Prof. Jess McIver receives federal funding to support breakthrough & interdisciplinary research

PHAS recipients of the NFRF. L-R: David Jones, Jess McIver, Joerg Rottler, and Jeff Young.

UBC Physics & Astronomy researchers David Jones, Jess McIver, Joerg Rottler, and Jeff Young have been awarded the federal New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) 2020 Exploration Stream. This funding, each in the amount of $250K, will support high-risk, high-reward and interdisciplinary research. Their three projects are among the 7 projects awarded at UBC, and 117 projects awarded across Canada. Their projects will have potentially game-changing impacts in mining, machine learning, and event detection in astrophysics.

“Research that takes great risks advances the way we think about the issues that impact Canadians,” said the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. “The Government of Canada is supporting researchers who are exploring bold new directions that could change lives and position Canada at the forefront of global research and innovation.”

Prof. Jess McIver, leader of the UBC gravitational-wave astrophysics group and the UBC LIGO Scientific Collaboration group, will lead an interdisciplinary project that harnesses the power of machine learning to search for electromagnetic counterparts to gravitational wave events, in partnership with Canadian astronomers Prof. Maria Drout and Prof. Daryl Haggard:

First Light: Unleashing Machine Learning for Multi-Messenger Discovery 
Principal Investigator: Jess McIver
Co-applicants: Maria Drout (University of Toronto); Daryl Haggard (McGill University)

In a game-changing 2017 discovery, gravitational waves (GWs) were observed in concert with light for the first time. A burst of gamma-rays was observed within seconds of a GW signal from the merger of two neutron stars, but the glow of the resulting “kilonovae” explosion was not detected until nine hours later. The project will employ a novel machine learning (ML) approach to leverage information reported by LIGO-Virgo to identify kilonovae events. Understanding the complete evolution of kilonovae will unlock new insights into some of the most important outstanding questions about our Universe, including the structure of extremely dense matter and the origin of heavy elements like gold. In addition to advancing AI methods, we will enable Canadian telescope assets located around the world to swiftly slew toward a true astrophysical GW signal, reject noise events, and unlock the potential for new cosmic discoveries led by Canadian astronomers.

More about NFRF

The New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) 2020 Exploration competition has awarded funds to support 117 research projects across Canada that bring diverse disciplines together in pursuit of breakthrough ideas and high-reward outcomes. The NFRF program, a federal research funding initiative, mobilizes cutting-edge interdisciplinary, international, and transformative research that strengthens Canadian innovation and benefits Canadians.

The fund’s Exploration stream specifically targets interdisciplinary, high-risk, high-reward research that defies current models, bridges disciplines in novel ways, or tackles fundamental problems from new perspectives. The stream’s design recognizes that interdisciplinary research is often risky, but worthwhile given the potential for significant groundbreaking impact. All funded teams must demonstrate commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion in the research environment.

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