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Queen Mary academics win prestigious European research funding

Two academics in Queen Mary University of London’s School of Geography have been awarded highly competitive grants from the European Research Council (ERC) to support ground-breaking work.

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Dr Sydney Calkin and Dr Carlo Inverardi-Ferri have each been selected for €1.5million funding from the ERC’s Starting Grant (2022) scheme, which supports talented early-career scientists to establish their own research team and conduct world-leading studies.

Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, Dr Sydney Calkin, will use the five-year funding to study “self-managed health”: when people get medicines and treatments outside the formal healthcare system, usually because they can’t afford medical bills or because where they live means the treatment they want is stigmatised or illegal.

Dr Calkin’s research expertise focuses on sexual and reproductive health. Her project will explore three relevant examples of self-managed health: people who use pills to self-manage abortion, people who use antiretrovirals to self-manage HIV/AIDS prevention, and people who use sex hormones to self-manage gender transition.

By working with people who self-manage these health issues to understand how they access treatment and whether the medication they take is safe, Dr Calkin will find out if and how these communities can improve the design and delivery of health services - ultimately working with stakeholders from policy, clinical care, and civil society.

Commenting on the award, Dr Sydney Calkin said: “I’m honoured to receive this grant and excited to start the project. This research will help us understand much more about access to medicine in sexual and reproductive health. It’s urgent that we understand how people who are excluded from medical care use the internet to meet their health needs. This grant will allow me to assemble an exciting team and carry out leading research in health geography at Queen Mary University of London.”

Funding for Dr Carlo Inverardi-Ferri, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer in Economic Geography, will support a very different project – unveiling the dark sides of the global photovoltaic industry, which converts light into electricity.

Increasing energy demands and commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have driven a booming sector that represents one of the most established and promising renewable energy technologies today, but the mechanisms underlying these phenomenal achievements are not well understood. The production, distribution and disposal of solar panels can create significant societal and environmental issues.

Dr Inverardi-Ferri will map solar panel production, consumption and disposal in China, Ghana and India to give an overall snapshot of the industry. The project looks to explain the economic, political and cultural processes in play - such as finding out which illicit labour regimes in mining and manufacturing processes actually sustain solar panel production, and understanding the social and environmental challenges raised by end-of-life photovoltaic modules. By analysing these informal but complex energy markets, Dr Inverardi-Ferri ultimately aims to reveal new ways of providing clean and affordable energy for all.

Dr Inverardi-Ferri commented: “I am really honoured that my project has been retained for such a competitive and prestigious award. illicitLABOUR will explore how distant locations are connected by processes of economic globalisation and illicit practices, unveiling the dark sides of the industry as well as forms of resilience and make-do, addressing longstanding concerns on climate change mitigation from novel perspectives. I am absolutely thrilled about the new lines of research and collaboration that this grant will enable, supporting an interdisciplinary team to carry out cutting-edge research on the political economy of illicit labour and climate change mitigation.”

Dr Calkin and Dr Inverardi-Ferri are two of just 70 researchers in the UK to receive these awards. Professor Maria Leptin, President of the ERC, said: “It is a pleasure to see this new group of bright minds at the start of their careers, set to take their research to new heights. I cannot emphasise enough that Europe as a whole - both at national and at EU level - has to continue to back and empower its promising talent. We must encourage young researchers who are led by sheer curiosity to go after their most ambitious scientific ideas. Investing in them and their frontier research is investing in our future.”

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