CWI part of NWA CORTEX consortium

The National Science Agenda has awarded a 5 million euro grant to CORTEX – the Center for Optimal, Real-Time Machine Studies of the Explosive Universe. Self-learning machines will hunt for explosions in the universe and speed up innovations in industry and society.

Publication date
11 Jun 2019

The National Science Agenda has awarded a 5 million euro grant to CORTEX – the Center for Optimal, Real-Time Machine Studies of the Explosive Universe.  The CORTEX consortium of 12 partners from academia, industry and society will make self-learning machines faster, to figure out how massive cosmic explosions work, and to innovative systems that benefit our society. CWI will contribute to this project by developing new self-learning algorithms.

 Machine learning has rapidly become an integral part of our lives. It is now commonly used for speech recognition and information retrieval. This is also true in science, for detecting patterns in nature and the Universe. But the need is growing rapidly for such machines to respond quickly, for example in self-driving cars and for responsive manufacturing. On a more fundamental level, self-learning machines help us unveil a dynamical Universe we did not know existed up until recently. Bright explosions appear all over the radio and gravitational-wave sky. Many citizens and scientists are curious to understand where these come from.

“In CORTEX we aim to solve these open problems by bridging fundamental research to society,“ says Dr. Joeri van Leeuwen (ASTRON), the project lead. “We can only reach these ambitious goals if academic, applied, public and industry partners work together.”

CWI’s Computational Imaging (CI) group is involved in this project with the aim of developing new self-learning algorithms. Joost Batenburg, group leader CI, says: “We look forward to using our expertise in order to develop new algorithms that will process large amounts of telescope image observations from the universe. These algorithms will help us to improve images by learning to focus, just like the autofocus of the camera of a mobile phone.” These clearer images will eventually provide us with information necessary for the search for the origin of our universe. The algorithms can be used for other application areas as well. For example, they will be used for investigating museum collection objects from our research partner Rijksmuseum in the search for clues about how the object was made many centuries ago, such as toolmarks or fingerprints of the artist.


Joost Batenburg explains CWI's role within CORTEX (in Dutch)

The 5 million Euro grant from the Nationale Wetenschapsagenda: Onderzoek op Routes door Consortia (NWA-ORC) program will thus fund research at partners ASTRON, Nikhef, SURF, Netherlands eScience Center, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica, IBM Nederland B.V., BrainCreators B.V., ABN AMRO N.V., NVIDIA, NOVA, and Stichting ILT; in cooperation with Rijksmuseum, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Leiden University.

“Gravitational waves whipped up by merging black holes and neutron stars peak for less than a few seconds, maybe several times per month,” says Dr. Sarah Caudill (Nikhef), “and fast self-learning machines can help us recognize the events as they occur.” Responding quickly to these using radio telescopes can help us understand better how the universe works, Dr. Antonia Rowlinson (University of Amsterdam and ASTRON) explains: “Using machine learning, we will pick out their radio afterglow from thousands of sources and, by watching how they change, we can determine the vast energies that must be involved”.

“CORTEX is unique in that we subsequently translate the latest mathematical and computer-science discoveries in faster and better computing for industry and society,“ says Dr. Raymond Oonk from SURF. Maarten Stol from BrainCreators B.V. concurs: “Both for startups and for large companies, machine learning on large data streams is essential. Only in a collaboration such as CORTEX can cutting edge science make its way to innovation in business.”

By being part of this consortium, CWI will be enabled to appoint a CORTEX team within the CI group consisting of a Postdoc, PhD student and a software engineer.

Research along Routes by Consortia

Commissioned by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW), NWO has been funding research in the context of the Dutch National Research Agenda since 2018. The aim of the research in the Agenda is to make a permanent positive contribution to the future knowledge society by building bridges in the present and joining forces to address scientific and social challenges. Steps are being taken to achieve this aim through an annual funding round by the NWA-ORC. This science-wide funding round focuses on enabling interdisciplinary research and innovation that can be used to bring social and scientific breakthroughs within reach.

More information

Joost Batenburg, Group Leader Computational Imaging CWI:

Joeri van Leeuwen -Astronomer- Principal Investigator: +31 626 154 552

CORTEX YouTube channel

Nationale Wetenschaps Agenda (NWA)