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EU funding for pioneering projects

ERC Advanced Grants: Success for 3 projects from the Physics Department

2018-04-19 – News from the Physics Department

The properties of quantum matter and an as yet unproven form of decay that atomic nuclei undergo: this are the topics of two projects at TUM’s Physics Department that receive highly endowed Advanced Grants from the European Research Council (ERC). Another project about biological nanodevices is supported by an “Proof of Concept Grant”.

Building upon experience from experiments with the GERDA detector (pictured) Prof. Schönert will develop new detectors to provide evidence of neutrinoless double beta decay. – Bild: GERDA

The ERC awards its annual grants in different categories. The Advanced Grants are reserved for established scientists with an excellent track record of outstanding achievements over the past ten years. The value of each grant can be as high as 2.5 million euro.

In addition to the two Advanced Grants, anothe project from TUM’s Physics Department has been singled out for Proof of Concept grants. This form of funding is awarded to scientists interested in turning their ERC research projects into marketable innovations. As an entrepreneurial university, TUM places a strong emphasis on this facet of research and provides targeted, concrete support for researchers’ and students’ start-up projects.

During the application call, which concludes with the allocation of the Advanced Grants, TUM scientists had already won five Consolidator Grants and six Starting Grants from the ERC. The latest successes have brought the number of ERC grants awarded to TUM researchers to 90. 26 of these are located at the Physics Department.

Prof. Dr. Christian Pfleiderer

Prof. Christian Pfleiderer
Prof. Christian Pfleiderer – Photo: Andreas Heddergott / TUM

Quantum effects radically change the properties of matter under extreme conditions such as at temperatures near absolute zero, in the presence of strong magnetic fields and under high pressures. The research community is currently working intensively to explore how these changes can be predicted and leveraged but it has run into some unexpected problems. The results of many experiments are calling fundamental concepts of solid-state physics into question. As part of his “Extreme Quantum Matter in Solids” (ExQuiSid) project, Prof. Christian Pfleiderer plans to use experiments to study the properties of such quantum matter and try to explain why deviations from the current theoretical understanding are occurring. Pfleiderer and his team have implemented a series of new investigative methods including special laboratory measurements and a new type of neutron spectroscopy enabling ultra-high resolution images even in the presence of strong magnetic fields.

Christian Pfleiderer holds the Chair of Topology of Correlated Systems. His work on topological matter was supported by an ERC Advanced Grant in 2012.

Prof. Dr. Stefan Schönert

Prof. Stefan Schönert
Prof. Stefan Schönert – Photo: Eckert und Heddergott / TUM

One of the biggest unsolved puzzles in physics is the excess of matter over antimatter in our universe. One possible explanation would be the existence of particles that are identical to their antiparticles. Neutrinos are the only elementary particles we know of which could possess this property. The only way for scientists to verify this theory based on current knowledge is to provide evidence of neutrinoless double beta decay, a very rare form of decay that certain atomic nuclei undergo. Building on earlier experiments, Prof. Stefan Schönert plans to use his ERC-funded project “GemX” to lay the groundwork for the new large-scale LEGEND experiment which aims to substantiate this decay. To do this, Schönert and his team will develop high-purity detectors enriched in the germanium isotope Ge-76. The long-term aim is to operate up to one ton of these novel detectors in an underground laboratory shielded from cosmic radiation and natural radioactivity.

Stefan Schönert is Professor of Experimental Astroparticle Physics at TUM, co-spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 and spokesperson for LEGEND. He is also a research area coordinator in the Excellence Cluster Universe.

Prof. Dr. Hendrik Dietz

Prof. Hendrik Dietz
Prof. Hendrik Dietz – Photo: Andreas Heddergott / TUM

Every chemical reaction takes place at a specific speed. Knowing the rate at which molecules bind to each other or break bonds is important in areas like the development of pharmaceuticals. Prof. Hendrik Dietz wants to develop a comparatively economical and uncomplicated process to measure the kinetic properties of molecular reactions while still achieving reliable results. He has received a Proof of Concept grant for his “Nanodevice” project. His specialty is DNA origami, which involves creating nanoscale “devices” from DNA molecules. The newly developed molecule should reveal information about the kinetic properties of the target molecule under fluorescence microscopy.

Hendrik Dietz is Professor of Experimental Biophysics and a recipient of the Leibniz Prize from the German Research Foundation. He has already received a Starting Grant and a Consolidator Grant from the ERC for his work on DNA origami.

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