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Two new ERC Advanced Grants

April 26, 2022, Nr. 19

The University of Stuttgart is scoring with projects in the social sciences and at the interface between biomechanics and simulation science

In the latest tender round of the European Research Council (ERC), two scientists from the University of Stuttgart were each awarded one of the prestigious ERC Advanced Grants and will receive funding of up to almost EUR 3.5 million each for their respective projects: Prof. André Bächtiger is the first social scientist at the University of Stuttgart to be awarded an ERC grant. In his project “DDME”, he is looking into the future of democracy in the 21st century, while also having his eye on Mars. In his project “qMOTION”, Prof. Oliver Röhrle wants to use quantum technologies in order to decode neuromuscular control during movement. In addition to an ERC Proof-of-Concept Grant, this is the second ERC Advanced Grant he has received so far.

Prof. Wolfram Ressel, Rector at the University of Stuttgart, points out: “We are very pleased that within the first few months of this year, three important awards from the European Research Council have already gone to the University of Stuttgart, namely the ERC Advanced Grants to Prof. André Bächtiger and Prof. Oliver Röhrle as well as the ERC Starting Grant to the perovskite researcher Prof. Michael Saliba in January 2022. My sincere congratulations to the scientists. The grants underpin the University of Stuttgart’s excellence in basic research across all disciplines and thus the University of Stuttgart’s position as a world-renowned research university. At the same time, the grants confirm the structure-forming developments of recent years in the Profile Areas ‘Quantum Technology’, ‘Simulation Science’ and Biomedical Systems as well as in the social sciences.”

The project DDME - Designing Democracy on “Mars” and “Earth”: Exploring Citizens’ Democratic Preferences in a Deliberative and Co-Creative Design - Prof. André Bächtiger

With his ERC Advanced Grant “Designing Democracy on Mars and Earth (DDME)”, Prof. André Bächtiger is looking into the future of democracy, its values and, in particular, its institutional architectures. In doing so, he relies on an experimental, co-creative, and deliberative design: In a “Mars” group and an “Earth” group, representatively selected citizens from Germany, the US, and India discuss online with democracy experts democratic values such as freedom, equality, justice, sustainability, and efficiency as well as the desirable design of democratic institutions. The point is that the “Mars” group will have the task to design democracy on the red planet, while the “Earth” group will be doing the same in the context of their own countries. 

European citizen forum at the College of Europe in Natolin.

 “From the approach in DDME, we expect that the citizens involved will present creative design concepts without committing to one single institutional design such as representative democracy or direct democracy,” says Prof. André Bächtiger, who holds the Chair of Political Theory and Empirical Democracy Research at the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of Stuttgart. “In addition, we expect that, in the three countries, the suggestions from the “Mars” groups regarding the future of democracy will be more radical than those from the “Earth” groups.” 

According to Bächtiger, both points of view - the one detached from system constraints as well as the one within the context of the existing system - are equally important for the discussion of the future design of democracy architectures. “For political decision-makers, in particular, it is crucial to know what citizens in their respective countries expect from democracy in the 21st century.” Because research shows that the future design of democracy can be successfully realized only from the bottom up and in close communication with the citizens. This is also demonstrated in current examples of the direct participation of citizens in constitutional projects like the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) or the constitutional assembly in Chile. The goal of DDME is to systematize such procedures while providing sound knowledge about democracy architectures and democratic values.

Project qMOTION - Simulation-enhanced Highdensity Magneto-myographic Quantum Sensor Systems for Decoding Neuromuscular Control During  - Prof. Oliver Röhrle

Muscles not only get living things in motion, but they can also be an interface between the brain and the environment. As such, they offer a glimpse into the brain, for example, in order to study how muscles are activated. If we were able to decode these neuromuscular signals, this would open up completely new possibilities in medical diagnostics and treatment as well as new methods for training and rehabilitation. However, this requires completely new approaches. 

“We need, for example, new technologies that simultaneously capture information about recruitment patterns and the functional state of the muscle,” Prof. Oliver Röhrle explains, who is the Director of the Institute for Modeling and Simulation of Biomechanical Systems as well as Principal Investigator in the Cluster of Excellence “Data-Integrated Simulation Science” (SimTech) at the University of Stuttgart. “This is the exact vision of qMOTION - which is about decoding, precisely and non-invasively, the neural activation of skeletal muscles using quantum sensors and data-driven simulation approaches.” 

Magnetfeldmessungen unter dynamischen Bedingungen: (A) Basis für das biomechanische Simulationsmodell, (B) Simulation des Magnetfeldes, (C) Anordnung der Sensoren (Magnetometer) in einer gitterähnlichen Struktur und (D) erste Messungen unter isometrischen Bedingungen.

So far, the human neuromuscular system has been studied by measuring and processing the electric potential of the muscle. However, the disadvantage of this method is that the signal is “distorted” due to the electrical properties of the body, and it is difficult to identify and separate the up to 1000 sources of potential. Magnetic fields, by contrast, can penetrate biological tissue without changing their shape. To measure the magnetic field, however, highly sensitive magnetometers are required. These will be available for the first time thanks to the new quantum sensor technologies. Röhrle is convinced that “qMOTION is paving the way for a completely new field of research”. 

In qMOTION, the researchers will be using magnetometers that are commercially available. Preliminary studies show that measuring the magnetic field is a promising option, especially when a so-called high-density magnetomyographic (HD-MMG) measuring system is available, i.e. a measuring system consisting of a grid-like array of up to 100 sensors. (see figures c and d)

The main objective of qMOTION is setting up a HD-MMG measuring system for the decoding of neuromuscular activity during movement. This is possible only because the HD-MMG data is also suitable for the development of novel functional imaging methods. Röhrle’s interdisciplinary curriculum vitae, with his research in the fields of applied mathematics and biomechanics, is an excellent basis for the project. In addition, the University of Stuttgart provides an ideal environment for this innovative research due to the SimTech Cluster of Excellence and the Cluster4Future “Quantum Sensors of the Future” (QSens).

About the ERC Advanced Grants

The projects and grants of the European Research Council are divided into categories: ERC Starting Grants, ERC Consolidator Grants, ERC Advanced Grants and ERC Synergy Grants. ERC Advanced Grants are among the most prestigious research awards worldwide and are aimed at established researchers with an outstanding academic performance. With Prof. Bächtiger and Prof. Röhrle, 12 ongoing ERC grants are now based at the University of Stuttgart, five of them are Advanced Grants.

Expert Contact:

Prof. Dr. André Bächtiger, University of Stuttgart, Institute for Social Sciences, Department of Political Theory and Empirical Democracy Research, phone: +49 711 685 81450, E-Mail 

Prof. Dr. Oliver Röhrle, University of Stuttgart, Institute for Modeling and Simulation of Biomechanical Systems, phone +49 711 685 66284, E-Mail  


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