ERC grants 1.9 million euro to visionary basic research in mathematics

January 18, 2010

The European Research Council has awarded Professor Thierry Coquand, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, with one of the most prestigious grants within the European Union. Thierry Coquand receives the ERC Advanced Grant of more than 20 million SEK (1,9 million euro) for his research in foundation of mathematics.

The ERC grant was established in 2008 and targets world-class European senior researchers.

'It is a very exciting research area in mathematics that I get the opportunity to probe more deeply' says Thierry Coquand, professor of computing science.

The research in Coquand's area stretches back over 100 years, when the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell coined the concept of 'types' in an effort to solve a number of mathematical problems. Thus, the concept was originally developed in response to entirely internal problems within the field of foundation of mathematics.

The so-called type theory became the most precise formulation of logic, and eventually came to also include links between mathematical proofs and computer programmes. Today, the concept of types plays an important role in the context of different programming languages for example. Type theory is also used within fields such as linguistics and language technology, since a 'type' serves as a carrier of meaning and also facilitates correct grammar in translations.

Coquand has been involved in the research project TYPES ever since it was started in the late 1980s.

Alan Turing, one of the founders of computer science, is another person who has played a critical role in the evolution of the research area. Around 1930, Turing solved Hilbert's "Entscheidungsproblem" (decision problem) by providing a rigorous definition of the mathematical concept of algorithm. While this may sound very abstract and inaccessible, Turing's definition of algorithms actually laid the foundation for digital computing as we know it. His definition has also had an enormous impact on how problems are solved in computer science.

Thierry Coquand's ERC grant is intended to push his research a step further on the path started by Bertrand Russel and Alan Turing.

'My work is a continuation of the work of Russell and Turing, and it deals mainly with a new way of connecting mathematical reasoning and algorithms, coming from more recent research in type theory' says Coquand.'But when it comes to future areas of application, I'd like to point out that the field may set off in a direction that's entirely different than we once thought. Nevertheless, the theoretical issues are extremely interesting to work with and solve, regardless of in what context the results will be applied.'

The ERC project is accepted scientifically and is now being negotiated.

Around the same time as Coquand was granted 20 million SEK (1,9 million euro) from the ERC, he learned that an application for another EU grant had been accepted as well. Coquand is the coordinator of the Formath Project, which has been granted 25 million SEK over three years. The Formath project includes three other European universities, and while it has links to the ERC grant, it is of a more concrete nature than the research visions that earned Coquand the ERC grant.
About the ERC

The European Research Council, ERC, is funded within EU's Seventh Framework programme and was established in 2007 with a mission to support the best researchers in Europe and eventually make Europe more globally competitive in the area of basic research.

The ERC grant is, unlike other EU grants, open to individual researchers. It does not require applicants to be part of a network. Grants are available in all areas of science, and cross-disciplinary applications are encouraged. The sole criterion is scientific excellence. (Source: The Swedish Research Council)

University of Gothenburg

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