ERC Consolidator Grants for Laserlab Researchers

Since 2013, the European Research Council (ERC) has a new funding scheme: the Consolidator Grant. The new grant is meant for independent researchers with between 7 and 12 years experience after their PhD. The Consolidator Grant thus partially replaces the existing ERC Starting Grant, for which scientists with up to 12 years’ experience were eligible. It provides funding of up to €2.75 million per grant for a maximum of 5 years.

ERC Advanced Grants for Laserlab researchers >>>

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Francesco Scotognella (POLIMI): Harvesting more solar energy

Earth is inhabited by an energy-hungry human society. The Sun, with a global radiation at ground level of more than 1 kW/m 2 , is our largest source of energy. However, 45% of the total radiation is in the near infrared (NIR) and is not absorbed by most photovoltaic materials. In his Consolidator Grant project, Francesco Scotognella will try to increase the capacity of solar energy conversion by extracting plasmon-assisted hot carriers from NIR plasmonic materials. He intends to enhance the lifetime of these hot carriers by linewidth narrowing in plasmonic nanoparticle films made of doped semiconductor nanocrystals. The aim is to produce a solar cell device functioning in the near infrared with efficiencies up to 10%. A tandem solar cell, which would combine a commercial silicon solar cell with a power conversion of around 20% with the new PAIDEIA based device, is expected to reach a total power conversion efficiency of 30% by extending the range of utilised wavelengths to the full spectral range delivered by the Sun.


©University of Dundee

Tomáš Čižmár (IPHT): Holographic micro-endoscopy
To date, no high-resolution in-vivo imaging technique has been introduced which would be applicable deep inside living organisms without causing significant harm to the surrounding tissues. In this context, an important challenge is to increase the penetration depth of superresolution im- aging inside living organisms.
In his Consolidator Grant project, Tomáš Čižmár therefore aims to develop new, ultra-thin endoscopic devices for acquiring high-quality images from unprecedented depths inside tissues of living organisms. For this purpose, assisted by a team of transdisciplinary experts, he intends to push the boundaries of the holographic control of light propagation in multimode fibres. The idea is that this approach will enable his team to deploy several light-based imaging methods, including superresolution microscopy, inside freely moving animal models and ultimately humans.
In the first instance, the micro-endoscopy technique will be applied to neuroscience, providing a minimally invasive window into fundamental processes in neuronal diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Nicola Poli (LENS): Gravitational effects on quantum systems
After 100 years of general relativity and quantum mechanics, both theories have been tested at an unprecedented level. Unfortunately, though, we lack full comprehension at the fundamental level: a quantum description of space-time is still under discussion. High-precision experiments capable of measuring tiny gravitational effects on quantum systems, such as new generation atomic clocks and quantum inertial sensors, might be used to observe effects originating from Planck-scale physics.
The main aim of Nicola Poli’s Consolidator Grant project is therefore to explore the limits of contemporary physics with a new generation of atomic quantum sensors, namely optical atomic clocks and atomic gravimeters. He will perform ultimate precision tests of gravity with fountains of ultra-cold cadmium and strontium atoms. Specifically, he aims to perform tests of the weak equivalence principle with quantum probes, exploring also possible spin-gravity couplings. Furthermore, he will address quantum interference of high-pre- cision clocks in a gravitational potential and will try to demonstrate gravity-induced decoherence mechanisms, opening the way towards an explanation of the quantum-to-classical transition in macroscopically entangled quantum systems.



David Grojo (LP3): Extreme light for micro-fabrication
High peak power compact femtosecond lasers can be used for high-precision laser micro-fabrication. So far, however, the ‘extreme light’ (ultrashort pulses, X-rays and terahertz radiation) produced inside the exposed matter remains unexploited for nano/microfabrication because of the low intensity.
The main objective of David Grojo’s Consolidator Grant project EXCEED is to overcome the intrinsic limits of ultrafast laser material processing by exploiting extreme light pulses. In the proposed concept, the energy required for optical breakdown (local ionisation of the medium) comes mainly from the primary high-power laser source, whereas the desired interaction is initiated by the much weaker secondary pulse of extreme light. Consequently, this method provides the freedom to control the spatial resolution and deposited energy density independently.

Frank Koppens (ICFO): Topological nano-photonics
Topological nano-photonics is a new paradigm for novel quantum materials and will enable future applications in miniaturised photonic isolators, diodes and logic circuits, possibly leading to completely new concepts for communication systems, optical transistors and optical information processing.
In his Consolidator Grant project TOPONANOP, Frank Koppens aims to exploit the extraordinary topological properties of novel quantum materials in order to control light at the nanoscale in a radically new way. One of the main objectives is to generate nonreciprocal nanoscale optical fields (plasmons) that propagate in only one direction and implement topologically protected plasmons such that they move around defects and corners. At the same time, visualizing and controlling electromagnetic excitations will be used as a tool to unravel extraordinary phenomena in exotic quantum materials.


