Research and innovation

Pioneering research wins prestigious EU funding

Ambitious projects in the fields of astronomy, nuclear astrophysics and medicine are to be supported by highly coveted research awards.

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Three European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grants will enable experts to further develop their ideas and theories, which could lead to scientific developments.

Outstanding achievement

Two of this year’s successful applicants are from the School of Physics and Astronomy, with a third awardee from the Centre for Cardiovascular Science.

Academics will use their funds to form teams of postdoctoral and PhD researchers to help them pursue their projects.

Experimental astrophysics

Professor Marialuisa Aliotta’s research focuses on experimental nuclear astrophysics, specifically on the investigation of nuclear reactions that occur in stars and govern their lifetimes and evolution.

Her ERC grant will be used to tackle three long-standing questions in astrophysics: the cosmological lithium problem (a discrepancy between observed and the theoretical abundance of lithium in the oldest visible stars), the formation of the elements in the earliest stars formed after the Big Bang, and the ‘electron screening puzzle’ born from the many discrepancies found in nuclear astrophysics experiments.

Despite appearing to be unrelated, these questions may all be reconciled by the quantum effect of nuclear clustering, namely the ability of protons and neutrons to form tightly bound configurations inside nuclei and which can enhance fusion probabilities in stars.  

By adopting a complementary approach of experimental, theoretical, and computational effort, Professor Aliotta and her team will seek to break new ground in clarifying the role and strength of this effect with implications for nuclear physics, cosmology and astrophysics.

I am delighted to have been awarded this ERC grant and very much look forward to collaborating with leading experts in my team towards tackling some of the most intriguing issues of modern nuclear astrophysics.

Professor Marialuisa AliottaProfessor of Experimental Nuclear Astrophysics, School of Physics and Astronomy

Galaxy formation

Professor Annette Ferguson’s research examines how galaxies form and evolve through observational analyses of their structures, movements and composition of stars. Her primary focus is on nearby spiral galaxies, which resemble our own Milky Way.

Her award will progress understanding of how galaxies assemble through conducting in-depth studies of their faint outer regions.

These remote areas contain valuable information about galaxy formation but they have been difficult to view using standard telescopes, due to their extreme faintness.

Now the European Space Agency’s powerful satellite Euclid and the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, will leverage new and forthcoming data enabling Professor Ferguson’s team to search galaxy outskirts for ancient stars and the ghostly remnants of destroyed dwarf galaxies.

The findings will be compared to state-of-the-art computer simulations to aid understanding of galaxy formation.

Tissue remodelling

Professor Andrew Baker’s research analyses the mechanisms that control damage to the heart and how to influence repair and regeneration of the cardiovascular system using innovative therapies, including gene-, cell- and RNA-based approaches.

His grant will support further development of a gene therapy approach to preventing and reversing complex vascular remodelling following acute cardiovascular events.

The three awards are part of an overall Advanced Grants package – worth €652 million – as part of the EU’s Horizon Europe programme.

Congratulations to the 255 researchers who will receive grants to follow their scientific instinct in this new funding round. I am particularly happy to see more mid-career scientists amongst the Advanced Grant winners this time. I hope that it will encourage more researchers at this career stage to apply for these grants.

Professor Maria Leptin President of the European Research Council 

Related links

School of Physics and Astronomy   

Centre for Cardiovascular Science 

European Research Council (ERC)