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Mathematical physicist Tomaž Prosen, the first researcher in Slovenia to have won the prestigious ERC Advanced Grant twice

Publish Date: 01.08.2023

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The ERC Advanced Grant is undoubtedly the most prestigious grant that an individual researcher can win for a research project. This is the second time Prof. Tomaž Prosen has been awarded the grant, this time for a project titled QUEST (Quantum Ergodicity: Stability and Transitions). In addition to being an outstanding achievement at the global scale for the researcher himself, this is also an exceptional achievement for the University of Ljubljana's Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, especially the high-quality research environment it offers to researchers and their teams.

Every year, the European Research Council (ERC) selects and funds the most creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe. It offers four long-term and extensive grant schemes, including the ERC Advanced Grant. Prof. Tomaž Prosen and his team are among the few that have managed to win this grant for a second time. He said the following, commenting on this achievement and explaining the content of the current project: "As part of the ERC-funded project QUEST (Quantum Ergodicity: Stability and Transitions) we will explore the robustness of quantum chaos and quantum ergodicity to external disturbances. This is basic research in mathematical statistical physics. Ergodicity is one of the key characteristics of typical systems made of many components or the so-called many-body systems, but it is incredibly difficult to prove mathematically. In recent years, our team has identified one such solvable paradigm referred to as a dual-unitary quantum circuit, where we can prove an exponentially fast relaxation to thermodynamic equilibrium." Over the past two to three years, dual-unitary quantum circuits have become an exceptionally popular research topic because, among other things, these circuits provide an ideal platform for testing quantum computers. Because these are a special class of dynamic systems, the key question is how robust the analytical mechanisms of ergodicity are to external disturbances that disrupt the structure and ideal solvability of the system. The key hypothesis of the QUEST project is that dual-unitary circuits must be robust to external disruptions. Prof. Prosen further explains: "Intuitively, we rely on a mathematical analogy from traditional chaos theory called structural stability. If we manage to at least partly prove our hypotheses, a bunch of interesting applications will be readily available, from the theory of condensed matter and quantum informatics to quantum field theory and holography or the theory of quantum gravity." His first task will be to form an effective research team. He will receive EUR 2,167,000 in funding. 

In September, the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics will present the project to the public and hold a round table on the importance of the ERC for research in Slovenia.

The following ERC projects are currently carried out at the faculty:

  • HDPR (Holomorphic Partial Differential Relations), led by Prof. Franc Forstnerič;
  • FIRSTLIGHT (Exploring Cosmic Dawn with James Webb Space Telescope), led by Prof. Maruša Bradač;
  • KARST (Predicting Flow and Transport in Complex Karst Systems), led by Prof. Bojan Mohar. 

In addition, the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics is involved in the following ERC projects:

  • FAIME (Flavour Anomalies with Advanced Particle Identification Methods), led by Prof. Peter Križan from the University of Ljubljana's Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, and the Jožef Stefan Institute;
  • LOGOS (Light-Operated Logic Circuits from Photonic Soft-Matter), led by Prof. Igor Muševič from the University of Ljubljana's Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, and the Jožef Stefan Institute.

Faculty staff from other institutions have won ERC grants for the following projects:

  • Cell Lasers – Intracellular Lasers: Coupling of Optical Resonances with Biological Processes (led by Matjaž Humar at the Jožef Stefan Institute);
  • TRAJECTORY – Coherent Trajectories through Symmetry Breaking Transitions (led by Prof. Dragan Mihailović at the Jožef Stefan Institute), and
  • MULTraSonicA – Multiscale Modelling and Simulation Approaches for Biomedical Ultrasonic Applications (led by Prof. Matej Praprotnik at the Institute of Chemistry).

The faculty has already successfully concluded the following two ERC projects:

  • MODES (Modal Analysis of Atmospheric Balance, Predictability and Climate), led by Prof. Nedjeljka Žagar, and
  • OMNES (Open Many-Body Non-Equilibrium Systems), led by Prof. Tomaž Prosen.

 About the ERC

The European Research Council (ERC) was set up by the European Union in 2007 as the premier European funding organisation for outstanding frontier research in all fields without predetermined priorities. It promotes the activities of already established top researchers and the development of the next generation of researchers in Europe. Scientific excellence is the sole criterion on which it selects projects and awards grants. Until the launch of the Horizon Europe programme, the ERC funded over 12,000 top researchers at various stages of their careers and over 75,000 PhD students, postdoctoral fellows and other staff working in their research teams. It strives to attract the best researchers from across the globe to do their research in Europe. The ERC has agreements in place with key research agencies around the world so their researchers can work on ERC research projects in Europe for a specific period of time. The ERC is governed by an independent body, the Scientific Council, composed of 22 eminent researchers from various fields. Maria Leptin is its current president.

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