Gerasimos Konstantatos (ICFO): Green nanocrystal solar cells Solar cells made of nanocrystals have the potential to combine the best features of plastic solar cells and conventional silicon- based cells. Like plastic solar cells, they can be created from solution using a cheap and flexible technique called spin-coating. In addition, with nanocrystals much higher efficiencies could be reached in principle than with either plastics or silicon.
Gerasimos Konstantatos’ Consolidator Grant project HEINSOL aims to develop the first highly efficient, robust solution processed solar cell platform based on environmentally friendly, Earth-abundant materials. To achieve this, HEINSOL undertakes a hierarchical approach to tailor the opto-electronic properties of inorganic nanocrystals, starting from the control of composition and their properties at the atomic level, and following up with further tailoring their optoelectronic properties via interactions at the supra-nanocrystalline level.


Chiral molecules come in two forms, so-called enantiomers, which have essentially the same physical and chemical properties, but act differently in a biological setting. Both enantiomers can taste differently, for example, or have contrasting healing powers. Unravelling the workings of chirality would therefore be especially relevant for medicine development, and might even shed light on the origin of life. Because chi- ral molecules are sensitive to the handedness of light, ultra- short rotating (circularly polarised) laser pulses of attosec - ond duration can be used to unravel the dynamical aspects of chirality. With his Consolidator Grant, Yann Mairesse will build on a femtosecond technique recently developed at CELIA to create circular attosecond laser radiation, aiming to perform chirality-sensitive attosecond spectroscopy.
All visible matter, except for the lightest elements, is created in the hot interior of stars. Elements heavier than iron are formed via pathways of unstable intermediates, by neutron capture and transmutation of protons into neu- trons and vice versa (beta decay). One of the main tasks of modern nuclear astrophysics is to reveal these pathways, which can be accomplished by creating and studying un- stable nuclei in terrestrial laboratories. In his Consolidator Grant project, Yuri Litvinov (GSI) will employ storage rings of 108 meters and 54 meters in circumference at GSI in Darmstadt to observe the transition between several key radioactive ions. The measurements should provide important nuclear data for modelling of astrophysical processes, and would in par - ticular give insight into X-ray bursters and the conditions prior to the formation of the solar system.
©GSI, G. Otto
Fermions are the elementary bricks of our world, from the quarks constituting nuclear matter to the electrons determining the properties of materials. The combined effect of the concepts symmetry and topology poses significant challenges to our comprehension of strongly-correlated matter. In his Consolidator Grant project, Leonardo Fallani (LENS) will address important open questions concerning topological states of fermionic matter. For this purpose, he will use neutral ytterbium atoms, cooled down to a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero, manipulated and probed by laser light. His aim is to investigate their behaviour under strong magnetic fields, employing laser light to create effective “extra dimensions”, and to realize long-sought topologi- cal states of matter, such as chiral spin liquids.


©ICFO/Sylvia Gutiérrez

Romain Quidant (ICFO): Quantum Optomechanics with a Levitating Nanoparticle
Micro- and nano-mechanical oscillators with high quality (Q)-factors have gained great interest for their capability to sense very small forces, and their related potential to contribute to our further understanding of quantum effects with large objects. So far, the Q-factor of these oscillators has been limited because of their physical contact to a support. A very attractive alternative to conventional mechanical resonators is based on optically levitated nano-objects in vacuum. In particular, a nanoparticle trapped in the focus of a laser beam in vacuum is mechanically disconnected from its environment and hence does not suffer from clamping losses.
With his Consolidator Grant project, Romain Quidant is planning to use the unique capability of optically levitating nanoparticles to create a nano-mechanical oscillator closer to the ground state at room temperature. This will allow him to explore new physical regimes whose experimental observation has so far been hindered by current experimental limitations.

Reinhard Kienberger (MPQ): Attosecond Electron Dynamics in Molecular Systems
Time-domain investigations of ultrafast microscopic processes are most successfully carried out by pump/ probe experiments. Direct access to electron motion on the atomic scale has been made possible by intense waveform-controlled few-cycle near-infrared laser pulses combined with isolated sub-femtosecond XUV (extreme UV) pulses. These tools, along with the techniques of laserfield- controlled XUV photoemission (‘attosecond streaking’), and ultrafast UV-pump/XUV-probe spectroscopy, have permitted real-time observation of electronic motion in experiments performed on atoms in the gas phase and of electronic transport processes in solids.
With his Consolidator Grant, Reinhard Kienberger is planning to apply attosecond spectroscopy to electronic processes in molecules. By combining attosecond tools and techniques with their experience in UHV technology and target preparation in a new beamline, his team aims at investigating charge migration and transport in supramolecular assemblies, ultrafast electron dynamics in photocatalysis, and dynamics of electron correlation in high-TC superconductors.

