Award for ambitious and innovative project

Dr Richard Alexander (pictured) from the Department of Physics and Astronomy's Theoretical Astrophysics Group has won a prestigious £1.4 million award dedicated to ambitious and innovative projects.

Dr Alexander has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant for his project "Building planetary systems: linking architectures with formation".

Consolidator grants are awarded to outstanding mid-career researchers with "ambitious and innovative" projects. These excellent scientists were awarded a total of €585 million, as part of the European Union Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020. With grants worth up to €2 million each, they will be able to consolidate their research teams and to develop their innovative ideas.

The grant, which is worth £1.4 million (€1.95 million) over five years, will allow Dr Alexander to build a team of post-doctoral researchers within the Department of Physics & Astronomy. This award builds on the department's existing expertise and achievements in this field, and the team will exploit our excellent high-performance computing facilities in order to construct detailed simulations of how planetary systems are assembled.

Dr Alexander said: “The last few years have seen an explosion in our knowledge of extra-solar planetary systems. However, this dramatic increase in our knowledge has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in our understanding: we still don’t know where planets form, when planets form, or how planets form.

“BuildingPlanS will provide the theoretical link between observed architectures of exoplanet systems and their formation in protoplanetary discs. My team will build a large suite of state-of-the-art computer simulations, in order to understand the processes that shape planetary systems as they form and evolve over billions of years. We will then test this understanding against both new observations of planet-forming discs and our ever-growing census of exoplanetary systems. The overall aim of BuildingPlanS is to link exoplanet architectures with their formation, and establish a global picture of how planetary systems are built.”