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UCD researchers first in Ireland to receive ERC Synergy Grant for STEM

Posted 25 October, 2022

UCD researchers have become the first in Ireland to be awarded a Synergy Grant for STEM by the (opens in a new window)European Research Council (ERC).

(opens in a new window)Professor Padraig Dunne, from the UCD School of Physics, and the team are among 29 research groups to receive major grants to undertake ambitious projects requiring multiple disciplinary collaborations.

A leading spectroscopist in the area of laser plasma emission and absorption spectroscopy, Professor Dunne will act as one of the Principal Investigators for project ‘HEAVYMETAL’ - which seeks to probe how neutron star mergers create heavy elements.

Remnants of stellar core collapses, neutron stars have extremely strong gravitational fields, high-density matter, and extraordinary electromagnetic field strengths, making them important natural laboratories for fundamental physics. When these stellar bodies merge, a significant mass of neutron-rich matter is expelled, which is visible as a kilonova.

Kilonova science is emerging as a new field in astrophysics, offering an enormous potential for future discoveries in space.

HEAVYMETAL aims to make a big step in explaining these explosions by spectroscopically dissecting kilonovas and connecting them quantitatively to the physical properties of the neutron star merger.

“Since the inception of astrophysics, spectroscopy has made critical contributions to our understanding of remote objects and events in the Universe,” said Professor Dunne.

“Our team in the Spectroscopy Lab at the UCD School of Physics, will use our experience with laser produced plasmas, combined with new and recently developed spectroscopy techniques, to provide fundamental atomic data. The data will make a key contribution to our understanding of Kilonovae and the physics of the formation of the heavy elements.

“One of the nicest aspects of the HEAVYMETAL Synergy award is that we will be working with a diverse team of physicists, each of whom brings something unique, yet essential, to the project. The six-year award gives both the time and the resources to tackle one of the outstanding questions in Astrophysics.”

HEAVYMETAL PIs and host institutions: 

  • Associate Professor Darach Watson, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.  
  • Dr Andreas Bauswein, GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung, Germany.
  • Professor Padraig Dunne, University College Dublin, Ireland.
  • Dr Stuart Sim, Queen’s University, UK.

The HEAVYMETAL team at UCD includes (opens in a new window)Professor Emma Sokell, (opens in a new window)Dr Tom McCormack, (opens in a new window)Dr Fergal O'Reilly and (opens in a new window)Dr Patrick Hayden, with the support of the UCD School of Physics.

As part of project, which received €11.3 million in funding from the ERC, the researchers will work alongside teams in Denmark, Germany and Northern Ireland.

The ERC Synergy grants support small groups of Principal Investigators to jointly address research problems that could not be tackled by the individual principal investigators and their teams working alone.

Almost 360 proposals were submitted in this first ERC Synergy Grant call under the EU’s Horizon Europe programme. The funding, worth in total €295m, will help outstanding researchers bring together complementary skills, knowledge and resources, and create some 1,000 jobs for postdoctoral fellows, PhD students, and other staff in the grantees' research teams.

“The ERC’s trademark is long-term funding to individual top researchers. But some problems are too big for the most outstanding minds to address alone,” said Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.

“These new grants will enable scientists to join forces and follow their curiosity together across disciplinary boundaries. They are set to gain insights that will help us understand the world around us and to face future challenges. Congratulations and good luck to all the grantees!”

Professor Maria Leptin, President of the ERC, added: “I’m happy to see more pioneering researchers funded to focus on ambitious and complex scientific problems that require innovative ways to advance our knowledge.

“It takes the best researchers, each with unique expertise and approaches, to jointly tackle such challenges. The Synergy Grants help to tap into international talent both in Europe and around the world.”

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations (with materials from Emma Loughney, UCD Research and Innovation)