LMU: Three LMU academics awarded ERC grants

Economic historian Davide Cantoni, mathematician Phan Thành Nam, and molecular biologist Nicolai Siegel have each been awarded a Consolidator Grant together with LMU. For Davide Cantoni and Nicolai Siegel, it is already the second ERC grant in their careers. The award comes with funding of up to two million euros for a period of five years. By means of Consolidator Grants, the European Research Council (ERC) helps excellent academics expand and consolidate their innovative research. The basis for the decision of the ERC when awarding the prestigious grant is the academic excellence of the applicant and of the research project.

Prof. Davide Cantoni is an economist and Professor of Economic History at LMU.

As metropolises grew up in the 19th century, their inhabitants faced a series of challenges that are familiar to us today: dealing with the disruptive effects of new technologies, integrating large numbers of new immigrants, and trying to effectively tackle epidemics. In his new ERC project CityRising (The City Rising: Inequality and Mobility in a Growing Metropolis of the 19th Century), Davide Cantoni will investigate how Munich managed these challenges and provided opportunities for economic and social mobility to its dwellers in the period between 1823 and 1914. Based upon a rich, novel archival data that furnishes information at the individual level, the study is divided into three sections. In Part 1, the researchers want to study the consequences of a technological shock — the introduction of mass transportation — on the spatial structure of the city. They will explore the distributional consequences of the agglomeration of residents and economic activity. School attendance data will provide insights into how this reorganization of the city influenced social mobility. In Part 2, Cantoni wants to investigate how members of the long marginalized Jewish population were integrated into the growing city and rose to the ranks of the educated upper middle classes. He will study the conditions that determined occupational specialization and success, and analyze assimilation strategies. In Part 3, the economic historian will show how connection to the water supply and sewerage changed the social geography of the city.

Davide Cantoni studied at the University of Mannheim and the University of California, Berkeley, before completing a doctorate at Harvard University. Since 2011, he has been a professor at LMU. Cantoni has previously received an ERC Starting Grant for a project about the democracy movement in Hong Kong. In 2019, he won the prestigious Gossen Award, which is given to the best economist aged 45 and under in the German-speaking world.

Prof. Phan Thành Nam is Professor of Mathematics at LMU. In his research, he is especially interested in many-body quantum mechanical systems and their properties. In particular, he works on approximation methods for solving Schrödinger equations.

The physical properties of many-body quantum systems are usually described using Schrödinger equations. However, as the complexity of the equations of the famous Austrian physicist grows with extreme rapidity as the number of particles increases, it is generally impossible to solve them with current numerical techniques. Therefore, physicists often use approximation theories in practice. These theories concentrate on just a few collective behaviors of the described systems. Researchers obtain confirmation as to whether the chosen models effectively describe the behavior by means of mathematical analyses. This is where the RAMBAS (Rigorous Approximations for Many-Body Quantum Systems) project from Prof. Phan Thành Nam comes in. The overarching goal of the project, which was recently awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant, is to justify some key effective approximations that are used in many-body quantum physics. The LMU mathematician wants to draw on his expertise in mathematical physics to develop new techniques for understanding corrections of special approximation theories for dilute Bose gases and then apply the findings to Fermi gases via bosonization methods. The goal is to investigate the ground state energy, the excitation spectrum and the many-body quantum dynamics over long timescales so as to derive quantum kinetic equations. With the partial help of new mathematical techniques from the fields of functional analysis, spectral theory, calculus of variations, and partial differential equations, the plan is for RAMBAS to raise standard approximations of quantum systems to the next level and thus provide physicists with new mathematical tools.

Phan Thành Nam studied mathematics and computer science at Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City, before obtaining a master’s degree in applied mathematics at the University of Orléans. In 2011, Phan Thành Nam completed a doctorate at the University of Copenhagen. After research stints in France, Austria, and the Czech Republic he came to LMU in 2017 as Professor of Mathematics.

Prof. Nicolai Siegel (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine/Experimental Parasitology and Biomedical Center/Physiological Chemistry at LMU) is head of the Molecular Parasitology research group. In his research, he is interested in how variability in pathogen populations contributes to the establishment of lasting infections.

The coronavirus pandemic has powerfully illustrated how variability among pathogens can affect the persistence of infections. A certain degree of cell-to-cell variation can help pathogens to evade the host immune response or to adapt to new environments. However, the level of variability is critical, as too much or too little variability can have negative consequences for the pathogen. In his project switchDecoding, Nicolai Siegel plans to elucidate the mechanisms that control variability in pathogen populations. To this end, he will use Trypanosoma brucei, a parasite responsible for sleeping sickness in Sub-Saharan Africa as a model. Here, he will investigate how the parasite repeatedly alters its surface proteins – so-called antigens – to evade the immune defenses of its host. In a multidisciplinary approach, he plans to develop and combine single-cell multi-omics, lineage tracing, and CRISPR-Cas-based genome manipulation strategies in order to characterize the processes, pathways, and molecules that regulate antigen variation in T. brucei. The goal of the project is to better understand how pathogens adapt to their environment and potentially develop resistances. This knowledge should help with the development of new intervention strategies and drugs.

Nicolai Siegel studied biochemistry at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. After completing a doctorate at Rockefeller University in New York, he did postdoc research at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. From 2012, Siegel headed a Young Investigator Group at the ZINF Research Center for Infectious Diseases at the University of Würzburg, before taking on the role of a Professor for Molecular Parasitology at LMU in 2017. He has already received an ERC Starting Grant in 2016.

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