Working With Probability




Joost-Pieter Katoen

Head of the Software Modeling and Verification Group


+49 241 80-21200



RWTH computer scientist Joost-Peter Katoen is set to receive funding from the European Research Council with a Proof of Concept Grant to turn the results of his Advanced Grant into a prototype.


Moving a robot from A to B is not as easy at it seems. The greater the distance and the more dynamic the environment is, the more limited is the robot’s perception and the greater the probability of a collision. And this is a problem in an increasingly automated world. Professor Joost-Pieter Katoen wants to keep the probability of a collision as low as possible. He is an expert in programming errors, so to speak, and he and his team are tasked to identify them.

Katoen has held the Chair of Software Modeling and Verification at RWTH since 2005, which, to put it in very simple terms, deals with software debugging. More precisely, Katoen's group investigates so-called probabilistic programs, that is, programs that occasionally roll the dice in order to control complex processes.

His research proposal “A Deductive Verifier for Probabilistic Programs (VeriProb)” is now being funded by the European Research Council (ERC) with a Proof of Concept grant. This is based on his 2018 ERC Advanced Grant “FRAPPANT Formal Reasoning about Probabilistic Programs: Breaking new ground for Automation” (scheduled to run through November 2024). With the new funding, the knowledge gained from the Advanced Grant and the Caesar tool, which was developed as part of the project and can be used to improve probabilistic systems, will be transferred into a prototype that can be made available to industry.

Most Prestigious Scientific Award

ERC Grants are widely regarded as the most prestigious scientific awards for top-level research in Europe. The ERC Proof of Concept Grant provides supplementary funding to explore the commercial or societal potential of their ERC-funded work It is awarded to researchers who wish to pre-commercially exploit research results from their ERC project and are planning the first steps towards translating them into applications. Thus, the Grant does not fund any basic research, but rather activities to evaluate application maturity and commercial potential. Katoen will receive 150,000 euros in funding for 18 months. According to the ERC, 240 projects from 20 countries are being funded in the current funding round, 40 of which are conducted in Germany.

Probabilistic programs, which Katoen seeks to further refine and enhance, deliver an answer to tasks that actually cannot be solved algorithmically due to their complexity. Following Alan Turing, computer scientists call such tasks “undecidable problems”. Now the aim is to come closer to making good decisions with the help of probabilities.

There are numerous applications ranging from planning programs to finance. One example: The United Nations measures seismological effects around the world. When the earth shakes, this is not only recorded, but the seismic signals are also processed to localize, for example, where exactly and how deep in the earth or under the sea surface an earthquake originated. Further, the nature of the event is verified to find out whether it was really a quake or, for example, the testing of a nuclear bomb. Net-Visa is the name of the program used to collect data from measuring stations around the world, which is then centrally evaluated in Vienna. Since 2018, the United Nations has been relying on this probabilistic program, and the number of unidentified events has improved by 60 percent.

Katoen is one of the most recognized scientists in the field of model checking – his book “Principles of Model Checking,” co-authored with the Dresden professor Christel Baier, is the standard work in the field. Since May 2022, he has been a full member of the North Rhine-Westphalian Academy of Sciences, Humanities and the Arts. He holds an honorary doctorate from Aalborg University and is a member of the Academia Europea and the Koninklijke Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen.

He is also a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery and a Distinguished Professor at RWTH Aachen University. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Oxford, Vienna University of Technology, the IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, and the Institute of Science and Technology Austria, among others. Katoen also teaches at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.