The aim of UnivEarthS is to combine the scientific expertise, technical know how, experience in space experiments, and human resources of three research institutes, all international leaders in their disciplinary field, in order to develop original interdisciplinary research projects. Their expertise includes Earth and environmental sciences (IPGP), planetary sciences (IPGP, AIM), high energy astrophysics (AIM, APC), cosmology and fundamental physics (APC).
The project is designed to set up a unique high-level teaching and training platform in the sciences of the Universe, to achieve efficient technology transfer between the partners as well as towards other institutes and industry, and to develop novel outreach initiatives.
The UnivEarthS project revolves around the general theme of “Evolution, Catastrophes and Emergence”: how do natural systems of various scales form and evolve into self-organized dynamic structures, what are the catastrophic events that cause dramatic shifts in evolution, when and how did new processes and mechanisms appear ? Such questions arise when dealing with the primordial Universe, the organization of small to large scale structures in the Universe, violent phenomena associated with stellar explosions and black holes, the development of planetary systems, the differentiation and dynamics of the proto-Earth, the origin and early growth of Life, as well as the study of geological and astronomical catastrophes (volcanic eruptions, planetary-quakes, planetary collisions).
Variability and heterogeneity are ubiquitous features of the Universe structure and evolution, and catastrophic events impact the evolution of all natural objects regardless of their dimensions, from galaxy clusters down to stars and planets. Whilst the past decades have opened windows into the sky across the whole radiation spectrum, from radio waves to gamma rays, the next decades will open time windows into transient sources, bursts and flares over a large range of time scales. Large international sky-survey instruments are being prepared and we need to harness new precision technologies and analysis methods to detect and examine variability in huge real time or near-real time data flows and to identify transient sources.
UnivEarthS invests in algorithmic and analysis developments to actively participate to the international effort to prepare for this new time frontier. Initiatives involving several institutes are implemented :
- a large common computational center for massive data management and modelling. New technology has led to a dramatic increase in the amount of data that can be collected. We develop the numerical tools and calculation codes that are required for our specific researches.
- precision metrology strenghtening the links between fundamental physics in space and studies of Earth and Planetary processes.
- studies of the formation and evolution of solar and exo planets and of the Moon-Earth system in its early stages.
- observational and numerical developments in the study of violent phenomena in the Universe.
UnivEarthS supports the Paris Centre for Cosmological Physics (PCCP). This Centre is a place for research, education and exchange on the physics of the Universe. The project has been established under the leadership of George F. Smoot, Nobel Prize in physics in 2006, recruited as a professor at the University Paris Diderot in February 2010. Noting the remarkable concentration of laboratories working in Paris at the highest international level in the field of cosmology, George Smoot has decided to create this centre in order to develop synergies between these laboratories (which include APC, LUTh and GEPI) and to enhance the attractiveness of Paris in this scientific field dealing with key issues such as the origin of matter, the structure of space and time. The goals of PCCP are similar to those seeked by the LabEx: attract senior researchers at the best international level, develop a high visibility program of PCCP postdoctoral fellows, foster the awareness of teachers, students and the general public on fundamental issues, develop a global approach to private funding for fundamental research.
Special effort are made to provide information on the UnivEarthS education programs and individual attention to candidates. Specific resources are allocated to a “welcome package” program for foreign master and doctoral students in order to help them with travel expenses, housing funding, and French courses. The partners of UnivEarthS supports the development of new education and public outreach tools based on teleconferences, video clips, and smartphones to illustrate science in motion in their disciplines, to interact with high-school teachers across France, and to help attract young people to science and engineering studies.
The UnivEarthS project intends to break the barriers that have hampered research cooperations and technology transfers between different Earth, Planetary and Universe Science Institutes in Paris. Two laboratories of the Observatoire de Paris, LUTh and GEPI, the Laboratory of Cosmochemistry of the Museum, the Laboratory of Geodesy of the Institut Géographique National (Lareg), as well as the Institut de Mécanique Céleste et de Calul des Ephemerides (IMCCE) are associated with this project and are represented in the LabEx’s scientific committee.
