By Lucy Goodchild and Colin Smith
Tuesday 4 May 2010
Developing a theory to predict the effect of environmental change on ecosystems and using a new kind of physics to give microchips more memory are two of the aims of four new European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grants awarded to researchers at Imperial College London.
Imperial’s four ERC Advanced Grants, worth over €7.5 million (£6.5m) altogether, will fund important and high quality research across the College. Scientists working in the areas of physics , mathematics , biology and engineering will be tackling some of today’s big issues, such as data storage and the effects of climate change.
Understanding ecology and evolution
Professor Tim Coulson , from the Department of Life Sciences, will be working on a theory that joins together ecology and evolution. For example, for a type of ground squirrel called a marmot, environmental change has led to an increase in both population size and in the average size of the animal. Biologists frequently observe these simultaneous changes, but they are difficult to predict.
Professor Coulson will use his ERC Advanced Grant, of more than €2 million, to develop a new theory in order to better predict the consequences of environmental change on natural populations. He will then test the theory using data from laboratory and field studies.
“I’m interested in this area because it is challenging, because it is big picture science and because it is a little contentious. I think it is necessary to challenge existing paradigms when they clearly are inadequate to answer a specific question,” said Professor Coulson. “By the end of this grant, I hope to have a better understanding of the natural world than I currently do - I’m motivated by increasing understanding. We currently do not have a good feeling for how populations will respond to environmental change; I want to achieve deeper insight into its effects.”
Analysing how fluids behave
Developing mathematical models to analyse the way fluids behave when they come into contact with other fluids and solid surfaces, on the microscopic level and on a large scale, will be the focus of Dr Serafim Kalliadasis ’s work, using a new €1.3 million ERC grant. Dr Kalliadasis is keen to understand these complex ‘interfacial flows’, because they are involved in a wide variety of natural phenomena and technological applications, from gravity currents under water and lava flows, to heat and mass transport processes in engineering applications.
Dr Kalliadasis, from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemical Technology, said: “The way in which fluids behave at interfaces and interact with solid boundaries is extremely complex. Understanding it demands a synergistic approach based on a balanced combination of theory and computations at the crossroad between applied mathematics, fluid dynamics, chemical physics and stochastic processes, never attempted before in the field.
“Ultimately, we hope that our models will greatly assist researchers and engineers involved in controlling and optimising processes and devices, ranging from microfluidics, which looks at fluids constrained in micrometre-scale spaces, to biological settings, for example the problems of microprinting and of directing biological cell populations along ridges of liquids,” he added.