Ghent University: ERC Starting Grants for Ghent University researchers

397 early-career researchers won European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grants; among them four Ghent University researchers: Paul Michael Kurtz with the project PhiSci and Alexandra Simonenko with the project CAUSALITY, Kim Calders with the project SpaceTwin and Thomas Mertens with the project BHHQG.

The projects of the Ghent University Grantees
Digital twins for understanding forest disturbances and recovery from space
Forests worldwide are undergoing large-scale and unprecedented changes in terms of structure and species composition due to anthropogenic disturbances, climate change and other global change drivers. Climate, disturbances and forest structure are all closely linked: changes in climate can lead directly to physical changes in forest structure and vice versa or to an anticipated increase in forest disturbances. However, it is still uncertain how forest structure is impacted by disturbances (locally) and how we can detect and monitor various levels of disturbance regimes using spaceborne satellite data (globally).

With this project SPACETWIN, Kim Calders will focus on the impact of drought, fire and logging disturbances across a range of tropical and temperate forest ecosystems. He will use radiative transfer and earth observation (proximal & remote sensing) methods, with a strong focus on 3D and 4D monitoring of structural dynamics of these forests. It will lead to a step-change in our ability to observe, quantify and understand forest disturbances and recovery by using time series of the most detailed structural and radiometric 3D forest models ever built: ‘digital twin’ forests. The innovations within this project will open a realm of untapped research questions and applications that call for the most detailed 3D information on canopy structure possible. The anticipated outcomes of SPACETWIN are also urgently needed to reduce uncertainties and advance the forecasting of carbon stocks and dynamics within the context of the IPCC.

Black Hole Horizons in Quantum Gravity
Black holes are some of the most mysterious objects in our universe, that have only recently been observed astronomically in spectacular fashion. Yet, we do not even in principle understand their inner workings. In particular, puzzles surrounding Hawking’s black hole information paradox such as “What happens as we fall through the event horizon?“ or “How precisely does the initial information come out after the black hole evaporates?” are largely left unanswered in our current understanding of quantum gravity. In BHHQG, the project of Thomas Mertens, this problem will be tackled by studying holographic models of lower-dimensional gravity. Within this set-up, a specific model of gravity (the so-called JT model) has been constructed and very recently solved exactly at the quantum level, which is unprecedented for any gravitational model. In this project, we will leverage this knowledge towards understanding black hole horizons and the black hole information paradox. Our approach is two-pronged: (i) we directly study the JT model itself to concretely address some of the questions above, and (ii) we probe the universality of the methods and results by embedding the JT model within an entire family of solvable models. Armed with these results, we aim to extrapolate to higher dimensions and to our physical universe.

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