Nigerian born geographer, Chinwe Ifejika Speranza, physicist Akitaka Ariga receive EU funding awards

This year two researchers from the University of Bern will receive an “ERC Consolidator Grant”. The coveted sponsorship awards from the European Research Council (ERC) go to the physicist Akitaka Ariga and the geographer Chinwe Ifejika Speranza.

Chinwe Ifejika Speranza has been Professor of Geography and Sustainable Development at the University of Bern since 2016. She heads the research unit on land systems and sustainable land management, is currently director of the Institute of Geography and a member of the board of the Center for Development and Environment (CDE). From 2013 to 2015 she was Professor of Geography with a focus on “Environmental Risks and Vulnerability Research” in the joint master’s program “Geography of Environmental Risks and Human Security” at the United Nations University in Bonn and the University of Bonn. 

Between 2010 and 2016, Ifejika Speranza was Senior Research Scientist at the CDE and at the Institute of Geography at the University of Bern. Before that she was Senior Researcher at the German Development Institute, Bonn and group leader in the Geoinformation and Surveying Department of the Canton of Lucerne. Chinwe Ifejika Speranza holds a doctorate from the University of Bern. She previously studied at the University of Zurich and at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria.

With an ERC Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC), outstanding researchers receive support to set up or continue their own research team at a public or private research institution within the EU or an associated country. The grants, which are part of the EU research framework program “Horizon 2020”, are endowed with around 2 million euros each and are awarded for a period of five years.

Relevant in Europe

At the University of Bern, the FASERnu project by PD Dr. Akitaka Ariga from the Laboratory for High Energy Physics (LHEP) at the Albert Einstein Center for Fundamental Physics (AEC) and the SUSTAINFORESTS project by Prof. Dr. Chinwe Ifejika Speranza funded by the Institute of Geography.
“The success of this competitive European tender is proof that research is being carried out at the University of Bern that is relevant in Europe,” says Daniel Candinas, Vice Rector Research at the University of Bern. It is very important that researchers from Swiss universities are represented in the European environment and network there.

FASERnu: Investigate neutrinos at CERN

Neutrinos are the least studied particles in the Standard Model of particle physics. Given their special properties, it is believed that they are a key to understanding our universe. In FASERnu , neutrinos are researched using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva. “It will be the first experiment in which particle collisions are used for neutrino research, and it will also be the only neutrino experiment that will be carried out in Europe with a particle accelerator in this decade,” says Akitaka Ariga. “We expect to collect data from around 10,000 neutrino interactions in the years 2022-2024.” FASERnu is supposed to represent a breakthrough in neutrino research.

The largest part of this ERC grant is intended to be dedicated to promoting young researchers. “FASERnu is a small project compared to the standard of particle physics experiments, and so it will be a valuable experience for doctoral students and postdocs as they go through all the steps of the experiment: the construction of the detector, the data acquisition and the physical analyzes,” says Akitaka Ariga. «The Laboratory for High Energy Physics at the Albert Einstein Center of the University of Bern (AEC) has a tradition of developing particle detection technologies that are tailored to many physical purposes. In the last few decades this has been increasingly focused on neutrino research. “

SUSTAINFORESTS: Forests in West African agricultural landscapes

In the SUSTAINFORESTS projectthe role of forest areas in the highly fragmented agricultural landscapes of the rainforest and savannah zones of the West African countries Togo, Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon is analyzed. “The innovative potential of these areas as a biodiversity habitat, for adaptation to climate change and for mitigation of climate change is still neglected,” explains Chinwe Ifejika Speranza. The project investigates how parts of the forest preserve the basis of life and even provide new ecosystem services such as food. “I will also examine the conditions under which these forest areas can have a sustainable future,” says Ifejika Speranza. The results are intended to refine the theories on forest areas in agricultural landscapes and open up new research paths.

“The funds from the grants are used to train geographers at the start of their careers,” says Chinwe Ifejika Speranza. “With my team of researchers from Africa, Europe and other regions of the world, I will conduct field research on selected tropical forest areas in West African forest and savannah areas in order to understand their dynamics and functions and to learn how they can be managed sustainably.” Generating and conveying such knowledge about the process of change towards sustainability is an important part of research and teaching at the University of Bern.

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