1 June 2017

Vidi grants for research into the gig economy and into mantle plumes

NWO has awarded both innovation scientist Andrea Herrmann and Earth scientist Laura Cobden a Vidi grant worth 800,000 euros. The grant enables them to develop their own innovative line of research and set up their own research group. Nine other Utrecht University researchers also received a Vidi grant.

Photo: Andrea Herrmann

Andrea Herrmann - I am gigging my way through the day

Hillary Clinton said in 2015: “Many (…) are making extra money [transcribing files], designing websites… even driving their own car. This “on demand” or so-called “gig economy” is creating exciting opportunities and unleashing innovation, but it’s also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.”

The ‘gig economy’ - enabling the hiring of service workers via internet-based platforms - is revolutionizing work. While being accessible for workers around the world, gig-jobs are not covered by traditional employment legislation. To enable a meaningful regulation, innovation scientist Andrea Herrmann analyses the activities of gig-workers in seven Western economies.

Laura Cobden - Convection inside the Earth

Volcanic eruptions release vast quantities of heat and gas into the Earth’s atmosphere and are a major driving force in global climate. In most cases, these eruptions are concentrated along the boundaries between tectonic plates and are associated with shallow melting processes.  However, there are some regions, such as Hawaii, which are far from plate boundaries yet are extremely active volcanically. Historically, these regions of prolific volcanic activity have even been implicated in mass extinction events, including the loss of the dinosaurs. Why they exist has been a long-standing enigma. One popular theory is that Hawaii sits on top of a “mantle plume” – i.e., a narrow upwelling of hot, and maybe chemically unusual, material rising all the way from the Earth’s core. But do they really exist?

Large earthquakes sending sound waves through the deep Earth can be used by seismologists to build up 3-D images of the sound speed inside the Earth, in a manner analogous to medical tomography. Unlike medical tomography, however, the images in seismic tomography contain many gaps and uncertainties. This makes it difficult and controversial to interpret the images, especially in terms of whether mantle plumes exist.  

In her research Laura Cobden combines computer simulations of sound waves travelling through the Earth, with measurements from laboratory experiments on rocks at high pressure, to quantify precisely how rocks with different temperatures and chemistry appear on seismic images. In the Vidi project she will apply these techniques in a revolutionary procedure that uses machine learning to convert the images obtained in seismic tomography into maps which show the likelihood and location of mantle plumes.