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Two ERC Starting Grants for UoC researchers

Physicist Junior Professor Dr Marcel Schubert and economist Professor Dr Matthias Heinz each receive one of the most coveted European research grants.

The UoC researchers Marcel Schubert, Junior Professor at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, and Matthias Heinz, Professor at the Faculty of Management, Economics, and Social Sciences, have been awarded a Starting Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). Excellent early-career researchers are funded with the Starting Grant for a period of five years with up to 1.5 million euros.

Marcel Schubert, Junior Professor for Biointegrated Photonics at the University of Cologne’s Humboldt Centre for Nano- and Biophotonics, will receive funding to conduct research on the mechanisms of genetic adaptation within living cells in the project ‘HYPERION – Optical Sequencing inside Live Cells with Biointegrated Nanolasers’.

Almost 20 years after the first genome was completely decoded, there are already over one million more in databases worldwide. One of the most important insights resulting from these enormous amounts of data is the enormous complexity and diversity of the molecular processes that control the constant adaptation of living organisms to their environment. Understanding the relationships between the genome and the resulting properties of cells is one of the fundamental questions in modern developmental biology, and the basis in biomedicine for research into a wide range of diseases.

Many mechanisms of genetic adaptation are still unknown. The HYPERION project is trying to gain insights into the fundamental processes with a revolutionary approach. For this purpose, novel nanolasers will be developed that decode the structure of RNA molecules by means of optical sequencing. In recent years, Marcel Schubert’s laboratory has already successfully demonstrated that micro- and nanolasers can be used as sensors inside living cells. Recently, for example, it was possible to precisely measure the contractions of individual heart cells.

‘The Starting Grant makes it possible to explore a completely new approach to optical sequencing. The enormous potential of the technology results from the fact that the sensors can be integrated within living cells and organisms. Thus, in the future, the molecular basis during the development of complex biological systems or diseases could be investigated directly,’ said Schubert. However, he makes it clear that the technology has to be developed from scratch and it will therefore be ‘a long but also very exciting road’. The project also enhances the ‘Humboldt Centre for Nano- and Biophotonics’, which was founded two years ago at the University of Cologne.

Matthias Heinz, Professor at the University of Cologne’s Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences and spokesperson for the Cluster of Excellence ECONtribute: Markets & Public Policy, receives the prestigious ERC Starting Grant for his project ‘Managing People – How Employees’ Social Preferences Shape the Returns to Management Practices’.

The aim of the ‘Managing People’ project is to analyse how employees’ social preferences affect the effectiveness of management practices and thus the productivity of companies.

Social preferences – such as the desire for fairness – describe how people are interested not only in their own profit, but also in the well-being of others. In the past decades, researchers in the social sciences, psychology, and economics have intensively investigated how social preferences are formed and how they affect everyday life. In his project, Heinz combines literature and methods from business administration and economics, and for the first time analyses the causal effects of management practices in real companies and whether their effectiveness depends on the social preferences of employees.

At a bakery chain, supermarkets, and a kitchen manufacturer, Heinz will conduct a practice-oriented exploration of how management methods affect the performance of employees in the context of social preferences. The findings of the project should, among other things, provide information on how effective it is to control employees or to additionally reward them for good performance – depending on the social preference type.

This fifth ERC Grant within one and a half years is a great success for the Cluster of Excellence ECONtribute. ECONtribute is the only Cluster of Excellence in economics funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), supported by the universities in Bonn and Cologne. ‘The ERC Starting Grant enables me to further expand the interdisciplinary research approach of our Cluster of Excellence,’ Heinz said.

Matthias Heinz is Professor of Strategy at the University of Cologne. He received his doctorate in business administration from Goethe University Frankfurt in 2014. He has already received several awards for his teaching and research, including the Quality of Teaching Award of the University of Cologne 2019, the Joachim Herz Prize for Economics 2016 and the Roman Herzog Research Prize 2015.


Media Contacts:
Junior Professor Dr Marcel Schubert
Chemistry Department
+49 221 470 4462

Prof. Dr. Matthias Heinz
Faculty of Management, Economics, and Social Sciences
Spokesperson of the Cluster of Excellence ECONtribute: Markets & Public Policycy
+49 221 470 7263

Press and Communications Team:
Jan Voelkel
+49 221 470 2356

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