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Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Three researchers awarded European Research Council grants join the UAB

30 Sep 2022
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Sandra Nogué, Dan Brockington and Gemma Cirac will soon form part of the UAB to work on the development of their projects thanks to funding by the European Research Council (ERC). The IFAE will also incorporate researcher Gerard Ariño as an ERC grantee.

Guardonats amb ERC grants
Gemma Cirac, Sandra Nogué and Dan Brockington

The European Research Council has awarded three grants to researchers who will be working on their projects at the UAB. A Starting Grant was awarded to physicist and historian Gemma Cirac, a Consolidator Grant to palaeoecologist Sandra Nogué, and an Advanced Grant to anthropologist Dan Brockington. In addition, the ERC awarded a Starting Grant to physicist Gerard Ariño for the development of his project at the Institut de Física d’Altes Energies (IFAE).

Quantifying Changes in Biodiversity

With the project “Island TIME-LINES to quantify biodiversity change”, Sandra Nogué will explore one of the most exciting and important topics in ecology and palaeontology: where biodiversity changes, at what speed and why. Debates on this tòpic within the scientific community demonstrate that there is a diversity in the rhythm of change around the world. Biodiversity’s responses to the different agents causing these changes are rarely explored, since in order to analyse this phenomenon during the necessary span of years (often centuries to millennia), patterns and processes must be inferred from  fossil records. There is also evidence that geographical characteristics could influence a biodiversity’s response to the drivers of change, thereby creating an even greater complexity. The fact that change in biodiversity is spatially structured is the main work hypothesis of the TIME-LINES project, which examines somes 5000 years of change in plant biodiversity, as well as the drivers of these changes, by using a series of high quality palaeoecological records obtained from the sedimentary sequences of islands worldwide. Islands are often described as biodiversity hotspots and natural laboratories with legacies of relatively recent human impact. For the first time, it is possible to create palaeoecological networks at biogeographical scales. TIME-LINES will establish the historical ranks of variability both for the biodiversity and for drivers of change. Lining up information of such magnitude on changes in biodiversity with geographical characteristic of islands could guide researchers in discovering whether changes at both taxonomic and functional levels are influenced by geographical context. The results will open the door to new horizons in research, bringing together palaeoecology and biogeography, and developing methods to quantify the effects of these agents of change, not only on islands but elsewhere, and in much greater depth than has been possible to date. The research results will then serve to determine to what extent historically informed baselines and trajectory changes are useful for a sustainable management of biodiversity.

Sandra Nogué is sènior Severo Ochoa research at CREAF. From 2015 to 2021, she was Lecturer in Palaeoenvironmental sciences (permanent academic position) at the University of Southampton (UK) a research-led University ranked among the top 100 of universities globally. At Southampton she lectured in different modules including Biogeography and Global Climate Change and led the international Exchange programme for the School of Geography and Environmental Science. Previously (2009-2015), she held postdoctoral positions at the University of Oxford (UK) and at the University of Bergen (Norway). She is currently the elected VP of communications for the International Biogeography Society and associate editor for the Journal of Biogeography and the Global Ecology and Biogeography. She has conducted fieldwork in the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, and the Antarctic Peninsula. The outputs of her research have been published in prestigious journals such as Science, Nature Ecology and EvolutionPNAS, and GEB.

The Justice of Conservation Data

The Conservation Data Justice (CONDJUST) project, led by Dan Brockington, will create a new research field bridging three distinct areas: conservation prioritisation, political ecology and Data Justice. The former uses data which risk marginalising rural peoples. The latter, Data Justice, does not examine conservation data. At the same time, political ecologists do not consider Data Justice approaches when tackling conservation prioritisation. The project CONDJUST will analyse conservation data and models, and explore the epistemic communities producing them, to develop new theories of socially just, data-driven conservation. It will challenge the colonising tendencies of prioritisation work and seek decolonising alternatives. The project is timely because ambitious new global targets seek to safeguard 30% of the planet for conservation by 2030 (and more afterwards). These plans pose risks for rural peoples because the data and modelling they use can contain different forms of bias, exclusion and omission. these risks will grow as more social media data are used in conservation prioritisation. Insights from Data Justice are necessary to understand these dangers, and how they might be counteracted.

Dan Brockington trained as an anthropologist in UCL with Kathy Homewood, and worked previously in the Geography Departments of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge (on a post-doc with Bill Adams), in the Global Development Institute at Manchester, and the Institute of Global Sustainable International Development at the University of Sheffield, which he co-directed with Dorothea Kleine. He has also been working on different aspects of conservation social science for some time, covering the social impacts of conservation policy, global overviews of eviction from protected areas, continental wide examinations of the work of conservation NGOs in sub-Saharan Africa, and the work of media and celebrity in conservation and development. His books include Fortress ConservationNature Unbound (with Rosaleen Duffy and Jim Igoe), Celebrity Advocacy and International Development, Celebrity and the Environment, and he recently published (with Christine Noe) Prosperity in Rural Africa? He was awarded an Advanced ERC to work on Conservation Data Justice in April 2022 and an ICREA research professorship in July 2022. He also serves on the board of the conservation and development NGO ‘Micaia’ and recently completed a fictional trilogy for middle grade readers that will be published by APE network in Dar es Salaam.

History of data generated by Earth observation satellites

What do we understand as a global climate? And how did humans historically build up this idea? The answer to these questions is crucial, since our preception of global climate, as well as its changes, determines how we manage it. Gemma Cirac-Claveras directs the CLIMASAT project to study the history of climate discourses, practices and policies from the 1980s and 1990s, while focusing on the history of the production, circulation and use of data collected from Earth observation satellites (in particular, data on meteorological phenomena, sea levels and ozone layers). The hypothesis focuses on the ways in which different scientific, economic, legislative, diplomatic and media agents negotiated, shared, maintained and used satellite data contributed to informing about specific ways of understanding climate, which we have incorporated until now. It is therefore necesary to understand the historic processes of co-production between this satellite data and these perceptions.

Gemma Cirac-Claveras is Research Director at the UAB Institute for the History of Science. With a BSc in Physics and a PhD in the History of Science from the Ecole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, her research explores the history of Earth observation satellite technology. She focuses particularly on the framework of techniques, knowledge, practices, institutions, stakeholders and ideas involved in producing, distributing and using satellite-generated data, as well as the articulated dynamics of power and implications at environmental, social and political levels. Among the distinctions she has received are the NASA and the History of Science Society Awards, the American Institute of Physics Award, the European Space Agency Award, and the International Committee for the History of Technology Award.

Improving positron emission tomography scan in the detection of cancer

Researcher Gerard Ariño-Estrada also received an ERC Starting Grant to work at the IFAE and develop a new gamma detector design for a time-of-flight positron emission tomography (TOF-PET), a standard-of-care in cancer detection. The CHLOE-PET (CHErenkov Light mOdulE for time-of-flight Positron Emission Tomography) project has the potential to improve the time resolution and spatial segmentation of state-of-the-art detectors by factors of up to 7 and 10, respectively, without additional production costs. Dr Ariño-Estrada obtained his PhD in 2015 at the Institut de Física d’Altes Energies (IFAE) and then took a postdoctoral researcher position in the synchrotron detector group at DESY in Hamburg (Germany). He later joined the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of California, Davis, where he currently leads a team working on detectors for nuclear medicine imaging and dosimetry.