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€2.4bn available to researchers in ERC’s largest ever grants budget



With special allowances for researchers impacted by the pandemic, the ERC core grants will provide backing for around 1,100 proposals.

The first of the European Research Council’s (ERC) work programme 2022 grants opened yesterday (15 July) for applications from researchers working in Europe.

The details of the work programme were announced on Wednesday (14 July) and includes more than €2.4bn to fund grants for approximately 1,100 scientists and scholars in the EU and associated countries.

This is the ERC’s second work programme under Horizon Europe, which has an overall budget of €95.5bn and will run until 2027.

The ERC funding will be awarded in a series of grant competitions refereed by panels of researchers. It is intended to support projects that push the frontiers of human knowledge.

Researchers of any nationality and any scientific domain are eligible, as long as they work in Europe or are willing to move from other parts of the world to do so.

“This work programme is backed by the biggest ever annual budget for ERC grants – a powerful sign of Europe’s continuing support for frontier research,” said Mariya Gabriel, European commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth.

“I am also delighted to see that most of the financial support is earmarked for grants for early and mid-career researchers. It is vital that we support this new generation of European talent.”

While the majority of grants will open in the last quarter of 2021, the synergy and proof-of-concept grant brackets opened yesterday (15 July).

All dates provided are subject to change, with the possibility of opening earlier or being delayed by a period of one month. Deadlines may also be extended by two months.

The ERC scientific council previously released a statement (21 April) relating to this work programme, saying it was “particularly concerned about the potential specific impact of the pandemic on the youngest members of the scientific community, in particular women.”

Towards this, researchers will be able to include details in their proposal explaining any gaps in their CV or track record that were caused by the pandemic.

The main ERC grants include starting grants, consolidator grants, advanced grants, and synergy grants. The number of research grants available in each category has increased from those last year due to the increased total budget.

Starting grants are for researchers who are beginning their own team or programme and will provide up to €1.5m in funds, with the potential for €1m additional funding over a period of five years.

There are 502 grants available under the scheme, with calls due to open on 23 September.

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Consolidator grants are also for researchers in the earlier stages of their career and will support principal investigators who are solidifying their research teams or programmes.

The funding here clocks in at up to €2m, with €1m available once again as additional funding over the five-year period. These grants will open slightly later on 19 October, with 388 positions on offer.

For researchers who are firmly established within their field, there is more money on the table for individual teams in the form of advanced grants. These have €2.5m available over the five years and the same €1m available in additional support.

The call for these grants will be the latest of the core group, not opening until 20 January 2022. This year’s programme will see 223 of these grants made available.

Finally, synergy grants are back on offer, after being temporarily unavailable last year due to the transition from the previous Horizon programme.

These will allow for two to four principal investigators to join forces and tackle research questions that are too large for individual teams.

The guidelines state that “transformative research funded by synergy grants should have the potential of becoming a benchmark on a global scale”, with up to €10m being granted across six years and the possibility for €4m additional funding.

The call for these is open since yesterday (15 July) and closes on 10 November. Only 33 of these group grants will be made available.

There will also be two proof-of-concept funding calls, spread across four separate deadlines. The first call is now open for €25m in grants of €150,000 each.

Then in November 2021, the ERC will open a call with €25m divided between three deadlines in February, May and September of the following year.

There are also multiple awards for public engagement with research.

The awards will recognise three ERC grantees, with a prize of €10,000 each, in the three categories: Involve for citizen science, Inspire for public outreach, and Influence for media and policy.

The competition is expected to open on 5 October 2021.

Prof Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, interim president of the ERC, commented: “I am pleased that with its 2022 work programme the ERC is again offering the full range of its grants.

“This includes synergy grants, which are especially well fitted to support interdisciplinary research, and proof of concept grants, which help ERC grantees explore the social or commercial potential of their discoveries.”

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Google, Apple and Microsoft report record-breaking profits | Google



Google, Apple and Microsoft reported record-breaking quarterly sales and profits on Tuesday night as the firms continue to benefit from a pandemic that has created a “perfect positive storm” for big tech.

Apple made a $21.7bn (£15.6bn) profit for the three-month period that ended in June, its best fiscal third quarter in its 45-year history, boosted by strong sales of the iPhone 12 and growth in its services business.

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, reported second-quarter revenue of $61.8bn (£44.5bn), a 62% increase on the same period a year earlier, and a profit of over $18.5bn (£13.3bn), more than twice its profits for the same period last year. The company’s advertising revenues rose 69% from last year.

Microsoft, too, beat expectations, reporting revenues of over $46bn (£33bn) for the quarter – a rise of 21% compared to the same quarter last year.

The results come after Tesla reported a record profit on Monday in one of the busiest ever weeks for quarterly US earnings results. The big tech blowout earnings continue with Facebook on Wednesday and Amazon on Thursday.

Collectively, the market value of Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook is now worth more than a third of the entire S&P 500 index of America’s 500 largest traded companies, as their share prices have soared during the pandemic.

Thomas Philippon, an economist and professor of finance at New York University, said big tech firms have been the biggest economic winners from the pandemic as global lockdowns have pushed more businesses and consumers to use their services.

“They were already on the rise and had been for the best part of a decade, and the pandemic was unique,” Philippon said. “For them it was a perfect positive storm.”

Analysts at Morgan Stanley reckon Alphabet is on course to achieve full-year net income of $65bn, a 59% increase on 2020. Its annual sales are, the bank reckons, on track for $243bn – a $60bn increase on last year.

Alphabet’s shares have risen by 75% in the past year to a record $2,670, but analysts predict they could climb higher still despite regulators around the world threatening to curb its dominance of the internet search market. Morgan Stanley said the stock could reach as high as $3,060, and even under a worse case scenario is unlikely to fall below $1,800.

