TU Wien Informatics

20 Years

ERC Consolidator Grant 2020 Goes to Laura Kovacs

  • By Claudia Vitt
  • 2020-12-09
  • ERC
  • Women in Informatics
  • Excellence

Laura receives €2 million to research on Automated Reasoning with Theories and Induction for Software Technology.

ERC Consolidator Grant 2020 Goes to Laura Kovacs

The ERC announced the winners of its latest Consolidator Grant competition for mid-career researchers on 9 December 2020. The funding is part of the EU’s current research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020, and worth €655 million in total. 327 laureates awarded the 2020 European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grants will now be able to tackle big scientific questions at research centres across Europe. With this support, the new grantees will be able to consolidate their teams and have a far-reaching impact.  

One of them is Laura Kovacs, head of our research unit Formal Methods in Systems Engineering, who has been awarded the ERC Consolidator Grant 2020 for her project ARTIST: Automated Reasoning with Theories and Induction for Software Technologies—a two million Euro grant with a duration of five years.

“When it comes to the work and impact, ARTIST exploits joint work with academic and industrial collaborators; for the latter, it is mainly Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Certora,” Laura describes her research. “My ARTIST project builds upon previous results from my ERC Starting Grant and ERC Proof of Concept Grant. Yet, ARTIST brings and solves completely new challenges, for example, rising from the burden of ensuring system security and explaining AI techniques we use.”

Software Fails

Allowing her to continue research initiated in her ERC Starting Grant and ERC Proof of Concept Grant, the ARTIST project deals with the complex field of software failures.  Software technologies are used everywhere, yet they are error-prone. In November 2019, for example, various apps from the Facebook app family, such as Instagram and Whatsapp, could not be accessed by Facebook users. In August 2019, a shut-down of computer systems operated by British Airways caused long waiting hours for travellers. While such software failures might not be life-threatening, many of them can be as evidenced by the self-driving Uber car accident from March 2018, or the Boeing Max 737 airplane crashes from 2018/2019.

According to Laura Kovacs, the long list of software failures over the past years calls for severe concerns in our digital society, imposing bad reputations and substantial economic burdens on organizations, industries and governments. “Improving software reliability is not enough anymore, ensuring software reliability is mandatory, ” she is therefore convinced. “The ARTIST project complements other advances in the area and addresses this demand by turning the first-order theorem proving into an alternative, yet powerful approach to ensuring software reliability”, Laura summarizes the core of her latest research project. 

Saturation-based proof search is the leading technology for automated first-order theorem proving. The high-gain/high-risk aspect of the project comes from the development and use of saturation-based theorem proving as a unifying framework to reason about software technologies. Laura and her team use first-order theorem proving methods not only to prove but also to generate software properties that imply the absence of program errors at intermediate program steps.  

Some Statistics

The ERC received 2506 Consolidator Grant research proposals in 2020, from which approximately 13 percent will be funded overall. 

In this call, researchers of 39 nationalities received Consolidator Grants: the most numerous were Italians (47 grants), Germans (45), French (27), and British (24). Women applicants gained ground: 37 percent of the grants were awarded to female researchers, the highest proportion since the start of the Consolidator grant scheme. Overall, the success rate for women was 14.5 percent, and for men, 12.6 percent. 

The grantees will carry out their projects at universities, research centres and companies in 23 different countries across Europe, with Germany (50 grants), the United Kingdom (50), France (34) and the Netherlands (29) as leading locations.  

About the ERC 

The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premiere European funding organization for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe. 

It offers four core grant schemes: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy Grants. The ERC Consolidator Grants are awarded to outstanding researchers of any nationality and age, with at least seven and up to twelve years of experience after PhD, and a scientific track record showing great promise. The funding is up to €2 million per grant, plus an additional €1 million for start-up costs in some cases. It is provided for up to five years and mostly covers the employment of researchers and other staff to consolidate the grantees’ teams. 

To date, the ERC has funded over 9,500 top researchers at various stages of their careers, and over 50,000 postdocs, PhD students and other staff working in their research teams. 

The ERC is led by an independent governing body, the Scientific Council. The overall ERC budget from 2014 to 2020 is more than €13 billion, as part of the Horizon 2020 programme.

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