ERC grants for astrophysics and physical biology researchers

The European Research Council is awarding ERC Advanced Grants to two researchers at Uppsala University: Susanne Höfner, professor of theoretical astrophysics, and Johan Elf, professor of physical biology.

A total of 185 Principal Investigators, nationals of 26 countries, will share the total of EUR 450 million to be awarded in this year’s round of ERC Advanced Grants. The awards form part of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

The countries awarded the most grants are Germany (35), the United Kingdom (34) and France (21). Altogether, Swedish higher education institutions are to receive six awards, and of these two are going to Uppsala University.

Winds from Red Giant Stars

Susanne Höfner, Professor of Theoretical

Astrophysics. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

Susanne Höfner, Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics, receives 2 456 383 Euro (around 27 million SEK) to the project EXWINGS (EXplaining the WINds of cool Giant and Supergiant stars with global 3D models). In the project, winds from red giant stars and super giants will be explained with new global 3D computer simulations.

– We will produce a new type of models: global dynamical star-and-wind-in-a-box simulations. For the first time, it will be possible to follow the flow of matter, in full 3D geometry, all the way from the turbulent, pulsating interior of a cool giant, through its atmosphere and dust formation zone in to the region where the wind is accelerated. Extending our unique approach to the warmer, more luminous red supergiant stars, we will explore which mechanisms drive their still enigmatic winds, says Susanne Höfner.

The results of project EXWINGS will contribute to understanding stellar and galactic chemical evolution, and tracing the origin of building blocks for terrestrial planets.

– We can test our new models against the latest observations and produce results which may be used directly in research on the evolution of stars, says Susanne Höfner.

Dynamic processes in bacterial cells

Johan Elf, professor of physical biology.

Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

Johan Elf, professor of physical biology, will receive EUR 2,411,410 (approx. SEK 26.5m) for his BIGGER (Biophysics In Gene regulation – a GEnome-wide appRoach) project. His research group, Elf Lab, studies dynamic processes in bacteria cells, using sensitive optical methods and quantitative models. In the past few years, the scientists have developed a new method of investigating complicated processes in large cell libraries.

“Our aim is to explore the dynamic structure of a chromosome in a living cell, with high temporal and spatial resolution. We address the general question of whether the chromosome is merely a one-dimensional storage unit for genetic information or whether the physical structure of a gene, too, is important for its expression. We also want to investigate the apparently simple question of how a cell ‘decides’ when it’s time to start replicating its own DNA ahead of the next cell division,” Elf says.

This will be the third time Johan Elf receives an award from the ERC: he has previously been awarded both an ERC Starting Grant (in 2007) and an ERC Consolidator Grant (2014).

“These grants have enabled us to venture on tackling very difficult research questions that have called for complicated, time-consuming methodological development,” Elf says.

Facts ERC grants

  • Every year, the European Research Council (ERC) selects and finances the best, most creative researchers of all nationalities and ages to run projects based in Europe. The ERC offers four central grant schemes: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy Grants.
  • The ERC Advanced Grant is awarded well established top researchers who are scientifically independent and whose research results show that they are leading within their field of research.

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