Published: 01 October 2013

Major European research grant for Surrey astrophysicist

Chair of Surrey’s newly founded astrophysics group, Professor Mark Gieles has secured a prestigious Starting Grant from the ERC to fund research that will shed light on the evolution of the Milky Way and its globular clusters.

Competition for European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grants is fierce: only nine per cent of applications succeed in securing a grant, which can be worth up to two million Euros. The aim of these grants is to "support up-and-coming research leaders who are about to establish a proper research team and to start conducting independent research in Europe."

The research project conducted by Professor Gieles, entitled "Galaxy evolution through the eyes of globular clusters", will address the origin of the Milky Way and its globular clusters. These are systems containing several hundred thousand stars that are almost as old as the Universe and – therefore – carry important information about the formation and evolution of the Milky Way itself.

Over the next five years, Professor Gieles and his research team will perform detailed computer simulations of the evolution of these systems. The novelty is that the models will be linked to models of the evolving Milky Way, which are also being developed at the University of Surrey. The results will be compared to data of the ESA-Gaia satellite, which will be launched in November this year and will measure distances and velocities of a billion stars in the Milky Way in coming decade.

"The formation and evolution of the Milky Way is an extremely complicated problem, and this ERC project will contribute by trying to understand the mysterious globular clusters," says Professor Gieles.

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