The 2018 Leonardo Grants fund 64 highly innovative personal projects in 11 areas of science and cultural creation

The selected projects address topics ranging from how climate change is affecting species extinction to the development of a personalized exoskeleton to restore the mobility of spinal injury patients; from a study of over 500 love letters penned by women in Spain’s Golden Age to an art installation exploring the relationship between humans and robots. The profiles of the 64 new awardees are now available for viewing on the Leonardo Fellowship Network website.

20 July, 2018

The manufacture of windows capable of producing electrical energy from sunlight; the development of personalized exoskeletons adapted to the specific needs of spinal injury patients; the application of the CRISPR gene-editing technique to the study of leukemia; an investigation into the relationship between climate change and species extinction; a neuroscientific study on the cerebral connectivity patterns and cognitive profile of the perpetrators of gender violence; a historical analysis of over 500 love letters written by women in Spain’s Golden Age; an interactive installation representing the relationship between human beings and robots… This is just a small sample of the compelling personal projects that will now become reality thanks to the 64 new Leonardo Grants awarded by the BBVA Foundation in the fifth edition of its funding scheme for researchers and cultural practitioners in the mid-stage of their careers.

The 2018 Leonardo Grants for Researchers and Cultural Creators have been decided in 11 categories: Basic Sciences; Biology and Environmental and Earth Sciences; Biomedicine; Information and Communication Technologies; Engineering and Architecture; Economics and Social Sciences; Communication and Information Sciences; Humanities; Plastic Arts and Digital Art; Music and Opera; and Literary Creation and Theater.

The collectives addressed, the wide spectrum of knowledge areas contemplated, and the freedom and flexibility recipients enjoy in implementing their personal projects are all distinctive features of the Leonardo Grants scheme which set it apart from the standard model employed in Spain for funding research and cultural creation.

The recipients – aged from 30 to 45 – are at an intermediate stage in their careers and form part of the fabric that sustains our country’s research and creative system. Together they form a rich mosaic of personalities and projects reflecting the multiple perspectives and creative forces that cumulatively drive forward science and culture.

The name of the scheme conjures the spirit of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) as a universal symbol of the passion for knowledge, the opening-up and exploration of new fields, and fruitful dialogue and feedback between the domains of the natural and life sciences, technology, the humanities and the arts.

The Leonardo Grants were established to support the realization of personal projects that innovatively tackle multiple challenges in scientific and humanistic research and cultural creation. Their goal is to contribute to the generation of knowledge in its widest sense, from basic research and the development of technological applications to philosophical speculation and artistic reflection. As such, they combine the solving of practical problems with the broader quest to enlarge our mental horizons through the efforts of researchers and artists who, from diverse angles, contribute to the enrichment of society by advancing the frontiers of the known world.

This is both an open and highly competitive call. Around 1,521 applications were received in the present edition, spread across eleven areas of science and culture which are all accorded identical importance. Each area is judged by an evaluation committee formed by reputed, independent experts, who arrive at their decisions giving equal weight to applicants’ career achievements, by reference to the metrics of excellence applied in each field, and the interest and originality of the project put forward.

Awardees in this edition have an average age of just over 38, with only Communication and Information Sciences registering an average above 40. The “youngest” categories were Information and Communication Technologies and the Humanities, where recipients’ average age was 35.

By gender, the overall share-out of grants was 40 for men and 24 for women, albeit with considerable disparity across categories. In some like Biomedicine, Biology and Environmental and Earth Sciences, Information and Communication Technologies and Plastic Arts and Digital Art, the proportion was closer to parity (3 men, 2 women). Men clearly predominated in, for instance, Basic Sciences, with seven male recipients to one female, while in others areas, like Communication and Information Sciences, the reverse was true (4 women, 1 man).

Awardees’ employment situation is consistent with the mid-career stage targeted by the grant program: 17 are university professors, tenured, assistant, visiting and others; 18 are tenured researchers (5 on the Ramón y Cajal program); 5 are postdoctoral fellows (4 on the Juan de la Cierva program), and 3 are tenured scientists. Among the recipients in the cultural creation categories are 6 writers, 5 artists and two conservatory professors.

Geographically, 56% of recipients had their work center in the regions with the largest concentration of universities and research institutions – the Madrid Region (26.5%), Catalonia (17%) and the Basque Country (12.5%) – followed by the Valencia Region (10.9%), and Andalusia, Aragón and Castilla-León, with 6.2% each.

A network of excellence

The 64 beneficiaries in this latest call will enlarge the Leonard Fellowship Network to a total of 305 researchers and creative practitioners, all of them individually funded by the BBVA Foundation since 2014. The average profile of the members of this community of excellence is that of a 40-year-old individual, with ample experience abroad, who at the time of applying was not enjoying stable employment due to the adverse labor market circumstances prevailing for some years.

With its Leonardo Grants the BBVA Foundation has helped further the careers of this network of researchers and creators from a wide range of disciplines, who are addressing multiple facets of complex questions with highly innovative personal projects.

Members of the Leonardo Fellowship Network, which has a microsite under its own domain name (https://www.redleonardo.es/) [Spanish only] within the BBVA Foundation digital space, are already making major contributions in their respective areas, thanks largely to the support received. Their projects range across a variety of subjects, forming a vibrant scientific and cultural mosaic that both enriches and empowers society: from the protection of the natural environment to the improved understanding and treatment of serious diseases, the analysis of massive, complex data using advanced Big Data techniques, music composition, literary creation and the recovery of musical heritage items. For many, forming part of the group distinguished with a highly competitive grant has meant a chance to consolidate their professional experience, to take on the end-to-end management of a project for the very first time, and to make a leap forward in their careers and contribution to society.