European Research Council award success for Psychology

Professor Fernand Gobet

A University of Liverpool psychology professor has won a prestigious European Research Council (ERC) grant in recognition of a ‘daring’ and potentially-ground-breaking research idea.

Professor Fernand Gobet from the Department of Psychological Sciences has been awarded a £1.8 million ERC Advanced Grant, to lead the Genetically Evolving Models in Science (GEMS) project.

The project, which brings together psychology, computer modelling, computer science and cognitive neuroscience expertise, aims to develop a methodology for generating scientific models automatically.

“The development of scientific models suffers from two related problems: the ever-growing number of experimental results and scientists’ cognitive limitations,” explains Professor Gobet, who has published more than 250 scientific papers, including six books on expertise and computational modelling.

“Our methodology treats scientific models as computer programs and ‘evolves’ a population of models using genetic programming. The best models – potentially modified by cross-over and mutation – are selected for the next generation, until the best model is found.

“The ERC Advanced Grant provides us with a chance to explore virgin territory and potentially open up a new field of research, which is extremely exciting.”

The project involves collaboration with the University of Hertfordshire and the funding will support three postdoctoral researcher posts and two PhD students for the next five years.

Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said: “The ERC Advanced Grants back outstanding researchers throughout Europe. Their pioneering work has the potential to make a difference in people’s everyday life and deliver solutions to some of our most urgent challenges. The ERC gives these bright minds the possibility to follow their most creative ideas and to play a decisive role in the advancement of all domains of knowledge.”

ERC Advanced grants are awarded to established research leaders to pursue ground-breaking, high-risk projects that open new directions in their research fields. Of the 222 awards made in this latest round of funding, 20% were made to UK institutions.

The University currently hosts other ERC Advanced Grants in the Faculty of Science and Engineering, but this is the first to be awarded in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences.

Professor Gobet’s award also marks a triple ERC success for the Department of Psychological Sciences. Professor Ben Ambridge holds an ERC Consolidator Grant and Dr Eric Robinson was awarded an ERC Starting Grant last year.