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ERC Advanced Grants for Laserlab Researchers

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded several high-profile researchers within Laserlab-Europe an 'Advanced Grant'. ERC Advanced Grants allow exceptional established research leaders to pursue frontier research of their choice.

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2013

Diederik Wiersma With his second ERC Advanced Grant, Maciej Lewenstein, Professor of quantum optics theory at ICFO (Barcelona), intends to develop a theory of classical Brownian motion of biological molecules on the surface of the cell membrane and in the cell, as well as a theory of quantum Brownian motion in an inhomogeneous environment. Furthermore, he aims at formulating new models of classical many-body open systems, and hopes to develop a theory of open-system quantum simulators. According to Lewenstein’s expectations, investigating the connections between these seemingly disparate project goals will lead to a unified theory of open systems.
In free-electron lasers (FEL), coherent electromagnetic radiation is produced by a relativistic electron beam moving through a periodic magnetic field structure. This rather special type of laser can be used to generate a particularly broad spectrum of radiation, ranging from microwaves to X-rays. As such, free-electron lasers are part of the so-called fourth generation of light sources.
With his new ERC Advanced Grant, Victor Malka (LOA) intends to demonstrate the feasibility of a fifth generation light source: free-electron lasers injected with electron beams produced with laser-plasma accelerators. The project, called X-five, aims at delivering bright X-ray beams at a repetition rate of 10 Hz, and will be especially of interest for applications which do not require very high average brightness. Malka foresees applications in, for example,medicine, radiation biology, chemistry and security.
cerullo
Diederik Wiersma With her second ERC Advanced Grant, Anne L’Huillier from Lund Laser Centre, will try to answer a number of basic questions: how long does it take for an electron to escape its potential, how long does it take for an atom to become an ion once the electron has left the atom, and where, how and when do the electrons leave the atom? In order to answer the first of these questions, L’Huillier will measure photo-emission time delays for several atomic systems, using a tuneable attosecond pulse system. To study the ionisation process, XUV pump/probe experiments are required to find the transition between so-called non-sequential double ionisation (where photons are absorbed simultaneously and both electrons emitted at the same time) and sequential ionisation (where the electrons are emitted one at a time). Finally, L’Huillier wants to combine coincidence measurements with angular detection, allowing to characterise (two-particle) electronic wavepackets in both time and momentum.

2012

Prof. Costas Soukoulis (IESL-FORTH, Heraklion, Crete, Greece and Ames Lab & Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA) has been awarded an Advanced Grant by the European Research Council (ERC) to promote the development of photonic crystals, metamaterials and plasmonics.
The novel materials will enable the realization of innovative electromagnetic properties unattainable in naturally existing materials. The implementation of the ERC Advanced Grant project requires novel ideas, advanced computational techniques, nanofabrication approaches and experimental testing. According to Soukoulis, the broad expertise of his team and their pioneering contributions to photonic crystals, metamaterials and plasmonics qualifies them for facing the challenges, and will ensure the maximum possible success of the project.
costas soukoulis

2011

Diederik Wiersma Diederik Wiersma, currently director of LENS in Florence, has received an ERC Advanced Grant of 2.2 million euros. Wiersma intends to use the grant to create a whole new research area, photonic micro-robotics, by creating microscopic structures which can perform robotic tasks and are entirely powered and controlled by light. For the project, the expertise available at LENS on complex photonic materials and direct laser writing will be combined and applied to create microstructured patterns in liquid crystal elastomers: rubber-like polymers with liquid crystalline properties. Direct laser writing will allow Wiersma and his team to realize structures with sub-micron resolution and nanometre scale accuracy. By using elastomers, it will be possible to create robotic elements that respond mechanically to optical triggers. These elements will be combined with static (photonic) structures, opening up a new strategy to make robots of various kinds.
Giulio Cerullo, professor at the Politecnico di Milano, has received an ERC Advanced Grant of 2.5 million euro. The grant will allow him to develop a method to study DNA and proteins using ultrashort ultraviolet laser pulses. The proposed technique, 2DUV spectroscopy, can be seen as an extrapolation of the well-established 2D Nuclear Magnetic Resonance technique, which has been a great help to structural biology as it allows to resolve complex molecular structures with high spatial resolution. Using IR and visible laser light, 2D spectroscopy has already had a large impact on our understanding of the structure of peptides and proteins, as well as the mechanisms of energy relaxation in photosynthetic complexes and semiconductors. cerullo

