08.04.2016 change 08.04.2016

ERC Grant for Polish researcher to study the expansion of the Universe

Photo: Fotolia Photo: Fotolia

Astronomer Prof. Grzegorz Pietrzyński received the prestigious Advanced Grant of the European Council (ERC) worth almost 2.4 million euros. The scientist wants to more accurately determine the rate of expansion of the universe.

Prof. Pietrzyński is associated with the University of Warsaw Astronomical Observatory. The research funded by the ERC, however, will be conducted at the Polish Academy of Sciences, where he will start his project in April. The University of Warsaw informed about obtaining the grant and the details of the project.

Prof. Pietrzyński will use the grant to carry out the research project "A sub-percent of the distance scale from binaries and Cepheids". The main objective of the project is to determine the Hubble parameter with unprecedented 1 percent accuracy. The Hubble parameter determines the expansion rate of the universe. Knowledge of the precise value of the rate at which our universe expands is crucial in understanding its nature.

With the discovery of the accelerated expansion of the universe (Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011) scientists confirmed the existence of dark energy, which accounts for about 70 percent energy of the universe. Precise value of the Hubble parameter is necessary in order to study the nature of dark matter and understand the evolution of our universe.

To determine the Hubble parameter, measurements of distances to very distant objects should be performed. To accomplish this, astronomers use various methods. The most accurate of them allow to measure the distances to nearby objects. Based on such measurements they calibrate secondary distance indicators, which in turn allow to calibrate the far-reaching methods for measuring the distance to the farthest corners of the universe. The result is called the cosmic distance ladder. It turns out that the most difficult step in the arduous and extremely difficult studies is the precise calibration of the first rung of the ladder - the distance to nearby galaxies.

Prof. Grzegorz Pietrzyński and his team will try to determine the precise value of the Hubble parameter by performing extremely precise measurements to nearby galaxies using two methods: Cepheids and eclipsing binary stars. Previous research of Prof. Pietrzyński allowed to determine the distance to the Large Magellanic Cloud with 2.2 percent accuracy. This is currently the strongest basis for determining the Hubble parameter with about 3 percent accuracy. In the ERC project it is planned to determine the distance to a few nearby galaxies with approximately 1 percent accuracy, which will allow for the measurement of Hubble\'s with unprecedented 1 percent accuracy.

Partner institutions of the project are the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France and Universidad de Concepcion in Chile.

The ERC grants funding for three major types of projects lasting up to 5 years. Starting Grant (up 1.5 million euros) is for researchers from 2 to 7 years after obtaining doctoral degree, Consolidator Grant (up to 2 million euros) - for scientists from 7 to 12 years after doctorate, and Advanced Grants (up to 2.5 million euros) is awarded to accomplished scientists who conduct their own research. In addition, scientists who have already won a grants from the ERC can apply for a Proof of Concept grant (up to 150 thousand euros) to develop their ideas for market needs.

Over the seven years of the EU\'s 7th Framework Programme (2007-2013), scientists working in Poland won only 14 of 4.5 thousand large ERC grants and one Proof of Concept grant. In the new Framework Programme, Horizon 2020, the Poles so far have won five large grants (including Prof. Pietrzyński) and one Proof of Concept grant. Scientists associated with the University of Warsaw win most ERC grants in Poland. 12 ERC grant winners are associated with the university.

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