Artificial Intelligence, Active Matter and Seismic Precursors: Three Sapienza Professors Obtain ERC Funding

The European Research Council (ERC), the organism that funds projects of excellence on frontier research, has assigned 3 Advanced Grants for a total of €6,756,447 to Sapienza University.

The winners are Giuseppe De Giacomo (“Antonio Ruberti” Department of Computer, Control and Management Engineering), Roberto Di Leonardo (Department of Physics) and Chris Marone (Department of Earth Sciences).

“This achievement recognizes the quality of research a tour university,” emphasises Rector Eugenio Gaudio, pointing out that, during the course of Horizon 2020, the European Research Council has approved 28 Sapienza projects for a total value of over 35 million euro, making Sapienza the Italian organization with the greatest number of grants.


The Projects

Giuseppe De Giacomo - WhiteMech

Project WhiteMech (White-Box Self-Programming Mechanisms) addresses the study and development of artificial intelligence systems that are capable of independently reprogramming themselves to achieve new objectives, in reaction to unexpected changes, and conform to the evolution of human rules and agreements in specific contexts. In particular, the objective is to develop systems that are "white-box by design,” meaning that they can be interrogated, analysed and managed, at any moment, in terms comprehensible to human beings, to decrease the risk implicit in a self-programming system. The parallel research activities address the application of these systems in smart manufacturing (Industry 4.0), smart spaces (Internet of Things) and robotic automation processes (business process management).

In order to reach this objective, the study will also address subjects that are transversal to artificial intelligence including the representation of understanding, automatic reasoning and planning, and reinforcement learning, as well as formal methods, such as the assessment and automatic development of programmes, and data management, including the analysis and synthesis of data-aware processes.

Sapienza will receive ca. €2.5 million in funding for Project WhiteMech.

Roberto Di Leonardo – Sygma

Project SYGMA will explore the frontiers between the physics of matter and synthetic biology with the objective of creating a catalogue of genetic parts capable of transforming bacteria cells into mechanical micro-components that can be configured and controlled. These bacteria can be employed as motors for micro-robots controlled by light signals or as active “atoms2 for the design of materials moulded by light. The understanding and control of these systems poses fundamental questions in a field of research in quick expansion: the physics of active matter, the study of particle aggregates that are capable of moving autonomously. An interdisciplinary research team including physicists and biologists will collaborate by combining methods from molecular biology, digital light elaboration techniques and statistical physics.

Sapienza will receive ca. €1.6 million in funding for Project Sygma. (The total funding is €2.4 million, in partnership with IIT.)


Chris Marone – Tectonic

Project Tectonic will address our knowledge of earthquake precursors, uniting laboratory research with field activities.

Current studies on earthquake forecasting are very limited, but recent laboratory experiments have revealed that experimental earthquakes are preceded by a series of minor events that irradiate elastic energy and that can be used to forecast events with greater energy. Lab earthquakes and their precursors can be forecast by automatic learning techniques - machine learning TECTONIC -which will connect the lab results with field observations to identify the precursors of natural earthquakes. In this context, the project will acquire and analyse high-resolution seismologic and geodetic data and develop new-generation laboratory devices to unveil the physics of earthquakes and their precursors. The project will contribute to training a new generation of earthquake researchers and promote a new level of EU scientific collaboration.

Sapienza will receive ca. €2.6 million in funding for Project Tectonic. (The total funding is €e.4 million, in partnership with INGV.)


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