2010

t.haensch Theodor Hänsch, Director at MPQ Garching and professor of Experimental Physics at
the Ludwig-Maximilians Universität in Munich, Germany, has been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant. Hänsch will use the grant of 2.39 million euros for new applications of frequency combs, of which he has been one of the inventors.
In 2005 Hänsch received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to laserbased precision spectroscopy. A laser frequency comb makes it possible to measure the frequency of any laser source with a precision that enables stringent tests of the fundamental laws of physics. This technique also paves the way for the creation of all-optical clocks and improved satellitebased navigation systems. Frequency combs are currently used by hundreds of laboratories worldwide.
Prof. Rienk van Grondelle (LaserLaB Amsterdam) received an ERC Advanced Grant of almost 3 million euro, which will fund his research into the role chlorophyll-binding proteins play in determining the success of photosynthesis.

The research will hopefully lead to the implementation of photosynthesis in food and/or fuel production. The biological machine driving photosynthesis comprises an intricate constellation of pigment-protein complexes that includes chlorophyll and carotene. The success of photosynthesis depends on ultrafast events (on the order a picosecond), in which solar energy is converted into electrical energy. The study will be conducted using ultrafast and other spectroscopic techniques housed at the LaserLaB Amsterdam and the CEA Saclay, where part of the project will be carried out in collaboration with Dr. Bruno Robert.
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silva Dr. Luis Silva, Instituto Superior Tecnico (IST, Lisbon), has been awarded an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council to explore particle acceleration in relativistic shock waves driven in astrophysical scenarios or by ultra-intense lasers. The team of Luís Silva at GoLP/Instituto de Plasmas e Fusão Nuclear at IST, one of the new partners in LASERLAB-EUROPE II, aims to study and to identify the key mechanisms for particle acceleration in relativistic shocks with massively parallel numerical simulations. It has been proposed that acceleration in collisionless shock waves is the critical mechanism for the acceleration of cosmic rays, the most energetic particles in the Universe, but the acceleration mechanisms in these nonlinear waves remain to be clearly identified. The work to be developed in the ERC Advanced Grant "Accelerates" aims to understand the physics underlying shock formation and the microphysics determining particle acceleration in relativistic shocks. The IST team will also address the possibility to generate these shock waves using ultra intense lasers with the goal of further exploring shock acceleration in laboratory conditions and of harnessing shock acceleration to optimize novel laser-based energetic particle sources.

2009

Marcus Alden Prof. Marcus Aldén from the Combustion Physics Group of Lund Laser Centre in Sweden got 2.5 million euros for studying combustion processes in gas turbines and engines with lasers. Due to turbulence, the conditions in the combustion flame vary rapidly in time and from one place to another. To study the combustion process, a spatial resolution of the order of micrometers and timescales of microseconds is required. Aldén will use 'high reprate' lasers and several types of infrared spectroscopy to investigate the combustion flames in a non-intrusive way, thereby generating the knowledge needed to enhance the efficiency and reduce the amount of pollution resulting from burning fuels.
Prof. Thomas Elsaesser from the Max Born Institute for Nonlinear Optics and Short Pulse Spectroscopy in Berlin received a grant of 2.49 million euros for a project aiming at elucidating processes which determine the properties of hydrogen bonds in molecular systems. Elsaesser studies ultrafast processes in condensed matter. His project is devoted to unraveling changes of molecular structures on the length scale of a chemical bond and the ultrashort time scale of molecular motions. Within the project, novel methods of ultrafast optics in a wavelength range from the far-infrared to hard x-rays will be applied for investigating hydrogen bonds. A key goal consists in measuring molecular structures in realtime by initiating and reading out structure changes with ultrashort light pulses.

