techniques ”, explains Cecília Roque.
With 573,000 new cases and 213,000 deaths in 2020, bladder cancer is the most common of the urinary system and has the highest cost per patient among all cancers, which is mainly due to demanding surveillance that employs invasive techniques to the patient. The project commits to assess the technological and business feasibility in a synergy between Cecília Roque's work team and the Italian company Day One, a collaboration complemented by close contact with other employees and stakeholders. With this achievement, the teacher and researcher now accumulates two ERC grants.
Both grants are "Proof of Concept" which means that they are grants awarded to researchers already distinguished by an ERC. It also means that researchers must use the funding to move from theory to practice: understand the feasibility of scientific concepts under development as well as explore business opportunities or prepare patent applications.
Among the 166 distinguished researchers with these scholarships, the majority (92) are women. The grants were awarded to researchers from Austria (7 grants), Belgium (5), the Czech Republic (1), Cyprus (1), Denmark (4), Germany (13), Greece (1), Finland (3), France (15), Iceland (1), Ireland (6), Israel (18), Italy (21), Luxembourg (1), Netherlands (16), Norway (1), Portugal (4), Slovenia (1), Spain (18), Sweden (7) and the United Kingdom (22).