UCL News


UCL professors win EU grants for frontier research

22 April 2021

Two UCL academics have been awarded European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grants worth approximately €2.5 million each in recognition of their frontier research and scientific excellence.

Professor Axel Korner and Professor Ayona Datta portrait photos

The Grants will fund ground-breaking work in two very different areas of human geography and modern history: the links between digitalisation and urbanisation in the global south, and the narrative that frames opera as a tool of political nationalism.

Professor Ayona Datta (UCL Geography) will lead a project on ‘Regional futures’, focusing on three rapidly growing metropolitan regions across the global south, which are grappling with the challenges of transforming from ‘paper-based bureaucracies’ into automated planning and governance systems.

Professor Datta said: “This project will have immense impact in our understanding of the politics and dynamics of regional urbanisation in the global south as both a product and a producer of the ‘information revolution’.

“Digitalisation produces new territories for regional urbanisation and this project will examine how state and non-state actors are assisting, contesting and disrupting these regional futures.”

Professor Axel Körner (UCL History) is the founding Director of the UCL Centre for Transnational History. He has a particular interest in the history of European opera and will be looking at this art form in relation to empire in Habsburg Europe between 1815 and 1914.

Professor Körner said: “We'll be investigating the politics of opera in the Habsburg Empire between the Congress of Vienna and the outbreak of World War One, looking for exchanges between the Empire’s different lands and nationalities. The project will challenge traditional narratives that have tended to highlight the role of opera as a tool of political nationalism."

The 2020 ERC Advanced Grants will see €507 million, (£438m) going to 209 leading researchers across Europe. Apart from strengthening Europe’s knowledge base, the new research projects will also lead to the creation of some 1900 new jobs for post-doctoral fellows, PhD students and other research staff.

Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “The awarding of more than 200 ERC Advanced Grants in key scientific areas will help boost our scientific research and innovation capacity, for the benefit of all EU citizens. We will be able to continue and reinforce investments with the forthcoming Horizon Europe ERC work programmes. I am also pleased to see more women applying for these prestigious grants and winning them.”

ERC President Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon said: “For this last ERC call under Horizon 2020, over 200 researchers will be funded to follow their scientific instinct and dreams. Still, the great increase in demand led to a very fierce competition: only 8% of candidates were successful. Many outstanding researchers with innovative ideas passed the excellence threshold but were left unfunded due to budget constraints - another motivation for the national or regional levels to support these great projects.”



  • Professor Axel Körner: Christian Hüller
  • Professor Ayona Datta: Rohit Madan

Media contact

Jane Bolger

Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 9040

Email: j.bolger [at] ucl.ac.uk