Seven ERC Starting Grants for TU Delft researchers

News - 17 November 2015 - Webredactie Communication

Seven TU Delft researchers have been awarded ERC Starting Grants from the European Research Council. The grants (1,5 million euros for five year programmes) are intended to support up-and-coming research leaders and enable the creation of excellent new research teams.

The success rate of the ERC starting grant applications is the highest the TU Delft has seen until now. Vice-president and rector Karel Luyben: “Competition for the prestigious ERC grants is high and getting an ERC grant is truly a boost to a researcher’s career. That is why I am very happy that this year no fewer than seven TU Delft candidates were awarded an ERC Starting Grant. I would like to congratulate them on this feat.

I am also pleased to see that we have become quite efficient in the application process. The success rate of our applicants has increased, up to 40% acceptance this year. This shows that our researchers are making smart choices about the time they spend working on proposals for funding, and taking this job seriously.”

The seven awarded ERC-proposals are:

3D printing meets Origami (Amir A. Zadpoor) 

Complete regeneration of functional tissues is the holy grail of tissue engineering and could revolutionise treatment of many diseases. Effective tissue regeneration often calls for multi-functional biomaterials. Ideally, these porous biomaterials should be optimised not only in terms of their 3D structure but also in terms of their surface nano-topography.

3D printing enables us to create very complex 3D structures, but the access to the surface is very limited during the 3D printing process. Nanolithography techniques enable the generation of very complex surface nano-topographies but generally only on flat surfaces. There is currently no way of combining arbitrarily complex 3D structures with arbitrarily complex surface nano-topographies.

In this project, the ancient Japanese art of paper folding (i.e. origami) is used to solve this deadlock. In this approach, flat surfaces are first 3D printed in a particular way to teach them how to self-fold. The flat surface is then decorated with complex nano-topographies. Finally, the self-folding mechanism is activated to enable folding of the flat sheet and the formation of complex 3D structures.

Urban modeling in higher dimensions (Jantien Stoter)

3D urban models can help to monitor and control processes in modern urban areas, such as flooding, noise and energy supply and demand. The main challenge is that the urban applications used to monitor and control these processes all need a different level of detail of 3D data. It therefore currently requires enormous effort to collect and transform 3D data to make it suitable for a specific application.

Jantien Stoter will be designing and developing a 4D model that captures several application specific levels of detail of urban objects such as buildings and roads in one model. The resulting inclusive 4D data set can be used by multiple applications, making the use of 3D data significantly more efficient. This will provide a fundamental solution for the current complex and time-consuming problem of having to independently acquire and store different levels of details for 3D urban models.

Read more about Jantien Stoter and the 3D Geoinformation research group

Quantum communication networks  (Stephanie Wehner)

Quantum networks are still in their infancy, even though quantum communication offers unparalleled advantages over classical communication. Quantum cryptography in particular offers security that is guaranteed by the laws of physics - at least on paper! In this project, Stephanie Wehner will be developing a theoretical framework to take quantum cryptographic security from paper to real world quantum devices.

To accomplish this, she will investigate new cryptographic building blocks that are directly inspired by and adapted to simple and imperfect quantum devices. Such building blocks can then be stacked together to build complex quantum cryptographic protocols in a quantum network.

Furthermore, she will be developing new procedures to test unknown quantum devices so they can safely be used in quantum protocols. This research will lay the foundations for the safe experimental implementation of general quantum cryptographic protocols in a quantum network.

Read more about Stephanie Wehner

STRONG-Q (Simon Gröblacher)

While quantum physics is one of the most successful theories in modern science, it remains a puzzle why we do not observe quantum effects in our (macroscopic) every-day life. In fact, quantum theory does not pose an inherent limit on the size and mass of a quantum system.

The field of optomechanics has been established with the explicit goal of testing massive, macroscopic quantum states. Here, radiation-pressure force is used to bring a mechanical oscillator into a quantum state by coupling it to light. Most current experiments are however limited by either the optical or mechanical quality of the mechanical system, which so far have prevented a true breakthrough.

Simon Gröblacher is planning on overcoming these challenges by using two-dimensional photonic crystals on silicon nitride membranes to build a new generation of optomechanical systems in order to finally enter the so called single-photon strong coupling regime. This regime will open up the possibility of true quantum experiments involving macroscopic mechanical objects.

Read more about Simon Gröblacher and the Gröblacher Lab – Quantum optomechanics with photonic crystals

MultiCellSysBio (Hyun Youk)

A key question in biology is how cells at different locations communicate using signalling molecules so that cells turn on the right genes at the right time and place. Such coordination is vital for many processes, including the development of all embryos.

The researchers will assemble budding yeasts into multicellular structures and build genetic circuits whose motifs commonly occur in natural systems. The yeasts will use the genetic circuits to control secretion and sensing of three distinct signalling molecules for communication. Using adhesive proteins and light-inducible genes, the researchers will assemble multiple yeast strains, each with a unique genetic circuit, into a single two- and three-dimensional multicellular structure.

They will then switch on the circuits in these cells to initiate communication between cells. Different amounts of signalling molecules will cause the cells to make different amounts of fluorescent proteins. By measuring the fluorescence of cells at different locations over time and then correlating them, the researchers will infer the degree of cell-cell coordination. By finding which combinations of genetic circuits and spatial arrangements of cells enable cell-cell coordination of gene expressions, Hyun Youk aims to reveal design principles of multicellular systems that have been elusive up to now.

Read more about Hyun Youk and the Youk Lab – Physics of Cellular Systems

AlterMateria (Andrea Caviglia)

Recently it has become possible to create ‘designer’ quantum materials, synthesised layer by layer. These artificial materials are interesting building blocks for a new generation of technologies, provided that one can access, study and ultimately control their quantum phases in practical conditions. At the same time, an independent research area is emerging that uses ultra-short bursts of light to stimulate changes in the macroscopic electronic properties of solids at unprecedented speeds.

The goal here is to bridge the gap between material design and ultrafast control of solids. In this project Andrea Caviglia will be using short bursts of light to manipulate the electronic properties of materials on very fast time scales. Using innovative techniques to generate intense light pulses, he will investigate metal-insulator and magnetic transitions in artificial materials.

This research programme takes oxide electronics in a new direction and establishes a new methodology for the control of quantum phases at high temperature and high speed.

Read more about Andrea Caviglia and the Caviglia Lab – Designer Quantum Materials

Doting on Demand (Arjan J. Houtepen)

Quantum Dots (QDs) are semiconductor nanocrystals with tunable electronic properties that are considered promising materials for a range of applications. Electronic doping of QDs remains a big challenge even after two decades of research into this area. At the same time it is highly desired to dope QDs in a controlled way for applications such as LEDs, FETs and solar cells.

Arjan Houtepen will be developing a completely new method to electronically dope assemblies of semiconductor nanocrystals and porous semiconductors in general. External dopants will be added on demand in the form of electrolyte ions in the voids between QDs. These ions will be introduced via electrochemical charge injection, and will subsequently be immobilised by freezing the electrolyte solvent at room temperature or by chemically linking the ions to ligands on the QD surface, or by a combination of both.

This research project will provide unprecedented control over the doping level in QD films;  it presents a major step forward in the optimisation of optoelectronic devices based on QDs.