ERC advanced awards: SOMMa members reap their harvest

  • 222 ERC advanced grants awarded on Friday 29th March, summing a total of 540 Million Euro
  • Four of the ten grants to Spanish proposals were awarded to SOMMa members
  • SOMMa members research areas are quantum technologies, atmospheric dynamics and the very early origins of matter along with elusive mathematical model

The ERC awards

The European Research Council (ERC),  launched in the year 2007, is the most important European funding organisation for outstanding, ground-breaking research. Every year it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age to run projects based in Europe. To accomplish that objective, it has three core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants and Advanced Grants.

In the last ERC Advanced call, 222 researchers based in Europe were granted a project to contribute to major breakthroughs in scientific research. Of the 2,052 proposals submitted, only close to 11% were selected for funding. The countries eligible for ERC funding include those in the whole European Union, plus a number of associated countries. The ERC announced the recipients of its Advanced Grants competition on Friday, March the 29th. €540 million worth of funds are to be unlocked to allow the awardees to explore their most daring research ideas.

Spanish science has obtained its share of these prestigious and very competitive European grants. This has included a number of institutions linked to several Spanish universities and to the CSIC, as well as to SOMMa. The awards of this year include three SOMMa members, with a total of four ERC Advanced grants.

Developing quantum technologies: ICFO

The Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) has been awarded not one, but up to two of these grants. Its researchers Profs. Antonio Acín and Maciej Lewenstein, both ICREA researchers, have been awarded each an ERC Advanced Grant. For both of them, it is not the first time, a testimony to their long-standing excellent research.

The research of Prof. Acín, entitled “Certification of quantum technologies” (CERQUTE) aims to provide the tools to achieve quantum certification. In a quantum computational system, this would ensure that it remains entangled, random, secure, and that it performs computations correctly. CERQUTE goes to the heart of the fundamental question of what distinguishes quantum from classical physics, and will provide the concepts and protocols necessary for the certification of quantum phenomena and technologies.

Quantum computation and technologies require a different paradigm of certification and security technologies
Quantum computation and technologies require a different paradigm of certification and security technologies

The project of Prof. Lewenstein, “NOvel Quantum simulators – connectIng Areas” (NOQIA) is a theoretical project aiming at introducing knowledge from other well-established research fields into new areas of application. It will leverage the expertise in quantum simulators, topological effects in physics or in quantum validation and certification. The new horizons opened will provide opportunities for research in the fields of machine learning and neural networks, largely used in many computational tasks. Attophysics, a discipline whose primary aim is to provide insights into the dynamics of electrons in molecules, will also benefit of the research.

Understanding atmospheric dynamics: ICTA

The Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) had also one of its researchers awarded. Prof. Antoni Rosell-Melé aims to develop the project “New geochemical approach to reconstruct tropical palaeo-atmospheric dynamics” (PALADYN). His project aims at investigating the natural range of variability of the Hadley cell wind circulation system during past episodes of extreme warmth and cold.

The Hadley cell wind circulation has very relevant repercussions in the climate of tropical and subtropical areas
The Hadley cell wind circulation has very relevant repercussions in the climate of tropical and subtropical areas

The Hadley cell, or Hadley circulation, is a global scale tropical atmospheric wind circulation transporting air from the Equator, at heights of 10-15 km above the Earth surface, towards subtropical areas. This circulation is involved into creating several meteorology phenomena, including the occurrence of tropical rain-belts, hurricanes or subtropical deserts as the Kalahari Desert or the Australian Great Sandy Desert. This research will shed light into how natural and anthropogenic factors influence these processes. In a time in which climate change and its effects has become an ever-increasing global concern, this research will have growing relevance.

Researching the early matter of the universe: IGFAE

The last of the projects directly awarded to SOMMa members was granted to Prof. Carlos Salgado, director of the Galician Institute of High-Energy Physics (IGFAE). His project, “Yoctosecond imaging of QCD collectivity using jet observables” (YoctoLHC) addresses fundamental aspects of the study of matter. It directs its attention to a state of matter known as quark-gluon plasma, which was the state of the matter of the universe only a few millionths of a second after the Big Bang. The project involves studying basic aspects of the formation of that state of matter, with the use of particle accelerators.

Suring some of the first instants after the Big Bang, the state of matter was that of quark-gluon plasma, now object of study.
Suring some of the first instants after the Big Bang, the state of matter was that of quark-gluon plasma, now object of study.

Some of the properties of the quark-gluon plasma are known after two decades of intense experimental study: its extremely low viscosity, as well as the fact that its temperature is hundreds of thousands of times higher than that inside the sun. Nonetheless, the physical mechanisms explaining how the quark-gluon plasma is so quickly formed from its constituent protons and neutrons remains elusive. The novel use of a technique mapping the very first instants (a few ioctoseconds) of the elementary particle collisions will allow to understand better how complexity arises from the most fundamental particles existing in nature.

An international collaboration: ICMAT with Finland

A fifth project, formally granted to researchers in Finland, is co-led by a SOMMa member, the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (CSIC-ICMAT), along with the Finnish Aalto University and University of Helsinki. The project, called “Quasiconformal Methods in Analysis and Applications” (QUAMAP) is directed by Kari Astala (Aalto University and CSIC-ICMAT), Daniel Faraco and Keith Rogers (CSIC-ICMAT) and Xiao Zhong (University of Helsinki). This is one of the only nine projects in mathematics granted in the recently resolved ERC Advanced call.

The project will develop tools for models that arise from physics’ mathematics. In particular, aspects of quantum mechanics, fluid mechanics, medicine tomography or materials science. The models that will be addressed are at the frontiers of current knowledge. To analyse them, the application of knowledge and tools from areas such as conformal geometry and non-linear Fourier analysis will be necessary. A central physical-mathematical model studied in the project is that of non-linear elasticity. Understanding its fine structure entails answering deep, complex mathematical questions, as the Morrey conjecture, a mathematical puzzle postulated in the 50’s, but yet unanswered.

Even more Spanish grantees:

In addition to the SOMMa grantees, other Spanish researchers managed to secure the funding of ERC advanced grants. Subjects as research in luminescent devices (University of Valencia), metal ion-linked catalytic molecules (Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia), cognitive computing (Polytechnic University of Catalonia), plant growth strategies (Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Centre), ocular implants (Institute of Optics) or marine bacterial interactions (Institute of Marine Sciences).

These and all the awardees share the exceptionality of their research and the leadership in their fields. The development of original, bold and sound research lines led by them will benefit the scientific community, and in the longer term, society at large. We wish them success in the endeavour. May their research open even more prospects for future science, to the benefit of society.

Image credits:

Cryptography and binary code image was downloaded and modified from Torange and licensed via an Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

Hadley cell diagram was downloaded from Wikimedia commons and licensed via an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license.

Big Bang picture was downloaded from Pixabay and is in the public domain.