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Razvan Gurau: an ERC grant in theoretical physics

Thanks to an ERC Consolidator Grant, Razvan Gurau, CNRS research scientist at the Center of Theoretical Physics (CPHT), will be able to further his work on random tensors and field theory, an area of theoretical physics that may make it possible to solve equations that are challenging scientists today.

Theoretical physics proposes a mathematical framework for modeling physical phenomena observed in the world around us. Scientists in the field rely on observations while demonstrating a capacity for abstraction and great mathematical rigor in order to propose theoretical models that transcribe reality as accurately as possible. This is the case for the research activities of Razvan Gurau, CNRS researcher at the Center of Theoretical Physics (CPHT, a joint CNRS/École polytechnique research unit). Beginning in September 2019 his new research work will be financed by a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant for a period of five years.

The ERC Consolidator Grant is attributed to researchers with 7 to 12 years of experience after completion of their PhD and who propose ambitious projects of high-level scientific research. The excellence of Razvan Gurau research work already attracted the attention of the scientific community upon completion of his doctoral thesis, when he was accepted as a fellow at the prestigious Perimeter Institute (Canada), the world’s biggest institute of theoretical physics. It was during this fellowship that he started working on the mathematical objects called tensors to solve problems related to field theory. He returned to France in 2012 where he joined the CPHT, where the ERC grant now allows him to form his own research team.

“It’s a matter of using models of tensors that are more artificial that those being used currently but that work better in certain specific cases,” he explains. Based on the work done by Razvan Gurau in a mathematical framework that has no physical reality (in a zero-dimensional spacetime), it has been proven that the use of tensors could solve certain real equations, in particular when field theory approaches low energies.

Such research may seem abstract, but Razvan draws a parallel with the phase transitions we experience every day when we boil water: if we understand liquid water and steam, it would be a matter of understanding the passage from one to the other. “In large particle accelerators, we study high energy physics. The physical models we have for explaining it are working better and better. Conversely, the physics around us is a low-energy physics; we live in a very cold world that is also relatively well understood. With the ERC grant, I will try to use the tensors to understand what is happening between the two, near the low energy frontier.”

Razvan Gurau's research could have applications and enhance our understanding in different specialized areas of physics, from black hole models to condensed matter, in spheres where the strong coupling of atoms produces as yet unexplained phenomena.

Another ERC grant earned by the CPHT