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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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Exchange of information between different brains usually takes place through the interaction between bodies and the external environment. In his Advanced Grant project, Francesco Pavone (LENS) and his team will try to establish brain-to- brain communication based on full-optical recording and controlled stimulation of neuronal activity in different subjects. As a first step, whole-brain high-resolution imaging in zebrafish larvae will be performed to identify activity patterns related to different tasks. This data will then be used as stimulation patterns in other larvae, in order to gain insight in the complex relationship between neuronal activity and subject behaviour. In addition, brain patterns of mice that recover quickly from strokes will be used as neural activity templates for other animals, as a form of rehabilitation therapy that might eventually be used in humans.
In 2010, the CREMA collabora- tion uncovered discrepancies in the energy level structure of muonic hydrogen (where the electron is replaced with a muon) that cannot be explained theoretically. One way of interpreting these results is that the size of the proton is different in normal (electronic) hydrogen compared to muonic hydrogen by as much as 4%. In his Advanced Grant project, Kjeld Eikema (LLAMS) will use the novel Ramsey-comb technique to perform precision laser spectroscopy in the extreme ultraviolet on the 1S ground-state to 2S excited state of helium+ ions. Because these ions can be trapped and their energy levels are more sensitive to the size of the nucleus, the helium ion would be especially suitable to provide new clues to solve this ‘proton size puzzle’ and improve tests of quantum electrodynamic theory. cerullo
High-intensity, ultrashort laser pulses can be used to bring electrons into relativistic motion, where the speed of the particles is no longer negligible compared to the speed of light. This extreme regime of light-matter interaction holds the promise of providing ultra-compact laser-driven particle accelerators and attosecond X-ray sources for scientific and medical applications. So far, the quest has been for the highest laser intensities. In his Advanced Grant project, Fabien Quéré (SLIC/LIDYL) aims to establish a new paradigm, by demonstrating the potential of laser-plasma interactions with sophisticated structured laser beams whose amplitude, phase and polarisation are shaped in time and space. Among other techniques, Quéré will use laser fields whose propagation directions rotate on a femtosecond time scale.
In extreme high-energy environments, such as neutron stars or pulsars in outer space, or the focus of ultra-intense laser beams in our laboratories, pairs of electrons and positrons (their antimatter counterpart) can be formed by conversion of electromagnetic energy into massive particles: a direct il- lustration of Einstein’s
E = mc 2 . In his second Advanced Grant project, Luis Silva (IST) will use the world’s fastest supercomputers to identify the laboratory conditions under which electron-positron pair plasmas will form, and to simulate the extreme astrophysical condi- tions underlying the behaviour of pulsars. Emphasis will be given to observable signatures of the simulated processes, such as electromagnetic radiation and accelerated particles, in order to create new links between computational studies, laboratory experiments, and relativistic plasma astrophysics.

Mechanical resonators based on carbon nanotubes are ex - ceptional sensors of mass and force. In his Advanced Grant project, Adrian Bachtold (ICFO) will take advantage of the sensing capabilities of nanotube resonators to study physical phe - nomena in unexplored regimes. Firstly, he will perform electron spin resonance (ESR) measurements on single molecules in an environment where the magnetic noise is reduced to an unprecedented level. Secondly, Bachtold’s team will carry out nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) on single nuclear spins, which will be imaged using magnetic resonance force microscopy. Lastly, a completely new experimental approach to the investigation of superfluidity is proposed. A nanotube mechanical resonator will be used to probe the superfluidity properties of helium-4 layers adsorbed onto a suspended nanotube.


© 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.
Diederik Wiersma 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.


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.
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.


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


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


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.
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.


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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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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