ERC Starting Grant for four TU Delft researchers

News - 11 January 2022 - Webredactie Communication

The European Research Council (ERC) has announced the ERC Starting Grants for young researchers. Four of them are scientists from TU Delft. This European grant of €1.5 million for a five-year programme is intended to enable individual scientists to build their own teams and conduct groundbreaking research. 

The four ERC Starting Grant winners from TU Delft are:

Marie-Eve Aubin Tam (TNW/BN)
Light-responsive microalgal living materials

Nature fabricates materials which have the ability to grow, move and sense their environment. Such dynamic and interactive materials are in strong contrast with man-made synthetic materials. Recently scientists have become interested to incorporate living cells into materials to form living materials, using most often muscle cells or bacteria. While underexplored, microalgae-based living materials are highly promising due to the light-driven movement of microalgae. 

The aim of this ERC project is to develop the first microalgae-based photosynthetic living material with a dynamically light-controllable shape and with locally tuned (mechanical) properties. This project opens up possibilities for a new class of materials with life-like functionalities, such as shape change and light-sensing, which are likely to find wide applications, from soft robots to photosynthetic devices. 

Sabina Caneva (3mE/PME)
Single-Molecule Acousto-Photonic Nanofluidics (SIMPHONICS)

Reading bio-molecular signatures and understanding their role in health and disease is one of the greatest scientific challenges in genome and proteome biology. Yet complete analysis of the sequence of individual proteins expressed at the cellular level is still beyond our current technology, as are next-generation techniques that can precisely manipulate these nanoscale compounds. The goal of Caneva’s SIMPHONICS project is to develop a high-resolution, high-throughput platform combining solid-state nanopore transport measurements, spatially modulated acoustic wavefields and single-molecule fluorescence time-traces to confine, scan and fingerprint proteins non-invasively and on a massively parallel scale.

Specifically, SIMPHONICS will begin a new research line at 3mE that uniquely applies principles and concepts from nanopore biophysics, nanophotonics and acoustofluidics with the potential to reveal the molecular-level details of fundamental biological processes in realistic, yet technically-challenging physiological contexts. 

Read more about Caneva’s research and the article on the 3mE website

Richard Norte (3mE/PME) 
Extreme Aspect Ration nano-Systems (EARS)

One way to send low-mass space probes over distances of billions of kilometres is to use sails made of extremely lightweight and highly reflective materials. A major challenge to designing these sails is that they must be ‘macro-scale’ in the length and width – say 4 x 4 m2 – but have ‘nano-scale’ thickness, around one-thousandth of the thickness of a human hair. This extreme-aspect-ratio nanotechnology is fundamentally different from any conventional nanotechnology developed over the last half century. Such materials would allow very small space probes in the form of microchips with integrated cameras, sensors and communication systems to be propelled over vast distances using powerful Earth-based lasers. This sort of challenge requires a “new type of nano-technology” and Norte’s project will rethink how we design, manufacture and manipulate objects with such extreme geometries.

Awarded an exceptional 2.1 million euros Starting Grant, Norte’s EARS project aims to make new types of lightweight sail materials and then use lasers to levitate them while carrying objects that are 100,000 times more massive than anything levitated with coherent light to date. These sail materials will offer unexplored avenues to study gravity, materials science and light-matter interactions. 

Read more about Norte’s research and the article on the 3mE website.

Branko Šavija (CiTG/3MD)
Auxetic Cementitious Composites by 3D Printing

Concrete is inherently brittle. This is a problem because important structures such as nuclear power plants need ductility to remain functional after earthquakes and similar disasters. Currently, steel bars or fibres are used to make concrete ductile. Such reinforcement prevents existing cracks from growing, but still leave structures vulnerable to repeated events and aftershocks. 

Šavija aims to create novel cementitious composites with high ductility, called auxetics, to use as reinforcement in concrete. Auxetic materials exhibit an unexpected behaviour when they are subjected to mechanical stresses and strains. When loaded in compression, the auxetic material contracts, but if the material is stretched (loaded in tension), it thickens and expands like a sponge. Using 3D printing techniques, this new more flexible cementitious composite can be obtained.

In a preliminary study Šavija discovered that auxetics can outperform conventional reinforcement in cementitious composites in terms of flexural strength and energy absorption. However, the interaction between deformable auxetic reinforcement and regular stiff cementitious materials is unknown. With this ERC grant Šavija aims to fundamentally understand and fully exploit the potential of auxetic cementitious composites by combining design, experiments and numerical modelling. 

43% of ERC grant winners female
A total of 397 early-career researchers won European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grants. The grants worth an average €1.5 million and will help ambitious younger researchers launch their own projects, form their teams and pursue their best ideas. The selected proposals cover all disciplines of research. Female researchers won some 43% of grants, an increase from 37% in 2020 and the highest share to date.

ERC press release and complete list Starting Grants