FellowshipFreigeist Fellowship for Exploration of the Early Universe

Press Release No 106/2022
28 October 2022

Volkswagen Foundation funds physicist with approximately 1.1 million euros

What did the Universe look like more than 12 billion years ago when the first galaxies were forming? To tackle this early cosmic epoch a new junior research group started work this October at Heidelberg University’s Institute for Theoretical Physics. Led by Dr Caroline Heneka, the research team will connect modern machine learning methods and artificial intelligence with large-scale intensity mapping measurements at multiple wavelengths or colours. The primary goal is an integrated understanding of astrophysical processes and cosmology at play during this early epoch of our Universe. The Volkswagen Foundation is supporting the studies of the cosmologist and astrophysicist with a Freigeist Fellowship for six years, which comes with funding totalling approximately 1.1 million euros.

Dr Caroline Heneka is supported with a Freigeist Fellowship for her studies of the early Universe

“The very first brightly radiating galaxies allow important conclusions about their properties and interaction with each other. At the same time, they offer us clues on how such astrophysical structures arise in our Universe,” Dr Heneka explains. Instead of precisely measuring single cosmic objects, which can only succeed for a fraction of all galaxies at early times, the project of the Heidelberg physicist aims for a new kind of image-based surveying of the sky. Dr Heneka combines complex computer simulations with astronomical observations encompassing large-scale intensity mappings. She and her team will analyse the resultant two and three-dimensional images with methods of the so-called Computer Vision Astrophysics. This will include the use of artificial neural networks, which are a foundation of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

In 2013 Caroline Heneka completed her master’s degree in physics at Heidelberg University and in 2017 earned her doctorate in physics and astronomy at the Dark Cosmology Centre of the University of Copenhagen (Denmark). Dr Heneka then was a fellow at Heidelberg University and the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa (Italy), and worked as a research employee at the German Aerospace Center. Most recently, she led research activities related to machine learning at Hamburg Observatory, which is part of Universität Hamburg, as a postdoc in the “Quantum Universe” Excellence Cluster.

The Freigeist Fellowship of the Volkswagen Foundation supports early-career researchers from all disciplines. They need to have not just outstanding scientific expertise but also to look beyond the boundaries of their own disciplines, combining a talent for critical analysis with new perspectives and innovative solutions. 13 scientists across Germany are receiving support in the present funding round.