Irish astronomer bags €2m in EU funding to study birth and growth of stars

10 Apr 2017

Illustration of a solitary star during formation. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

An Irish astronomer has been awarded a slice of €540m in funding from the EU to help advance our understanding of the birth of stars.

The birth and early years of star formation are a turbulent time in the cosmos, most recently seen with this incredible image capturing the collision between two protostars.

Irish astronomer Prof Tom Ray of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) plans to help us improve our understanding of young stellar objects, with a little help from the EU.

As part of a new announcement of €540m in funding for the European Research Council’s (ERC) Advanced Grants, Ray has been awarded €2m to shed more light on what the solar system would have looked like 5bn years ago, when it began to form.

The proposal entitled ‘Ejection Accretion Structures in Young Stellar Objects’ will aim to use the latest observing facilities, such as the James Webb Space Telescope and the European low-frequency radio telescope LOFAR, which includes a new node opening soon in Birr, Co Offaly.

Along with other observations to be made by the European Southern Observatory, the grant was one of just 9.6pc of proposals accepted under the scheme, and will fund seven research positions at DIAS.

German researchers win big

Ray was the only Irish person to receive funding under the scheme, with many accepted applications coming from Germany (46), followed by the UK (37), the Netherlands (21) and France (18).

Graeme Horley, Science Foundation Ireland’s programme manager and ERC national contact point, said: “These awards are among the most highly sought after in Europe and are extremely difficult to win.

“We are particularly pleased that the support provided to Prof Ray through our ERC Development Programme has helped in this success. We congratulate Tom and look forward to learning about the exciting developments from this project over the coming years.”

Another recipient under the Advanced Grants programme is a Dutch researcher named Maarten Krol, who is looking to develop new diagnostic tools for the Earth’s climate.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic