From computer architecture to communication in ancient times: 4 pioneering ERC projects will start in 2018

(13-09-2017) In 2018 four new groundbreaking projects will start at Ghent University receiving funding from the European Research Council (ERC). One of them was selecte in the Advanced Grant call of 2016, three in the Starting Grant 2017 call.

For Professor Lieven Eeckhout, this is his fourth ERC project, which makes him Belgian ERC Champion. In 2009 he received an ERC Starting Grant (1,389,000 euro), and in 2012 and 2015 he got two ERC Proof-of-Concept Grants (together they were almost 300,000 euro). Now he received 2.5 million euro for his ERC Advanced Grant, as one of the youngest researchers in Europe.

Professors Bart Kuyken, Pieter De Frenne and Klaas Bentein receive each 1,5 million euros as an ERC Starting Grant, enabling them to start their own research team.

Ghent University how hosts 55 ERC grantees, of which 10 received their grant through the VIB.

Better and faster computers

Professor Eeckhout’s research is very relevant to a lot of computer applications from data centers to mobile. Research is focusing on the design of specific computer architectures, making the right mix between hardware and software, which can respond to the rising demand of complex applications.

The ERC Advanced Grant will design a Load Slice Core, a novel microprocessor architecture which delivers 8 times of the performance per Watt and per Euro then systems currently available. This will offer a solution to the expanding use of computing systems within a diminishing power and cost reality of industry and end users.

Measuring frequency with a chip

The numbers tell the tale. Every measurement needs a dedicated device.  For measuring distances a ruler is used. But what if we want to measure time or frequency accurately? For this, Nobel Prize winner Theodor Haensch developed a kind of laser forming a comb of light frequencies, which doesn’t emit one color or frequency, but millions of different frequencies. However, at the moment this is a large bulky and power hungry  device, certainly not suitable for the smartphones we have today.

In the ERC project ELECTRIC, an optical frequency comb will be developed that fits the size of computer chip, such as those on debit cards. To achieve this miniaturization, silicon photonics technology will be used. Silicon is the material used for making electronic chips. Our results will generate a whole range of new applications, such as detecting dangerous gases at very low concentrations.

Microclimates and their role

Forest temperatures are much cooler than temperatures in more open habitats such as grasslands. "Microclimates" are especially frequent in heterogeneous landscapes. Plants and animals also experience this local cooling, but microclimates have rarely been incorporated in assessments of the impacts of climate change. The goal of the project FORMICA is to quantify and understand the role of microclimates in buffering the impacts of climate change on biodiversity of European forests.

The central research question is whether forests can buffer global warming and therefore decrease the effect on biodiversity and the plants that grow there. The research is also relevant to current forest management and policy since the chopping of trees can possibly decrease the buffering capacity of forests and increase the temperature on the forest soil.

Communicating in ancient times

In the dry sands of Egypt, thousands of non-literary, everyday texts have been preserved: up until now, these texts have been primarily studied as privileged witnesses of the history, economy, religion, etc. of antiquity. Making use of the latest insights in social semiotics, the team of Klaas Bentein will explore an entirely new line of research: it will focus on the people behind the texts, and research how they communicated with each other. Central to the project are the formal features of texts: how did writers vary their language, writing material, text format, orthography, etc., and what social message did they convey to their addressees in this way?

With his ERC project EVWRIT, Klaas Bentein wants to radically change the way we study everyday texts from antiquity, and to develop a new, holistic perspective towards communication then and now.