13 February 2009

Five new research centres

Natural science research at the University of Copenhagen will be strengthened after the Danish National Research Foundation announced that five out of nine new research centres will be assigned to the Faculty of Science.

“It is a great help for research at the University of Copenhagen to be awarded the centres,” said rector Ralf Hemmingsen. “It is a positive development that both private and public foundations increasingly support the far-sighted perspectives that are involved in research.”

The big questions

The new research centres will all seek to answer some of science's biggest unanswered questions. How can you describe mathematically the symmetry that is evident everywhere in nature? What decides the distribution of life on earth, and what happened when the ice age animals such as mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses disappeared? How is a planetary system like our own created and how will the intensifying research into the secrets of the universe change our understanding of the world?

“It is very encouraging that a number of the faculty’s researchers, up against stiff competition, have been able to secure large scale long term grants for projects directed at fundamental knowledge,” said Nils O. Andersen, dean of the Faculty of Science. “The funding, in excess of 200 million kroner, provides a stable foundation for the continued development of a number of our most exciting research and education areas, which together cover a very broad subject spectrum.”

Centre for Origin and Evolution of Planetary

Systems How were terrestrial planets created and what were the conditions that led to the preservation of water-rich planets such as Earth, where life has thrived for almost four billion years? Astronomical observations, astrophysical models, theories of star development and the study of meteorites will all help researchers to understand the origin and development of planetary systems like our own.

Contact: Head of centre, Associate Professor Martin Bizzarro, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen. Tel: 35 32 24 21; E-mail: Bizzarro@snm.ku.dk

Centre for Symmetry and Deformation

Symmetry appears everywhere in nature and plays a fundamental role in many areas of science. In chemistry it determines the structure of molecules; in physics it supports the laws of conservation and in evolutionary biology, just as in other areas of life, it is closely connected with the notion of “beauty”. The goal of the centre is to understand the mathematics behind symmetry and deformation.

Contact: Head of centre, Professor Jesper Grodal, Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Copenhagen. Tel: 35 32 06 86; E-mail: jg@math.ku.dk

DISCOVERY – Centre for Excellence in Particle Physics Phenomenology

When the European Space Agency send the PLACK satellite into orbit later this year to search for the echo from the Big Bang, and when collision experiments begin in the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), in Switzerland, the data could very well uncover new laws of nature and possibly even revolutionise our picture of the world. Researchers at DISCOVERY will ensure a significant Danish contribution to the exploration of the new data.

Contact: Head of centre, Associate Professor Peter H. Hansen, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen Tel: 35 32 53 94; E-mail: phansen@nbi.dk

Centre for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate Change

The purpose of the new research is to discover laws of nature that determine the distribution of life on earth. The research will focus on animals and plants and their interaction with geophysical and climatic factors. The centre will generate the knowledge that will form the basis of data and scientific methods for solving the ongoing biodiversity crisis (the mass extinction of species) and the loss of ecosystem yields, as well as facilitate the prediction and prevention of possible negative effects of climate change.

Contact: Head of centre, Professor Carsten Rahbek, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen Tel: 35 32 10 30; E-mail: crahbek@bio.ku.dk

Centre for Ancient Genetics and Environments

This centre will occupy itself with the problems surrounding the migration of pre-historic humans to the Americas and the Arctic, as well as the disappearance of large Ice Age animals, all issues that are heavily debated and have been discussed for more than a century. There will also be a focus on research into ancient animal and plant DNA preserved in sediment and ice. The researchers will investigate, among other things, what opportunities and limitations this method of research has, which has great potential in everything from archaeology and palaeontology to forensic genetics.

Contact: Head of centre, Professor Eske Willerslev, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen Tel: 35 32 13 09 E-mail: ewillerslev@bio.ku.dk