Two scientists, Matyáš Fendrych from the Faculty of Science and Ondřej Pejcha of the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University, have each received prestigious ERC Starting grants awarded by European Research Council. Funds in both cases will greatly boost current research projects, with one studying cell division and growth in plants and the latter focusing on the interactions of binary stars.
We caught up with one of the recipients, theoretical physicist Ondřej Pejcha on Friday, as the ERC results were announced.
In our interview, he discussed not only how the funds would help but told us more about his field – the study of transients in astronomy.
“Transients are when new stars appear in the sky that get brighter and brighter and eventually fade away. The most common transients, which we can see several dozen times per year in our own galaxy, are novae, which are explosions on the surface of white dwarfs – very compact stars. There are of course many other kinds of transients and as a physicist I am interested in many of them.
“My focus, though, is on binary stars which orbit around each other by the force of their own gravity. In some cases, these two stars interact so closely and so violently that they eject a substantial amount of their mass and matter in several orbital cycles and - in some cases - the two stars even merge to create a single object that can potentially have very exotic properties. The ejection of mass and energy during these events can cause a new star or transient to appear in the sky.
“The types of objects I am interested in are often compact: white dwarfs, neutron stars, or black holes. And binary stars which contain one or two of these very compact objects are often born during these violent interactions; there are also all kinds of other effects that are of great interest in astrophysics.
“A significant fraction of heavy elements, astronomers call all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium heavy elements, were of course created in all kinds of cosmic explosions: supernovae, mergers of neutron stars, all of these processes are what created everything from carbon and nitrogen to silver or gold.
“With the ERC grant, I will be able to expand the team I am working with at Charles University on astronomical transience and associated objects. I will hire staff who will be able to help me model some very strong binary actions taking place in deep space. The ERC grant also complements Charles University’s Primus Project, which allowed me to work very closely with my post-doc on observations of binary stars and other objects.
“The ERC grant will allow me to expand the theoretical part of my research, so we will go all the way from observation to theory. This can lead, I think, to many interesting discussions or connections in the future.”
You can find the official press release with more information here.