The university invests 12 million euros in research on black holes

Over the next few years, the Executive Board will make € 11.9 million available for Heino Falcke’s research group. That money, a guarantee, is urgently needed to continue participating in global research on black holes, both the astronomer and the university say.

It went around the world in April 2019: the first image of a black hole. This achievement brought project leader Heino Falcke and the University of Nijmegen to the scientific world map in one fell swoop. Black holes and Radboud University have since been mentioned in the same breath.

Both Falcke and the Executive Committee would like to keep it that way. But the astronomy professor’s laboratory has long had problems with its continuity. “Two major NWO applications have been turned down in recent years,” says Falcke. ‘This is a big deal, because as a department we are heavily dependent on project grants. We can’t keep good people without extra money, let alone hiring new people from the outside. ‘

Eleventh telescope

The university therefore decided to invest 11.9 million euros in Falcke’s research group. That money is specifically earmarked for the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) network, the international team of astronomers who jointly conduct black hole observations. In addition to Nijmegen, this includes renowned research institutes such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the German Max Planck Gesellschaft. The EHT now operates ten radio telescopes that together measure black holes.

The investment consists of two parts. The first part is a structural amount of € 1 million per year, for 10 years, for Falcke’s EHT work. The other 1.9 million are specifically destined for a new telescope that the professor wants to install in Namibia, the so-called Africa Millimeter Telescope (AMT). This would therefore be the eleventh telescope in the EHT network and the first in Africa. The money is a guarantee and will be paid in stages, depending on the progress of the project.

‘The extra funding is a Erleichterunga relief’

The money is a guarantee and will be paid in stages, depending on the progress of the project. The intention is that the resources are used, among other things, as cd correspondence in grant applications, a way to attract external funding. Matching is the money that universities themselves are often forced to add to scholarships. Falcke, in a reply: “I am convinced that soon the money will pay for itself”.

Vulnerable

One Erleichterung, the German professor calls the extra funding a relief. “It’s a burden on my shoulders.” Falcke hopes to recruit new people with the structural amount of one million per year. They can help with the core tasks of the EHT, such as making observations and developing new measurement and analysis tools. The money also gives Nijmegen, and thus the Netherlands, a better position within the EHT network, he says. “Unlike other partners, Radboud University does not operate its own telescope.” This fact makes the university less indispensable within the EHT team, and therefore vulnerable.

The telescope that will go to Namibia is still standing on top of a mountain in Chile. Photo: Radboud Radio Lab

The latter will change when the Namibian telescope is created. Thanks to the 1.9 million euros from the college, there is finally the green light for the African telescope, says astronomer Radboud and project director Marc Klein Wolt. He is currently himself in Namibia to strengthen cooperation with local partners and the government. “It’s great to bring the good news to everyone. Telescope is the best science in Namibia with Namibia. This investment is exactly what we need to convince other partners to invest in AMT as well. ‘

This summer, Klein Wolt said Vox on his ambitious projects. For example, a “second hand” telescope is to be shipped from Chile to Africa and there will also be an educational program in Namibia.

The university pays the injection of one million dollars from so-called general university funds, the pot that is filled in, among other things, by university fees. From that budget it makes structural investments more often, such as the Radboud Excellence Initiative, which also receives nearly one million euros a year. Previous guarantees have also been issued to the HFML-FELIX Magnetic Laboratory and to applications for major NWO grants.

Scarce resources

Heino Falcke. Photo: Dick van Aalst

Wouldn’t it be better if those 12 million went to humanistic scientists in Nijmegen? Further investments in science and technology are already underway, for example through so-called government sector plan funds. Scarce resources unfortunately require choices, inform the university in a written response. Chancellor Han van Krieken: “This is an attractive fundamental research that can only take place with large investments and long-term international cooperation.”

The university will also continue to support other disciplines, spokesman Martijn Gerritsen points out. ‘We are a large university. For example, the college also invests in Radboud Heritage, various cross-faculty projects and even in maintaining small courses such as theology. ‘ Also, don’t forget, he says, that the board has compensated for the alpha and gamma in 2019 for the so-called Van Rijn discount.

spearhead

Falcke is aware of his privileged position, he says. “However, this is a spearhead in which we, as Radboud University, can play a prominent and very visible international role. It puts Nijmegen on the world map, which will benefit us all in the long run. . We will also write proposals together with humanist scientists. ‘

According to the professor, the fact that the Executive Board is pulling out the wallet demonstrates the need for the government to make much more money available for research. ‘In the Netherlands it is only 2.2 per cent of the gross national product, in Germany 3.5 per cent has just been agreed. This is a big difference. ‘

Read an interview with Heino Falcke about his plans for the multi-million dollar investment here.

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