Two Faculty of Mathematics and Physics researchers get ERC grants

Ljubljana, 26 April - Projects led by astrophysicist Maruša Bradač and mathematician Franc Forstnerič, have secured nearly EUR 2.1 million and EUR 1.5 million respectively as part of the European Research Council 2021 Advanced Grants competition. Forstnerič's is Slovenia's first ever maths project to win this prestigious grant.

Ljubljana Faculty of Mathematics and Physics professor Franc Forstnerič.
Photo: Peter Iman/FMF UL

The projects of the two professors from the Ljubljana Faculty of Mathematics and Physics are among 110 picked from 762 applications in the physical sciences and engineering section, the Ljubljana faculty announced on Tuesday.

Bradač received the financing for her Firstlight project, with which she wants to focus on "the early history of the Universe, the time when the first stars and galaxies were created".

"I will use the data obtained by my group with the James Webb Space Telescope. Our group developed one of the most important scientific instruments on this telescope, the NIRISS camera," Bradač explained. Based on these data she will study the dark age when the first galaxies likely reionised the neutral hydrogen and changed space from opaque to transparent for visible light.

Bradač worked until recently as a professor at the University of California. "This ERC Advance Grant enables her to successfully continue her career in Slovenia and establish her own research group collaborating with colleagues from Italy, the US and Canada," the faculty said.

Bradač told the STA that the project would lift the status of the Slovenian research community both with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the next large telescope in Chile. "If Slovenia is able to join these projects, we will have optimal conditions," the researcher said.

Forstnerič, who received the ERC advanced grant for Holomorphic partial differential relations, said the financing would allow him "to focus on research in the next five years and form an international group of researchers, which will be an important thematic extension of the existing group for complex analysis and geometry" in Ljubljana.

Based on a series of breakthrough studies Forstnerič introduced in 2009 a new class of complex manifolds into the literature, called Oka manifolds, whose essential feature is that they allow an abundance of holomorphic mappings from affine complex manifolds, the faculty explained.

"In layman's terms, this is a dichotomy between the results of the existence of solutions for certain problems in complex geometry (flexibility) and their non-existence (rigidity). This has led to significant development of this area over the last decade, and on this basis, the American Mathematical Society in 2020 introduced a new subarea called 'Oka principle and Oka manifolds' into the classification of mathematical areas," the press release adds.

The purpose of the ERC project is to investigate the properties and position of Oka manifolds in the classification of complex manifolds and their connection with a number of other flexibility properties discussed in literature.

Bradač and Forstnerič take the number of researchers from the University of Ljubljana to have received ERC grants, introduced in 2008, to eight.

The university's rector Gregor Majdič congratulated the researchers on the success. "I am proud that Slovenian science is drawing a map of breakthrough successes in Europe, and I am especially pleased that the University of Ljubljana is so successful in this area."