The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded Starting Grants to the following researchers at the Faculty of Science: Dr Miranda Cheng (IoP and KdVI), Dr Anna Watts (API) and Dr Shimon Whiteson (IvI). With a value of €1.5 million, this European grant is intended to enable promising academic researchers to form their own research teams.
Dr Miranda Cheng of the Institute of Physics (IoP) and the Korteweg de Vries Institute (KdVI) has been awarded €1,440,000 for her proposal: Moonshine and String Theory.
In her ERC project Miranda Cheng will investigate the mysterious relation between physical aspects of string theory and some of the largest discrete symmetries in mathematics. This fascinating relation, called "umbral moonshine", was discovered several years ago by Miranda Cheng and is widely regarded as one of the most important breakthroughs in string theory. The goal of her ERC project is to find a mathematical proof for this relation, and to use this for furthering the insight in the underlying symmetries in string theory.
Dr A. Watts of the Astronomical Institute Anton Pannekoek (IAP) has been awarded €1,500,000 for her proposal: CSI Neutron Star: The physics and forensics of neutron star explosions.
Astronomer Anna Watts and her team will be conducting 'forensic physics' to explain explosions on neutron stars. The matter inside the core of neutron stars (what is left after a massive star explodes in a supernova) can be as much as ten times as dense as the core of a basic atomic nucleus. Though the physics are not yet well understood, theories predict a gamut of exotic explanations. Watts will be measuring the mass and radius of neutron stars as a means to ascertain their mysterious composition.
Dr Shimon Whiteson of the Informatics Institute (IvI) has been awarded €1,500,000 for his proposal: Coevolutionary Policy Search.
Shimon Whiteson and his team will be devising new algorithms that exploit the principle of coevolution in order to simultaneously optimise control policies and the way in which they are evaluated on the basis of rare events. The resulting methods will be applied to realistic problems in the areas of robot control and information retrieval. To enable intelligent systems such as robots and search engines to operate autonomously, algorithms are needed that can automatically discover high-performing control policies for those systems. In many cases, however, evaluations of candidate policies' performance are complicated by the presence of rare events whose effect on that performance is difficult to measure.
ERC Starting Grants aim to support researchers to establish their own independent research teams or programmes.