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Department of Physics

The Cavendish Laboratory
Distant Primeval Galaxies

Professor Roberto Maiolino has been awarded the prestigious Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). This is the second consecutive ERC Advanced Grant that Professor Maiolino has received.

The new grant, worth more than two million pounds, will be used to pursue his research project ‘RISEandFALL'. This project is divided in two parts. The first one (the ‘Rise’) is aimed at investigating the nature and properties of galaxies during their infancy, as well as their black hole seeds, in the early Universe. Particular emphasis will be given to the formation of the first stars, first black holes and the early chemical enrichment. The second part (the ‘Fall’) will explore the physical processes driving the subsequent galaxy evolution and transformation across the cosmic epochs, with focus on understanding of the mechanisms responsible for the suppression of star formation.

These goals will be achieved primarily by using data coming from cutting edge astronomical facilities. Specifically, Professor Maiolino will use new data coming from the revolutionary James Webb Space Telescope, which was successfully launched one year ago, and is now delivering data with unprecedented sensitivity, piercing into the earliest cosmic epochs.  The project will also use data from MOONS, the next generation multi-object near-infrared spectrograph for the Very Large Telescope, which will deliver precious information for hundreds of thousands distant galaxies. The information coming from these facilities will also be combined with data coming from the Atacama Large Millimetre Telescope (ALMA), the largest telescope operating in the (sub-)millimetre band.

Prior to his appointment at the University of Cambridge, Professor Roberto Maiolino was an astronomer at the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory (Florence) between 1997 and 2006. Subsequently, from 2006 to 2012, he was a senior astronomer at the Astronomical Observatory of Rome. From 2016 to 2021 he was Director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology, Cambridge. In 2018, he was honoured with the ‘Order of the Star of Italy’ and in 2019, appointed as the Honorary Professor at University College, London. In 2022 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society.

Besides his role as a professor of Experimental Astrophysics at the Cavendish, he is also a member of the Instrument Science Team at NIRSpec, the near infrared multi-object spectrograph for the James Webb Space Telescope. He is also the Project Scientist and Co-PI of MOONS, the Multi-Object near-IR spectrograph for the Very Large Telescope, as well as the Project Scientist of ANDES - the high resolution spectrograph for the Extremely Large Telescope.

Reacting to the news of his award Professor Maiolino said, “The prestigious grant will support our project which is now entering an exciting new stage. It will certainly give us the resources to greatly foster the efforts into our cutting-edge research activities.”

As UK institutes are unable to sign ERC grant agreements prior to formal association of the UK to the programme, this project will be funded, for the same amount, by UKRI under its Horizon Europe Guarantee scheme. The project will be developed between 2023 and 2028, and the funds will be primarily used to  support postdoctoral researchers and students working on the project at the Department of Physics and at the Kavli Institute for Cosmology of the University of Cambridge.

Image: JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES) 

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, M. Zamani (ESA/Webb)