University of Glasgow researchers share in 544m ERC Advanced Grant funding

Two researchers from the College of Science & Engineering have won the backing of the European Research Council to support major new projects.

Professor Daniele Faccio, of the School of Physics & Astronomy and Professor Roderick Murray-Smith, from the School of Computing Science, have been named today (Thursday 30 March 2023) as recipients of ERC Advanced Grants.

ERC Advanced Grant funding is amongst the most prestigious and competitive EU funding schemes, providing researchers with the opportunity to pursue ambitious, curiosity-driven projects that could lead to major scientific breakthroughs. They are awarded to established, leading researchers with a proven track-record of significant research achievements over the past decade.

A total of 218 projects led by researchers from across Europe will share in 544m (479m) in the latest round of Advanced Grant awards. The funding will enable these researchers to explore their most innovative and ambitious ideas.

Professor Faccio’s project, called -Boson Sensing and Quantum Imaging for Complex Biological Systems-, will build upon his existing research in quantum imaging to create a new form of quantum neurophotonics.

Over the next five years, he will use quantum optics, information theory and computational imaging to develop new precision techniques for the medical imaging of neuron activity and degeneration.

The research will harness the potential of photon coalescence or bunching, a quantum effect whereby two photons bunch together when they overlap at a beamsplitter, allowing very precise detection of small changes in the path of the one of the two photons.

This phenomenon will underpin new developments in enhanced imaging at large depths of neuron density and imaging of fluorescence lifetimes at the sub-picosecond scale with orders of magnitude enhancement in the resolution of neuron activity.

Similar and even richer photon bunching effects take also place in materials with scattering defects that act as beamsplitters. The researchers will use multi-photon states in a way similar to recent quantum computers that rely on Boson Sampling. The biological system, such as a collection of neurons, will act as the complex Boson sampling medium, a quantum biological computer of sorts. Boson sampling will be used to detect and track progression over large spatial scales of structural changes in the brain due to neurodegeneration.

Professor Faccio said: -Quantum imaging has the potential to revolutionise medical diagnostics by helping us visualise the body with a precision that conventional methods simply cannot match.

-With the support of this ERC Advanced Grant, my research group and I will be able to take forward new methods of examining brain activity and degeneration. This could lead to the early detection of conditions related to unhealthy brain tissue.-

Professor Murray-Smith’s five-year project, called -Designing Interaction Freedom via Active Inference-, or DIFAI, will develop a framework to better integrate the benefits of artificial intelligence and machine learning with the needs and expectations of human users.

Algorithms can be useful tools and valuable partners to human decision making. However, as AI and machine learning continue to advance in capability, it’s important that freedom is designed into systems to avoid the risk of humans becoming controlled and deskilled by algorithms instead of empowered by them.

The DIFAI project will develop tools for designing and analysing human interaction with artificial intelligences Using a theoretical framework known as -active inference-, the project aims to harness the potential of sensing technologies and rich data spaces to link human behaviour with reliable, predictable computer assistants capable of stepping in to offer more help when required and stepping back when humans choose to take full control.

By the end of the project, Professor Murray-Smith and his co-investigators Dr John H. Williamson and Dr Sebastian Stein will have developed new systematic, composable software tools and mathematical models for a new generation of computational interaction design, as well as several practical demonstrator projects.

Professor Murray-Smith said: -Algorithms already play a major role in our lives, making decisions on our behalf on what we watch on TV, what music we listen to, which products we buy, which friends we keep in touch with. They also make life-and-death decisions in autonomous vehicles, medical care and organising our cities.

Dr Williamson added: -However, the field of human-computer interaction hasn-t developed the theoretical tools and software at the pace required to keep up with these developments. Researchers haven-t been able to create shared computational models which will enable us to build the strong foundations we need, to ensure a future where we can live useful, creative lives with the support of properly directed and controlled AI.

Murray-Smith concluded: -It will be challenging work, but will have potentially transformative impact on any future products which combine computers, sensors and humans. The Advanced Grant funding will be a critical factor in enabling this ambitious research, and we are looking forward to getting started!-

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: -ERC grants are a top recognition and a significant commitment from our best researchers. The 544 million funding puts our 218 research leaders, together with their teams of postdoctoral fellows, PhD students and research staff, in pole position to push back the boundaries of our knowledge, break new ground and build foundations for future growth and prosperity in Europe- -

ERC President Maria Leptin added: "These new ERC Advanced Grantees are a testament to the outstanding quality of research carried out across Europe. I am especially pleased to see such a high number of female researchers in this competition and that they are increasingly successful in securing funding. We look forward to seeing the results of the new projects in the years to come, with many likely to lead to breakthroughs and new advances.-