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Astrophysicist Prof Dr Maruša Bradač from UL FMF winner of the ERC project

Publish Date: 26.04.2022

Category: Researchers in focus , ERC & MSCA, Our contribution to sustainable development goals

Sustainable development goals: 4 Quality education (Indicators)

“With the FIRSTLIGHT project I will focus my research outlook on the early history of the Universe, the time when the first stars and galaxies were created. I will use the data obtained by my group with the James Webb Space Telescope, as our group developed one of the most important scientific instruments on this telescope, the NIRISS camera. Based on these data she will study the dark age when the first galaxies likely reionised the neutral hydrogen and changed space from opaque to transparent for visible light”, the project is described by Prof Bradač who until recently worked as a professor at the University of California, Davis, USA. She is a member of the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) team and a member of the Early Release Science program. This ERC Advance Grant enables her to successfully continue her career in Slovenia and establish her own research group collaborating with colleagues from Italy, the USA and Canada.

The cosmic dark ages - when the Universe was filled with neutral hydrogen that was opaque to ultraviolet light - are thought to have ended around one billion years after the Big Bang. This was the period when the first light sources produced enough energetic photons to ionize the neutral hydrogen and the first galaxies started to form. However, this is also one of the least understood epochs in the Universe's evolution. Marusa Bradac and her team will attempt to widen our knowledge using deep observations taken with the powerful James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), right after its launch.  Bradac aims to determine the timeline of reionization, identify the role the first galaxies played in this process, and determine stellar properties of the earliest galaxies. This will eventually provide a first look at the details of the Cosmic Dawn: the period in which the first stars, black holes, and galaxies in the Universe were formed. Of all the ERC Advanced Grants projects selected this time, Maruša Bradač's project was also highlighted on the ERC website as one of the five most promising projects.

More about that in video: Maruša Bradač: A statement on the occasion of receiving ERC-Advanced Grant

When the European Research Council - ERC announced the winners of ERC projects for established researchers for 2021, it was a special day for the University of Ljubljana and its Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, as it received two ERC projects on the same day. The winners of the prestigious funding are professors at the FMF - astrophysicist, Prof Dr Maruša Bradač and mathematician, academician Prof Dr Franc Forstnerič.

In Europe and undoubtedly in the world, the ERC grants are the most prestigious scientific research funding that can be received by an individual researcher. It is not only a top success of researchers, but also an outstanding achievement of the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics of the University of Ljubljana – in particular for the exceptional high-quality research environment it offers to researchers and their groups.   

This year’s recipients of ERC Advanced Grants are established researchers of the Faculty, and what makes us particularly happy is that they come from the areas of physics and mathematics, the first time in Slovenia,” said the dean of the Faculty, Prof Dr Tomaž Košir and continued: “scientific excellence, which is the only criterion of the ERC, is of course a great encouragement for the faculty and confirmation that we have top researchers and that we manage to maintain appropriate conditions for ambitions for quality pedagogical work to coexist with international research excellence - both of which we want to pass on to young people. My sincere congratulations to both award researchers. This are the seventh and eighth project of our Faculty members, i.e., the third and fourth ERC project led entirely at the Faculty, and this puts us on the map of the best faculties in Europe." 

The Rector of the University of Ljubljana, Prof Dr Gregor Majdič congratulated the researchers on this exceptional success and said: "I am proud that Slovenian science is drawing a map of breakthrough successes in Europe, and I am especially pleased that the University of Ljubljana is so successful in this area. Since 2007 when the European Research Council started to award ERC projects, the researchers from the University of Ljubljana were granted eight of these prestigious projects. Sincere congratulations to the esteemed colleague academician Prof Dr Franc Forstnerič for the first Slovenian ERC project in mathematics, and the astrophysicist Prof Dr Maruša Bradač for the project in space research. Maruša Bradač is already the fourth female researcher from our university who managed to obtain a prestigious ERC grant and the second recipient of such a project from the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, University of Ljubljana. Namely, in 2011 the first Slovenian ERC grant was acquired by a female researcher in the field of meteorology, Prof Dr Nedjeljka Žagar. This shows that in Slovenian science women are extraordinarily successful and strongly come forward also in natural and technical sciences."


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