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Three early career researchers at the University of Birmingham have been awarded 2020 European Research Council Starting Grants to tackle some of the biggest scientific questions of our time.

The funding, worth in total €677 million has been awarded to 436 laureates at universities and research centres across Europe. The fund is designed to help these early-career scientists and scholars to build their own teams and conduct pioneering research across all disciplines. The grants are part of the EU’s Research and Innovation programme, Horizon 2020.

The three University of Birmingham laureates are:

Dr Davide Gerosa, School of Physics and Astronomy

Dr Gerosa is leading an ambitious programme to use data-mining techniques to explore catalogues of thousands of gravitational wave events that will soon be available for scientific exploration. Called GWmining, the programme will develop a framework to analyse this data in exquisite detail, enabling scientists to make ever more detailed and accurate predictions and observations about some of the most extraordinary events in our Universe.

Dr Matt Nicholl, School of Physics and Astronomy

The KilonovaRank (KRANK) project, led by Dr Nicholl also aims to harness the power of big data in exploring large cosmic events. Dr Nicholl will be drawing together data from the Vera Rubin Observatory Legacy Survey of Space and Time, together with data from the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave detectors and developing techniques to find the most energetic and extreme collisions, disruptions and explosions. The aim is to explore the fates of massive stars, the origins of the biggest black holes, and the sources of the heaviest chemical elements.

Dr Richard Montgomery, School of Mathematics

Dr Montgomery will be developing new techniques and methods to address major challenges in the field of graph theory. This highly active mathematical field has strong links to theoretical computer science and optimisation, for example, through the development of efficient algorithms. In particular, Dr Montgomery will be focusing on long-standing problems concerning spanning subgraphs, which are important in probabilistic and extremal graph theory.

Professor Stephen Jarvis, Head of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, said: “I am delighted that the University of Birmingham has been so successful in this year’s European Research Council Starting Grants competition. ERC awards recognise some of Europe’s most talented researchers, and provide them with the resource to accelerate areas of significant human endeavour. Birmingham is recognised internationally for research in gravitational wave events and extremal combinatorics, and underpinning these new projects we see the fusion of these topics with rapidly developing areas of science, including data analytics and data mining. We look forward to seeing pioneering results from each of these projects.“

President of the European Research Council (ERC), Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, commented: “The present health crisis showed that despite spectacular progress in research over the past decades, there still remain plenty of unsolved scientific mysteries, as well as lessons to be learnt from the past. Therefore, the best strategy to tackle it is to enable some of the brightest minds to pursue their most innovative ideas, in order to create opportunities for serendipitous discoveries. This is what the European Research Council is for. It’s clear that, if Europe is to be competitive globally, it needs to give excellent prospects to the next generation of researchers as these ERC Starting Grants do, and to invest much more in top blue sky research.”

The grantees are a diverse group with 40 different nationalities, based in 25 countries across Europe, with Germany (88 grants), the UK (62), the Netherlands (42) and France (38) as top locations. Some 13% of applications were selected for funding in this round.

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