The partners of UnivEarthS are members of the Université Sorbonne Paris Cité Consortium. They benefit from the Technology Transfer Bureau (SATT) of this Consortium and from the François Arago Computation Center.
Violent phenomena in the Universe are connected to the presence of very compact objects, neutron stars or black holes. It is only very recently that black holes have acquired the status of astrophysical objects, and not just curiosities of the theory of gravitation (singularities protected by a horizon, whereas the big bang is a naked singularity). Indeed, black holes seem to be ubiquitous in the Universe: they represent the final stage of a star, are present in many binary systems, but also at the centre of most galaxies (such as our own). And, even though they are rather simple objects from the point of view of gravity, their environment is very complex. Indeed, the understanding of how high-energy phenomena recycle energy into their environment and the feedback to large distances of powerful explosions, jets, and the impact of their companion high-energy particles are keys to understanding the emergence of new structures (clouds, stars, galaxies) in the Universe. All require high precision observations and elaborated modeling.
Cosmology and fundamental physics
We start with the Universe in its largest dimensions. The question of the emergence of space, popularly known as the big bang, is obviously a central one and requires one to study the Universe at its earliest times, i.e. the most distant Universe (because of the finiteness of the speed of light). The Universe has been transparent to light since about 380 000 years after the big bang. This first light is in the present epoch observed in the form of a microwave background, the so-called cosmic microwave background (CMB). Investigating times close to the big bang (the so-called inflation period) requires the identification of very tiny details on maps of fluctuations of the CMB (those for which G. Smoot received the Nobel Prize in 2006) and thus precision measurement methods. Another promising approach is the detection of deformations of spacetime known as gravitational waves. These waves could have formed immediately after the big bang and would provide the only direct test of the content of the Universe emerging from the big bang. Since those early epochs, the expansion of the Universe has been decelerating. It was discovered in 1998 that the expansion has been accelerating again for the past 4 billion years. This is attributed to some new form of energy, called dark energy. Identifying dark energy has been singled out by both the astrophysics and fundamental physics communities as the priority task of the coming decade. It is obviously related to the question of the future of our Universe.
Earth and environmental sciences
The research consists in locating the remaining witnesses of these early periods, collecting rare field samples and measurements, analyzing them with the most exquisite modern techniques of imagery, isotope geochemistry, mineralogy in extreme pressure and temperature conditions, as is beginning to be carried out on cores from Australia and South Africa that date back to 2.7 billion years and more. Because we need to go back even further in the past, to the first billion years of Earth’s history, it requires pushing back the resolution limits of many current instruments and also improving our understanding of some basic physical, chemical and even biological principles, and producing when needed efficient numerical modeling of massive amounts of data.
But the Present and the Past are keys to one another, and understanding the distant past of the Earth requires even better understanding of the processes which are still currently active on Earth. This is for instance the case for active subduction of plates, a generator of dangerous, powerful earthquakes and volcanoes, but also the key operator allowing the formation of granitic crust, that is the precursors to continental fragments that generally remain afloat at the top of the mantle, to form buoyant continental plates. A case in point is the subduction of the American plates under the Caribbean, forming the active arc of the Antilles. Active volcanoes provide there field laboratories where large parts of our scientific endeavour can be tested. The processes of rock generation, fluid-rock interaction, alteration and erosion, and chemical input into the world’s ocean can be studied near the three volcanological observatories of Martinique, Guadeloupe and Montserrat, three cousin volcanoes (which our teams continuously monitor) in different stages of their volcanic life cycle. This also leads to yet another kind of catastrophe, with potentially dangerous consequences to the local populations, bridging for us the gap between fundamental research and applications in the form of protection to the local populations and advice to the authorities.
The formation of planets, in particular the Earth and the Moon, through the process of accretion and proto-planetary impacts, controls their chemical state and thus their present dynamics. The understanding of the emergence of planets from the pristine solar disk, relies on detailed observations of remote solar systems with different degrees of maturation, in particular the observation of exoplanets, and on high resolution isotopic measurements of the composition of chondrites, the initial building blocks of planets. This is where the world views and approaches of the astro- and geo-sciences meet.
