Two ERC Synergy Grants for researchers

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Barbara Treutlein and Nicolas Noiray have been granted an ERC Synergy Grant. (Im
Barbara Treutlein and Nicolas Noiray have been granted an ERC Synergy Grant. (Images: ETH Zurich)
ERC Synergy Grants have been awarded to Barbara Treutlein from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering and Nicolas Noiray from the Department of Mechanical and Process Engineering, together with their European partners.


The European Research Council (ERC) announced yesterday which research groups have been awarded an ERC Synergy Grant. The "AxoBrain" project with Barbara Treutlein from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zurich in Basel and "HYROPE" with Nicolas Noiray from the Department of Mechanical and Process Engineering will each receive almost three million Swiss francs. Together, they will bring ETH Zurich a total of 5.9 million Swiss francs in


The axolotl, a Mexican salamander, is an extraordinary animal that can regenerate parts of its brain after severe injury. However, the molecular mechanisms that control this process are still unclear. It is also not known whether the animals’ neural circuits and behaviour are fully restored after regeneration. With this in mind, ETH Professor Barbara Treutlein is involved in the ERC Synergy project "AxoBrain", which aims to combine a wide range of modern approaches to gain a better understanding of how salamander brain cells respond to damage and regenerate behavioural circuits. By mapping the types of brain cells and their connections in the axolotl, the researchers hope to deepen their understanding of the organisation and evolution of the vertebrate brain. The knowledge gained from the axolotl will lead to new, clinically useful strategies for mammalian tissue regeneration. The AxoBrain project brings together a diverse team of equal partners with highly complementary expertise: Elly Tanaka (IMP Vienna), a pioneer in axolotl biology and regeneration, Barbara Treutlein (ETH Zurich), an expert in single-cell technologies and neurodevelopment, and Kevin Briggman (MPI Bonn), a computational neuroethologist with expertise in behavioural neuroscience and connectomics. Each project partner will receive approximately three million euros.


Due to the climate emergency, there is a dire need to develop in record time gas turbine technologies to burn hydrogen and ammonia. These zero-carbon gas turbines will be key for aviation and electric power generation. Regarding the aviation sector, electrifying aviation is not feasible for the next decades due to the much lower energy density of batteries compared to chemical fuels. Together with future production of hydrogen by means of hydro, nuclear, solar or wind electricity, aircraft turbines fueled with hydrogen are considered the most promising option to decarbonize intra-continental aviation. Regarding the electric power generation sector, in countries which will not be able to rely on large amount of on-demand decarbonized electricity from hydro or nuclear power, and which plan to significantly increase their wind and solar sources, gas turbines supplied with hydrogen or ammonia will be a helpful option against possible black-outs caused by the daily intermittency and the seasonal variability of solar and wind.

Hydrogen and Ammonia raise several fundamental issues as they have very different combustion and emission properties when compared to hydrocarbon fuels. Hydrogen is highly diffusive, extremely reactive, and its turbulent burning rate exhibits an unexplained strong pressure dependence. Predicting whether hydrogen flames that are stable at atmospheric pressure will be stable at higher pressures, as needed in gas turbines, remains an unsolved fundamental problem. Ammonia is a convenient hydrogen carrier that can be partially decomposed to hydrogen but it has a very poor reactivity and requires careful control of NOx emissions. How to handle the effects of pressure on the combustion of these fuels is a major gap in our scientific knowledge.

The ERC Synergy project HYROPE combines the expertise of four top European researchers, including that of ETH professor Nicolas Noiray. The research team will perform atmospheric and high-pressure experiments with advanced laser-based diagnostics coupled to high-performance simulations, with the aims of understanding and predicting the combustion physics of hydrogen and ammonia, and developing new combustor concepts for these carbon-free fuels. With his team at ETH, Nicolas Noiray, a professor of Thermodynamics, will bring his profound expertise in combustion dynamics as well as the unique experimental research platform for turbulent combustion, which he developed in the frame of his ongoing ERC Consolidator grant. The science base which will result from the HYROPE project will accelerate the development of new, high-power density, combustion systems for hydrogen and ammonia and unleash the potential of zero-carbon gas turbines.

The overall project will receive a grant of 12.75 million euros, of which Nicolas Noiray will receive around 3.2 million euros.

A reflection of the quality and excellence of ETH research

"I’m delighted that two researchers and their teams have once again prevailed in this European research competition and demonstrated the quality and relevance of their research. The success of Barbara Treutlein and Nicolas Noiray goes to show that our researchers perform at the top level internationally and are highly sought-after partners in the European Research Area," says Christian Wolfrum, ETH Vice President for Research.