ERC Starting Grant for Dr. Vivek Venkatraman Krishnan

Discovering most exotic neutron star systems will help to understand gravity and ultra-dense matter

November 22, 2022

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded Dr. Vivek Venkatraman Krishnan, scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, a Starting Grant of about 2.5 million Euros as part of the Horizon Europe funding programme. The grant will enable him and his team to work on the ERC project entitled “Understanding gravity using a comprehensive search for fast-spinning pulsars and compact binaries (COMPACT)” for the next 5 years.

With COMPACT, we will design and use a tailor-made pulsar search system to discover some of the most exotic pulsars in Globular Clusters”, says Dr. Venkatraman Krishnan. “Such discoveries will have significant impact in a variety of fields across physics and astrophysics”, he adds. COMPACT will use two major radio telescope facilities: The Effelsberg telescope in Germany, and the MeerKAT telescope in South Africa. These are some of the most sensitive instruments in the world, and provide the best chance for COMPACT’s success.

Pulsars - rotating neutron stars that emit radio light along its magnetic poles - are some of the densest objects in the Universe. A teaspoon of neutron star matter can weigh as much as Mount Everest. Such high densities are not possible to be created in laboratories on Earth, so astronomical observations provide the only way of understanding ultra-dense matter. When these pulsars are in binary systems with another star, they exhibit relativistic orbital effects that can be measured and compared with the predictions from theories of gravity such as Einstein’s General Relativity. Such tests provide the rare possibility to understand if, when and where nature deviates from Einstein’s predictions. COMPACT aims to discover sources that are best suited to help in these endeavors. COMPACT will employ novel signal processing algorithms to find pulsars in very short orbital period binary systems, and pulsars that spin extremely fast (of the order of a millisecond or less). Such COMPACT discoveries are also natural gravitational wave emitters; a significant fraction of which would inevitably be detected by current or future gravitational wave detectors, thereby providing crucial multi-messenger constraints for such detections.

COMPACT is a targeted pulsar search survey. It will search for pulsars in globular clusters - dense, ancient clusters of stars - where the probability of finding the targets of interest is very high.  “COMPACT is an ambitious project that has come to fruition at the perfect time”, says Prof. Michael Kramer, who is one of the directors of the MPIfR, and leads the Fundamental Physics in Radio Astronomy group, where COMPACT will be based. “Not only will it provide crucial discoveries to understand gravity better, but it will also develop techniques that will be very useful for next generation radio telescopes like the Square Kilometre Array”, he adds. “I am grateful to the ERC for the funding and I cannot wait to start working on COMPACT!” concludes Dr. Venkatraman Krishnan.


Background Information

European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grants have been awarded to 408 talented early-career researchers in this year. Under the EU’s new R&I programme, Horizon Europe, €636 million will be invested in excellent projects with starting grants up to 1.5 million Euros for a period up to 5 years (along with an additional 1 million Euros for startup/infrastructure costs). The grant enables scientists in the early stages of their scientific career to work independently, form their own teams and pursue their ideas.


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