The accretion of the Earth forming objects, the Moon-forming impact, the nature and duration of a magma ocean, the formation of the Earth’s core, the appearance of the Earth’s magnetic field, early mantle convection and the emergence of the first oceans, atmosphere and continental fragments, the effect of the late heavy bombardment, the emergence of life, the growth of the inner core, the birth of plate tectonics are all key events in the history of the young Earth occurring in the first one or two billions of years, which have left precious few traces that modern geosciences are increasingly able to uncover and unravel. The early history of the Earth has not been a “long quiet river flowing” (as the title of a famous French movie goes) but it has been punctuated by catastrophic events separating periods when the rules of the game may have changed, with the emergence of new media and structures after each revolution. This new view of a non-linear evolution with “phase changes” is in line with progress in non-linear physics and chaos theory. There were a “before” and an “after”, with often very different characteristics, regarding the appearance of many of the features recalled above.
UnivEarthS governance is ensured by a director, Marc Chaussidon (IPGP director) and a co-director Antoine Kouchner (APC director). They are supported by an executive board and a project manager, working closely with the work packages leaders, surround themselves with a scientific committee and present the results to the Labex the Council of partners.
Council of partners
At the top of the project’s operation, the Council of partners follows the course of UnivEarthS. It consists of the legal representative of each partner and is chaired by the President of Université Sorbonne Paris Cité, the Labex bearer establishment. This committee gathers once a year, gives approval for the continuation of the project and provides guidelines for the following year, especially in case of significant change (funding, calendar, withdrawal of a partner).
The executive board (BE)
The Executive Board pilot and coordinates the Labex. It take the decisions necessary for its smooth running. It is chaired by the director and co-director and is completed by the representatives of the three UnivEarthS founders laboratories: Isabelle Grenier (AIM), Sotiris Loucatos (APC) and Gauthier Hulot (IPGP), designated by their direction.
The BE meets as many times as needed, approximately every 2 months to ensure regular monitoring of UnivEarthS. They oversee the entire Labex and development of each project projects in three areas: research, education, development.
The Scientific Committee
Science policy and internal evaluation of UnivEarthS are under the expertise of CS. Reflecting the different areas of Labex, CS consists of French and international top scientists (designated and appointed by the BE).
It is chaired by GF Smoot (Nobel Prize in Physics 2006), co-chaired by E.Kaminski (IPGP) ; they are supplemented with 10 other members. On 2017 they were Joël Bergé, ONERA ; Piercarlo Bonifacio, GEPI ;Donald Dingwell, LMU Munich ; Stavros Katsanevas, EGO-VIRGO ; Pierre-Olivier Lagage, AIM ; Bernard Marty, CRPG Nancy ; Stéphane Mazevet, LUTh, Alessandro Morbidelli, OCA ; Edward Stolper, Caltech ; Peter Van Balmoos, IRAP.
The Scientific Council meets once a year. It assesses the progress of projects and makes recommendations on their pursuit, the allocation of funds and the launch of new projects.
Work-Package leaders assembly
Researchers from partner labs, work-package leaders meet twice a year, before and after the Scientific Council. They coordinate and scientific leadership. They form the equivalent of a laboratory council.
The project manager
From the beginning of the operation of UnivEarthS, the Executive Board wished to recruit (from the budget of Labex) a project manager to assist in its tasks and monitor them. Aurélia Olivier-Kaiser assumes this mission since March 2019.
The communications team
The communications team showcases the projects and their scientific results, and builds the image of the Labex following the decisions of the management of UnivEarthS.
Under the large national loan in 2010, the French government launched the “Investments for the Future” program for the country at the forefront of innovation. A budget of € 35 billion is reserved for this program.
Among the calls for proposals launched by the government, calling LabEx (Laboratory of Excellence) aims to develop significant resources research units with international visibility, to enable them to compete with their foreign counterparts to attract researchers and teacher-researchers of international renown and build an integrated policy research, training and development of high level.
The UnivEarthS project is one of 100 winners of the first wave of the call Laboratories of Excellence (2010 edition) projects.