ERC Advanced Grant awarded to three UvA professors
The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded an Advanced Grant to theoretical physicist Jean-Sébastien Caux, clinical psychologist Merel Kindt, and mathematical psychologist Eric-Jan Wagenmakers.
An Advanced Grant amounts to a total of 2.5 million euros for each project and is awarded for the scientific excellence of both researcher and research proposal.
Prof. Jean-Sébastien Caux (Institute of Physics) – DYNAMINT: Dynamics of Probed, Pulsed, Quenched and Driven Integrable Quantum Systems
In atomic, condensed matter and nanophysics settings, quantum matter is nowadays routinely pushed beyond the traditional low-energy/linear response/thermal equilibrium textbook paradigms. Recent experiments have shown that by cleverly ‘hitting’ a system in the right way, one can create states with novel and useful properties. The problem is that currently-available theoretical methods are unable to describe the effects of such drastic perturbations. In his research project, Prof. Caux aims to exploit recent advances in the theory of exactly-solvable quantum models in order to provide a new-generation toolbox able to describe how experimentally realisable systems respond to high-energy probes, pulses, quenches and driving protocols. The objective is to provide a catalogue of reliable and urgently-needed theoretical `anchoring points' in our understanding of the physics underlying far-from-equilibrium strongly-interacting quantum matter.
Prof. Merel Kindt (Psychology Research Institute) – ErasingFear: Understanding the Stability and Plasticity of Emotional Memory
At the turn of this century, a major breakthrough in neuroscience was achieved with the discovery that emotional memory is not inevitably permanent, but can change when retrieved. Upon retrieval, consolidated memories may return to a transient labile state, requiring gene transcription, RNA translation and protein synthesis to persist. These molecular processes - known as memory reconsolidation – offer a window of opportunity to target fear memories with amnesic agents. A technology that erases the emotional impact of unduly intense fear memories would signify a true paradigm shift in the practice of psychotherapy. Instead of multiple sessions of psychological treatment or daily drug intake with a gradual decline of symptoms, it involves a single intervention that leads to a delayed, yet abrupt decline of fear, and sleep may be essential. But the success of the reconsolidation intervention depends on very subtle differences in the memory retrieval procedure. These experimental parameters cannot be easily controlled in clinical practice. Kindt aims to gain an in-depth, comprehensive understanding of the dynamic balance between the stability and plasticity of emotional memory, and consequently develop a revolutionary theory-driven treatment for people suffering from emotional memory disorders.
Prof. Eric-Jan Wagenmakers (Psychology Research Institute): UNIFY – A Unified Framework for the Assessment and Application of Cognitive Models
Cognitive models make it possible to understand how people reason, learn, decide and act. Despite their theoretical appeal and growing popularity, however, the field of cognitive modelling presents an often bewildering proliferation of ideas and techniques and lacks systematicity. As part of his project, Wagenmakers will develop a unified program for the assessment and application of cognitive models. Based on the foundations of Bayesian inference, Wagenmakers, together with a quantitative development team, will focus on the development of new generic methods and three classes of cognitive models of particular impact: the drift decision model, the stop-signal race model, and reinforcement learning models. The proposed work aims to set a new standard for cognitive modelling. Practical relevance is enhanced by incorporating the techniques in JASP, a user-friendly statistical software package developed at the UvA (jasp-stats.org).
The European Research Council (ERC) forms a key part of Horizon2020, the EU research and innovation programme. The European Union created the ERC in 2007 to fund exceptional researchers and their ideas. It supports innovative research in all disciplines and helps Europe to attract and retain the best researchers from around the world.