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.
|© ICFO||Signs of quantum coherence have been found in biological systems that are active in photosynthesis, suggesting that plants, algae, and bacteria may use quantum phenomena to efficiently store solar energy in the form of sugars. Recently, the group of Niek van Hulst from Laserlab-Europe partner ICFO were the first to detect coherent oscillations at physiological conditions in a single photosynthetic complex – the network of biomolecules involved in the capture, conversion and storage of solar energy. Van Hulst has now received his second ERC Advanced Grant for a project, LightNet, to find out if and how nature employs these unexpected large-scale quantum effects for photosynthesis.
Advances in ultrasensitive and ultrafast experimental spectroscopy have revealed evidence of so-called ‘quantum coherence’ in the energy transfer of light-harvesting complexes of bacteria, algae and plants. This quantum coherence might be the reason for the remarkably high efficiency (95%) of photosynthetic light harvesting, as it would allow the complex to find the most efficient pathway for the energy transfer, but until recently it was thought that such quantum phenomena could never occur on the scale of biological systems.
|Emissions from combustion processes are the main source of today’s air pollution and a major source of global warming. Cleaner and more efficient combustion devices thus have a huge positive impact on the environment. The Division of Combustion Physics of Lund Laser Centre (LLC, Lund, Sweden) has been studying the details of combustion processes for several decades now, and has built up one of the world’s best equipped laser-diagnostic labs with numerous state-of-the-art lasers and detectors.
This year, Marcus Aldén, head of the Combustion Physics Division, has been awarded his second ERC Advanced Grant for his proposal: ‘Towards a deepened understanding of combustion processes using advanced laser diagnostics’. In (partially) transparent combustion devices, laser light can be used to study the combustion dynamics and probe the presence of different chemical species in the flame with a high temporal and spatial resolution, without influencing the combustion process itself. Marcus Aldén has been using lasers for this purpose for thirty-five years. With his ERC Advanced Grant, Aldén will develop new diagnostic techniques and perform several phenomenological combustion studies.
|The Standard Model of physics is incomplete. Gravity is not understood at the quantum level, dark matter and dark energy are not explained, and (string) theories searching to cover these shortcomings are only consistent in higher-dimensional spaces, while only four of those dimensions are observed. Moreover, there
is the unexplained mystery of finely tuned strengths of the fundamental forces, providing us with a Universe of complexity. With his ERC Advanced Grant project NEWPHYS-MOLECULES, Wim Ubachs from LaserLaB Amsterdam will perform precision metrology measurements on the H2 molecule in a search for new physics that might provide answers to these fundamental questions.
The paradigm underlying Ubachs’ proposal is that effects of new physics – either related to unknown particles or to symmetry-breaking phenomena – will manifestthemselves as tiny shifts in the quantum level structuresof atoms and molecules, or in minute drifts over time ordependencies on environmentalconditions. Phenomena that can be explored also at the atomic scale in the low energy domain.
|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.
|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.|
|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.
|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.|
|Motion in the microcosm is to be recorded by a team at the Laboratory of Attosecond physics of LMU and 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”.
|Prof. Niek van Hulst () 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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|Professor Anne L’Huillier’s work at the Lund High-Power Laser Facility of the 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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|Professor Victor Malka from the 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 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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|The Chemical Physics group in the , 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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