18 September 2017

Outstanding PhD trio receives honours


On Friday, September 15, the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Science presented awards to three outstanding PhD’s for theses completed and defended at SCIENCE over the past year. Among other things, the award seeks to honour new graduates and draw attention to the great efforts at SCIENCE to train new researchers who are able to make contributions towards solving societal challenges.

The award comes with a 25,000 kroner purse, and the only assessment criterion is the PhD project's excellence. The award was presented at an annual alumni event held Friday, September 15th, to which this year's doctoral graduates were invited to celebrate their successfully completed PhD programmes at SCIENCE.

This year’s winners are a dazzling young mathematician, an up-and-coming biologist and a groundbreaking geochemist. A brief description of the award recipients follows.

Robin Reuvers: A new mathematical model of superfluid gasses

Mathematician Robin Reuvers’ PhD thesis describes superfluid materials, known as Bose-gases, that are used in magnets, among other applications.

The gases have unique properties that enable them to create what is known as a Bose-Einstein condensate when subjected to extremely low temperatures. This causes all of the atoms to enter the same quantum mechanical state and become superfluid.

The phenomenon, predicted by Einstein and Bose, has been studies by researchers around the world for nearly a century. Specifically, Reuvers’ PhD thesis investigated a mathematical model for how Bose-Einstein condensates occur. This lead to his creation of a complex model for calculating the point at which a Bose gas transforms from being a normal gas to a superfluid Bose-condensate:

"Robin Reuvers has worked on an extremely intricate mathematical model, that in a slightly simpler version, dates back to 1957, when Li and Yang, who happened to receive the Nobel Prize that same year for their discovery that the world is not mirror symmetric, began speculations about how to calculate the temperatures of these phase transitions. The riddle has remained unsolved until now, where, contrary to conventional literature, Robin has succeeded in creating a mathematical model able to accurately predict the temperature of phase transition," according to supervisor and professor Jan Philip Solovej of the Department of Mathematical Sciences.

Robin Reuvers currently works as a researcher at Cambridge University, where he received the prestigious ´2016 Newton International Fellowship’.

Feng Tian: New knowledge equipping us for climate change

Feng Tian’s PhD project has lead to groundbreaking advances in the use of satellite image time-series.

Time-series imagery enables the analysis and evaluation of changes to terrestrial vegetation over past decades. Time-series are the key to understanding how climate change affects our planet's trees and plants.

Feng Tian’s research has contributed significantly to identifying the amount of and changes to the Earth's vegetation over the past 30 years - including in dry areas around the planet where our knowledge is severely limited.

This is of great relevance for natural resource management in countries already being affected by climate change. Feng Tian’s research is also being used to improve global monitoring of the Earth's carbon pools that are so critical for dealing with climate change down the road. 

"Feng Tian presented groundbreaking research in the use of a special type of microwave satellite imagery that can potentially be used to quantify biomass on a global scale. He is the first to analyze this data set within the context of observations from the Earth's surface. This has significantly improved our understanding of the use of this new and exciting source of data for natural resource management," says supervisor and professor Rasmus Fensholt of the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management.

Feng Tian has received a prestigious EU Marie Sklodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellowship to continue his research at Lund University, Sweden.

Elishevah van Kooten: New meteorite measurements reveal juicy details about the origins of our solar system

Those in the planetary sciences are ever hungry for a greater understanding of the origins of planetary building blocks.

This focus can be seen in international space agency investments, including the longstanding EU mission, Rosetta, which has achieved breakthroughs related to comet formation.

Elishevah van Kooten’s PhD thesis addresses a similar problem, namely, the study of the formative regions of chondritic meteorites, the most primitive type of meteorites found on Earth.

She has developed new mass spectrometric methods to study the relationship between chondrites and comets using new, state-of-the-art equipment. She has demonstrated that a sub-type of meteorite, known as metal-rich chondrites, was formed in the same region as comets.

This groundbreaking discovery means that our collections house meteorite specimens that contain the most fundamental of planetary building blocks. By examining the composition of organic material in metal-rich chondrites, Elishevah has generated new knowledge about the formative mechanisms of complex organic matter, and thus the origin of life’s building blocks at the nascence of our solar system.