Morgan Stanley analyst Brian Nowak said pandemic lockdowns had boosted Google as consumers spent more time online researching potential purchases. He said survey data showed that 54% of retailers ranked Google search products, including YouTube, as “their first place to go to research products online, up from 50% in past surveys”.

“Google websites growth is likely to rebound in ’21 as we believe there are several underappreciated products driven by mobile search, strong YouTube contribution, and continued innovation, such as Maps monetisation,” Nowak said in a note to clients.

Apple has been making so much money that over the past eight years it has bought back $421bn worth of shares, but it still has about $80bn of cash sitting on its balance sheet.

When Microsoft reported a 31% rise in profits at its last quarterly results, its chief executive, Satya Nadella, said it was “just the beginning” as the shift to digital technology was “accelerating” fast.

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The share price rise of the big tech firms has made billions for their super-rich founders and early investors. Forbes magazine calculated recently that there are now 365 billionaires who made their fortunes in technology, compared with 241 before the pandemic.

Collectively, the world’s tech billionaires hold personal fortunes of $2.5tn, up 80% on $1.4tn in March 2020. Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, remains the world’s richest person with an estimated $212bn fortune, and is closely followed in the league table of the wealthy by Tesla co-founder Elon Musk with $180bn, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates with $151bn, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg with about $138bn.

Zuckerberg believes the internet will take on an even bigger role in people’s day-to-day lives in the future, and instead of interacting with it via mobile phones people will be immersed via virtual reality headsets.

He said Facebook would transition from a social media platform to a “metaverse company”, where people can work, play and communicate in a virtual environment. Zuckerberg said it would be “an embodied internet where instead of just viewing content – you are in it”.

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Scam-baiting YouTube channel Tech Support Scams taken offline by tech support scam • The Register



The Tech Support Scams YouTube channel has been erased from existence in a blaze of irony as host and creator Jim Browning fell victim to a tech support scam that convinced him to secure his account – by deleting it.

“So to prove that anyone can be scammed,” Browning announced via Twitter following the attack, “I was convinced to delete my YouTube channel because I was convinced I was talking [to YouTube] support. I never lost control of the channel, but the sneaky s**t managed to get me to delete the channel. Hope to recover soon.”

To fool Browning, the ruse must have been convincing: “I track down the people who scam others on the Internet,” he writes on his Patreon page. “This is usually those ‘tech support’ call frauds using phone calls or pop-ups. I explain what I do by guiding others in how to recognise a scam and, more importantly, how to turn the tables on scammers by tracking them down.”

Browning has made a name for himself with self-described “scam baiting” videos, in which he sets up honeypot systems and pretends to fall for scams in which supposed support staffers need remote access to fix a problem or remove a virus – in reality scouring the hard drive for sensitive files or planting malware of their own.

“I am hoping that YouTube Support can recover the situation by 29th July,” Browning wrote in a Patreon update, “and I can get the channel back, but they’ve not promised anything as yet. I just hope it is recoverable.”

Whether Browning is able to recover the account, and the 3.28 million subscribers he had gathered over his career as a scam-baiter, he’s hoping to turn his misfortune into another lesson. “I will make a video on how all of this went down,” he pledged, “but suffice to say, it was pretty convincing until the very end.”

Tech support scams have been going on for about as long as people have needed technical support, but a report published by Microsoft last month suggested the volume may be declining. The same report found that the 18-37 age group was the most likely to fall victim – and that 10 per cent of those surveyed had lost money to a scammer.

YouTube was approached for an explanation of how deleted accounts could be restored and what precautions it has in place to prevent its users – even those with considerable experience in the field of con-artistry – from falling victim to tech support scams, but was unable to provide comment in time for publication.

Browning did not respond to a request for comment. ®

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Orion the humpback whale ‘a dream sighting’ for marine observers



A member of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group spotted the humpback whale while out conducting a survey on marine life off the Donegal coast.

Marine mammal observer Dr Justin Judge described the moment he spotted a lone humpback whale off the coast of Donegal as “a dream sighting.”

Judge spotted the whale at 9.30 on the morning of 9 July while representing the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) on board the Marine Institute’s RV Celtic Explorer.

The group of researchers and observers was out on the waters around 60 kilometres north-northwest of Malin Head when they saw the whale. They were carrying out the annual Western European Shelf Pelagic Acoustic (WESPAS) survey.

“This is a dream sighting for a marine mammal observer,” Judge said. He explained that the creature would be nicknamed Orion – which had a personal meaning for Judge and his family.

“The individual humpback whale ‘Orion’ has been named after the Greek mythological hunter, since the whale was moving with the fish stocks for food. It is also my son’s middle name so fitting on both fronts,” Judge said.

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He added that the team had also observed “a lot of feeding action from a multitude of cetacean species that day, including bottlenose, common, Risso’s and white-sided dolphins, grey seals and minke whales.”

To date, the IWDG has documented 112 individual humpback whales in Irish waters since 1999, many of which are recorded year after year. Humpback whales are frequent visitors to Irish waters as they are an ideal feeding area for humpback whales stopping off in the area on their migration across the Atlantic.

The beasts are identifiable thanks to the distinctive pattern on the underside, which is unique to every individual whale.

“Observing any apex predator in its natural environment is exciting but a new humpback whale for Irish waters, this is special,” WESPAS survey scientist, Ciaran O’Donnell of the Marine Institute said.

The Marine Institute’s WESPAS survey is carried out annually, and surveys shelf seas from France northwards to Scotland, and west of Ireland. WESPAS is the largest single vessel survey of its kind in the Northeast Atlantic, covering upwards of 60,000 nautical miles every summer. The survey is funded through the European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund under the Data Collection Programme which is run by the Marine Institute.

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