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Thomas Elsaesser
Massimo Inguscio Prof. Massimo Inguscio from the European Laboratory for Nonlinear Spectroscopy (LENS) in Florence will use his Advanced Grant to study disorder in ultracold quantum gases. Disorder is ubiquitous in nature and has a strong impact on the behaviour of many physical systems. However, due to unavoidable interactions, the effect is hard to study in real condensed-matter systems. Inguscio will use ultracold atomic quantum gases, both bosonic and fermionic, as model systems to understand the physics of disorder. These quantum gases are easily manipulated and a variety of diagnostic techniques is available to gain detailed information on the system.
Motion in the microcosm is to be recorded by a team at the Laboratory of Attosecond physics of LMU and MPQ by means of ultrashort flashes consisting of individual elecrons. The project is being funded with 2.5 million euro in an "ERC Advanced Investigator Grant" awarded by the European Union to Prof. Ferenc Krausz.
Electrons, atoms and molecules play the leading roles in the films to be produced by a team of laser physicists around Prof. Ferenc Krausz and Dr. Peter Baum in the project “4D Imaging of Fundamental Processes on the Atomic and Sub-atomic Scales”.

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Ferenc Krausz
Niek van Hulst Prof. Niek van Hulst (ICFO, Barcelona) has been awarded one of the 2009 European Research Council Advanced Investigators Grants to pursue his project "Nano-Optical Antennas for Tunable Single Photon Super-Emitters". The ERC Advanced Grants aim to allow top-level established scientists to carry on with pioneering frontier research projects. According to Van Hulst, recent advances by PhD- and Postdoctoral researchers, together with the excellent reputation of LASERLAB-EUROPE partner ICFO, were crucial in obtaining this prestigious grant of 2.5 million euro.

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2008

Professor Anne L’Huillier’s work at the Lund High-Power Laser Facility of the Lund Laser Centre (Sweden) has chiefly been on the generation of high harmonics and attosecond pulses, but with the proposal that got her the Advanced
Investigators Grant, she wants to push attosecond physics into a new direction. “The idea is to create controlled sequences of pulses, and to use them to coherently control electronic processes.”
The concept of coherent control stems from the chemistry community, says L’Huillier. “The idea of coherent control in chemistry is that you force chemical reactions to go in a certain direction.” In chemistry, this concept has been demonstrated to a certain extent. Instead of chemical reactions, though, L’Huillier would like to control electronic processes.

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Anne L'Huillier
Victor Malka Professor Victor Malka from the Laboratoire d’Optique Appliquée (LOA) in Palaiseau near Paris received his Advanced Investigators Grant for a proposal appropriately called PARIS (PARticle accelerators with Intense lasers for Science). In the coming five years he will use the money to develop compact particle accelerators based on the wakefield of laser pulses. Shining a laser into a plasma creates an electric field that can be used to accelerate an electron beam. Using this method, one can produce electric fields that are up to 10,000 times larger than those used in conventional particle  accelerators. This means one can create accelerators that are much more compact than accelerators based on other techniques.

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Prof. Dr. Mauro Nisoli from the Politecnico di Milano was awarded an Advanced Investigators Grant from the European Research Council for 'exceptional established research leaders' last year. In winning this grant of 2.44 million euros, he joins three researchers from LASERLAB-EUROPE who received that same grant in the first round. Nisoli is planning to take attosecond laser physics to the next level.

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Mauro Nisoli
Villy Sundstoem The Chemical Physics group in the Lund Laser Centre, led by Professor Villy Sundström, focuses on research related
to sunlight: they look for new materials for solar cells, and are trying to mimic natural photosynthetic systems in order to produce fuel – such as molecular hydrogen – with sunlight.
They also investigate the harmful effect that sunlight has on human skin. Sundström says this research involves studying both the structural and the electronic dynamics of the reactions. The Advanced Investigators Grant will be used to develop a table-top setup in which sub-picosecond x-ray pulses are employed to probe the dynamics of reactions.

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