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The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded a Starting Grant to six researchers from the University of Amsterdam (UvA).

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A Starting Grant is a personal grant of about 1.5 million euros and provides research support to talented researchers for a period of five years. 

The recipients

Philippe Corboz
Philippe Corboz

Dr Philippe Corboz (Institute of Physics, IoP): Accurate Simulations of Strongly Correlated Systems with Tensor Network Methods.

One of the key challenges in condensed matter physics is to understand the remarkable phenomena emerging in systems of strongly interacting electrons. Examples include high-temperature superconductivity, which is still one of the biggest unsolved problems, or exotic states of matter with topological order (quantum spin liquids). Philippe Corboz will develop and apply novel computational tools based on ideas from quantum information theory, so-called tensor network methods, to shed new light on the physics of these systems. More particularly, he will focus on gaining a quantitative understanding of the phases in high-temperature superconductors and in materials with ‘frustrated’ interactions.

Jean-Michel Desert (API)
Jean-Michel Desert

Dr Jean-Michel Desert (Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy, API): Exploring the Plurality of New Worlds: Their Origins, Climate and Habitability.

Desert will leverage exoplanet detections, as well as our growing observational capabilities and ever refining theoretical frameworks, to deepen and broaden our understanding of planet formation and planetary physics and examine exoplanets’ habitability. He will hereby study exoplanets that – observed from earth – circle in front of their host stars and consequently cause an eclipse. Some of the questions Desert will seek to answer include: what is the origin of the respective exoplanet? What is the climate like? And is the planet habitable? Desert will use space and ground-based telescopes, including the new James Web space telescope (the successor to the Hubble telescope). His research will form the first comprehensive, comparative exoplanetology programme and will estimate the impact and role of stellar activity on the exoplanet’s potential habitability. 

Floris Roelofsen (ILLC)
Floris Roelofsen

Dr Floris Roelofsen (Institute for Logic, Language and Computation, ILLC): QuModQu Quantification and Modality in the Realm of Questions.

Roelofsen will develop a logical framework in which the meaning of both statements and questions can be captured in a uniform and integrated way. A prototype of this framework, recently developed by Roelofsen together with fellow-researchers Ivano Ciardelli – who has played an important role in the development of the research proposal and will play a prominent role in the project as a postdoctoral research – and Jeroen Groenendijk, has already led to various applications in linguistics, philosophy and cognitive science. The prototype, however, only specifies some very basic operations on meanings like disjunction (or) and conjunction (and). Roelofsen will investigate more complex operations, expressed by quantifiers and modal verbs. While the role of such operations in statements is understood quite well, their role in question semantics remains largely mysterious. 

Heleen Slagter (Brain and Cognition)
Heleen Slagter

Dr Heleen Slagter (Brain & Cognition, Department of Psychology): PERCEPT: The Mind’s Eye: How Expectation and Attention Shape Perception.

Our brain can be viewed as a prediction machine that continuously tries to predict what the world likely looks like based on past experience. As a result, our past strongly colours our perception of the world. Slagter will examine how predictions are implemented in the brain and influence our perception. She will hereby assume that an important role is played by the basal ganglia, a cluster of nuclei deep within the brain. In addition, she will examine whether it is possible to turn off the predictive brain – and thereby the influence of past experiences – so that the world can be seen in an unbiased manner.

Ivan Titov (ILLC)
Ivan Titov

Dr Ivan Titov (Institute for Logic, Language and Computation, ILLC): BROADSEM: Induction of Broad-Coverage Semantic Parsers.

Titov will develop new methods for recovering meaning representations of texts (called semantic parsing). The lack of accurate semantic parsers is the key bottleneck for many natural language processing applications such as question answering, machine translation or information retrieval. For example, accurate broad-coverage semantic parsers would make it possible for a machine to read a collection of texts and answer questions about its content. The goal of Titov's project is to devise new algorithms for inducing statistical semantic parsers primarily from large amounts of text on the Web.

Wouter Waalewijn
Wouter Waalewijn

Dr Wouter Waalewijn (Institute of Physics, IoP): MULTISCALE: Precision Multi-Scale Predictions for the LHC: Higgs, Jets and Supersymmetry.

Waalewijn’s goal is to improve the theoretical description of collisions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). To find a faint new physics signal, precise descriptions as well as sophisticated experimental techniques are needed. Waalewijn will develop a theoretical method that reconciles these competing demands by including the relevant physical sub-processes that take place at various length scales. The LHC was instrumental in the discovery of the Higgs Boson. One of the central goals now is to measure the Higgs properties more precisely, as this could be the key to unlocking new physics. Waalewijn will investigate the combined effect of experimental techniques on theoretical predictions, which should lead to a more precise and more detailed description of the collision than is currently possible. He recently demonstrated its feasibility with a prototype.