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Two ERC Advanced Grants for Dutch astronomers

Published: Mon, 30/03/2020
Erwin de Blok (l) and Leon Koopmans (r) received an ERC Advanced Grant.

Two Dutch astronomers each receive an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). They are Prof. Erwin de Blok from ASTRON (2.5 million euros) and Groningen Prof. Léon Koopmans (3.5 million euros).

Erwin de Blok (left photo) leads the ERC program MeerGas: Finding the Origin of Gas in Galaxies with MeerKAT. He wants to trace the origin of neutral hydrogen gas in galaxies. Neutral hydrogen is the gas from which the stars are formed in galaxies. Most galaxies, however, contain only enough gas to form stars for just a fraction of their life. This means they have to get gas from somewhere else. Computer simulations suggest that this gas is located in the space between the galaxies and is slowly captured by the galaxies. The radio emission from this gas is very faint and has therefore never been unambiguously observed.

De Blok's group wants to detect this gas with extremely sensitive radio observations from the new MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa. MeerKAT is a precursor telescope of the future Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in South Africa and Australia, in which the Netherlands is a partner. MeerGas will also use and develop new techniques with which the large data volumes that MeerKAT will produce can be efficiently analysed. The research program will help prepare for the even larger amount of data that the SKA will produce.

Léon Koopmans (right photo) receives the European grant for his program CoDEX: The Final 21 cm Cosmology Frontier. With this program he wants to observe the extremely weak radiation of neutral hydrogen from the time when the universe was less than a billion years old. This radiation contains detailed information about the first stars, galaxies, black holes and fundamental physics.

Koopmans and his team will make these observations with the Dutch Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR), the New Extension in Nançay Upgrading LOFAR (NenuFAR) and the Netherlands-China Low-Frequency Explorer (NCLE), which is on board a Chinese satellite that is behind the moon. Within CoDEX, the computing infrastructure, algorithms and software needed to analyse the many petabytes of data that these telescopes will generate in the coming years (and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in the future) will be developed.

The European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant is awarded on the basis of both the applicant's scientific excellence and the research proposal.

Erwin de Blok is a staff astronomer at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) and is also affiliated with the Kapteyn Institute of the University of Groningen. He is an Honorary Professor at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Léon Koopmans is professor of astronomy at the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute of the University of Groningen (and as of 13 April 2020 also scientific director of the institute) and chairman of the Science Advisory Committee of ASTRON.