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Sapienza Receives 2 ERC Starting Grants 2018


The European Commission has approved two new ERC Starting Grants presented by Sapienza Principal Investigators.

The two €1.5 million grants, reserved for outstanding researchers with 2-7 years post-doctoral research experience, were assigned to Project HyGate presented by Alberto Giacomello at the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Specgeo, presetned by Emanuele Rodolà at the Department of Computer Science.

Project “HyGate - Hydrophobic Gating in Nanochannels: understanding single channel mechanisms for designing better nanoscale sensors” aims to employ multi-scale simulations to design innovative nano-valves inspired by ionic channels. These biological switches control ionic current in cells, allowing complex biological functions such as muscular contraction and nervous impulses. From an engineer’s point of view, this is a rack of hundreds of nano-switches with an extraordinary fine tuning that react to different stimuli: transmembrane tension, pressure, PH, etc. 

The main phenomenon that will be studied is the hydrophobic gate: the formation of nano-bubbles in many ionic channels that block the flow of ions. The quantitative understanding of this phenomenon will be used to design new biosensors, membranes and nanofluidic circuits. In particular, the simulation of rare events used to study the nucleation of nano-confined vapour will be crucial to replicate both temporal atomic and biological scales. These tools will also allow researchers to simulate electro-physiological responses beginning with the structure of ionic channels.

Project “Specgeo - Spectral Geometric Methods in Practice” aims to develop new tools that will completely change the design of spectral techniques with applications in social networks, artificial vision, machine learning and computational biology. 

Is it possible to recreate the shape of an object through its sounds? Can we synthesize new drugs by analysing the geometric structure of proteins? Can we design earthquake-resistant architecture through a careful study of resonance frequencies? These apparently unrelated questions lie between geometry and physical mathematics for the generic concept of vibration. As such, they can be addressed using the same language of spectral geometry. 

Spectral methods have played a fundamental role for nearly two centuries now in applied science. Nonetheless, their employment in practical spheres involving geometric data has been strongly limited by the complexity of the same data. Project Specgeo aims to provide answers to these queries and tools to implement them in our world. 

The allocation of two new ERC Starting Grants 2018 follows the acceptance of 9 Sapienza projects presented in the ERC Work Programme 2017 (3 Starting, 2 Proof of Concept, 1 Consolidator and 3 Advanced) for a total value of over €15 million and the recent launch of the SAPIExcellence Programme, an initiative that will attract talented researchers to Sapienza University and further drive our participation in ERC and MSCA Programmes.