SIF 143 Virginia Initiative on Cosmic Origins (VICO)

Project Manager: Eric Herbst

The purpose of this award is to establish an inter-disciplinary and international research program in Cosmic Origins science.

BoV Approved: December 2017

Project Dates: 4/01/2018 – 6/30/2022

Funding Awarded: $1,000,000

Executive Summary

Among the most important questions in science are those that relate to the origins and prevalence of life in the universe. A $1,000,000 Strategic Investment Fund award approved by the Board of Visitors in December 2017 supports the establishment of the Virginia Initiative on Cosmic Origins to foster collaborations that will transform understanding of the key physical and chemical processes involved in the formation of habitable planets. This investment leverages the University’s close ties to the federally-funded National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and funding matches from the Max Planck Institute in Garching, Germany and the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. Based at the University of Virginia, the interdisciplinary research center will be led by faculty from the departments of astronomy and chemistry and will involve colleagues from computer science, environmental sciences and materials science and engineering. Their work with partners outside the University will help to establish UVA’s preeminence in the emerging field of cosmic origins.

Current Status: Active


The PAC conducted an annual review of this award and considered a one-year no-cost extension request in February 2021. The PAC is pleased with the progress of this award, and granted the no-cost extension request based on the fact that the original project goals are still in process and some delays have been experienced due to the pandemic. The unobligated balance is the result of unanticipated external support received from sponsored awards. This demonstrates excellent stewardship through the successful leveraging of additional funding sources,and good return on investment.

The project team has successfully built upon the community of international scholars, strengthening UVA’s connection to NRAO, Chalmers, and the Max Planck Instittute, and increasing UVA’s stature in Origins research. Three postdoctoral researchers have been hired and three additional have been recruited. Several graduate and undergraduate students are being trained at UVA and abroad as a result of this funding. This group has been very effective with obtaining extramural funding by leveraging the SIF funds as Institutional support, speaking to the sustainability of the project post-SIF award.