Dario Polli (CUSBO): Very Fast Imaging by Broadband Coherent Raman
Real-time non-invasive imaging of cells and tissues promises to have revolutionary impact on various fields in biology and medicine. The ability to detect the chemically specific vibrational signatures of molecules inside the cell would allow us to develop reliable bio-markers to, e.g., follow cell differentiation and to identify crucial properties of tissues, such as whether a tumour is benign or malignant. In this way tumours can be located and their borders with normal tissue traced for surgery. The goal of Dario Polli’s Consolidator Grant project is to combine the most detailed molecular information over the entire vibrational spectrum with the highest acquisition speed. In order to achieve this, his team will develop a complete coherent Raman microscope for near-video-rate broadband vibrational imaging. The aim is to validate the vibrational imaging system by studying two important biomedical problems: cancerous cell differentiation and detection of neuronal tumours.

Peter Baum (MPQ): Direct Visualisation of Light-Driven Atomic-Scale Carrier Dynamics in Space and Time
The regime of lightwave electronics, where atomic-scale charges are controlled by few-cycle laser fields, holds promise to advance information processing technology from today’s microwave frequencies to the thousand times faster regime of optical light fields. All materials, including dielectrics, semiconductors and molecular crystals, react to such field oscillations with an intricate interplay between atomic-scale charge displacements (polarizations) and collective carrier motion on the nanometer scale (currents). This entanglement provides a rich set of potential mechanisms for switching and control.
In order to be able to exploit these potential mechanisms, Peter Baum’s Consolidator Grant project aims at measuring electronic motion within and around atoms. Drawing on their expertise covering electron diffraction and few-cycle laser optics, his team will replace the photon pulses of conventional attosecond spectroscopy with freely propagating single-electron pulses, compressed in time by sculptured laser fields. They will use stroboscopic diffraction/microscopy to provide a direct visualisation of fundamental electronic activity in space and time.


©Riechelle van der Valk/StudioVU

Davide Iannuzzi: Micromachined optomechanical devices (DIDYMUS)
The project of Davide Iannuzzi, University Research Chair professor at LaserLaB Amsterdam, builds upon his ‘fibre-top’-technology, which allows producing an atomic force microscope probe at the end of an optical fibre. In three ambitious research lines, he intends to combine the senses of ‘sight’ (optics) and ‘touch’ (mechanics) in three different optomechanical instruments that should allow him to tackle unanswered questions on each of the three most relevant scales in life sciences: cells, tissues, and organs.
The first project entails designing and testing a new optomechanical probe to investigate how a sustained mechanical load on a brain cell of a living animal may trigger changes in its central nervous system. In the second project, an optomechanical tactile instrument will be developed in order to assess how subsurface tissues deformin response to a mechanical stroke. The last research projectaims at delivering an acousto-optical gas trace sensor,which should be so compact that it can be used inside lungs to find early signs of life threatening pulmonary diseases.

Antonio Acín: Quantum information theory with black boxes (QITBOX) Looking for ways to exploit the extraordinary potential of quantum information, scientists are currently developing all kinds of different quantum systems. In his Consolidator Grant project, Antonio Acín, ICREA Professor at ICFO, will try to develop a theoretical framework that should allow him to understand what can and what cannot be done with these quantum systems in terms of information processing. In this framework, the quantum systems are seen as ‘black boxes’ – their only relevant properties are the input they receive and the output they produce.
Acín will first characterise the correlations that are possible among quantum devices. These correlations will subsequently be used to construct relevant information protocols, which will finally be applied to concrete physical setups – such as quantum-optical systems. The idea is that, based on the identified correlations, new methods can be developed to study many-body systems.

Jens Limpert: Advanced Coherent Ultrafast Laser Pulse Stacking (ACOPS)
In the future, cheap and compact particle accelerators for collider experiments and cancer treatment might be based on laser technology. In laser wake-field particle accelerators, ultra-short and high-power laser pulses are used to create electron waves in a plasma, producing electric forces by which electrons or protons are accelerated to almost the speed of light. Such laser accelerators, however, require laser systems that combine high peak power laser pulses with a large number of pulses per unit time – a high repetition rate.
In his Consolidator Grant project, Jens Limpert, Junior Professor at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, is planning to apply a technique called coherent pulse stacking in order to create a laser system that produces laser pulses with an energy of 32 J at a repetition rate as high as 15 kHz – numbers that are far beyond the state of the art. To this aim, he will try not only to coherently combine laser pulses from several fiber amplifiers, but he also plans to temporally store laser pulses inside optical cavities – waiting to be released as a coherent pulse train when a sufficient number of laser pulses have been built up inside.