Nearly 5 million euro for pioneering biomimetics and quantum technology research
The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded prestigious ERC Advanced Grants to two professors of physics, Olli Ikkala and Jukka Pekola. ERC funding supports pioneering research ideas that introduce unconventional, innovative approaches.
Olli Ikkala’s project, which received an approximately €2.5 million ERC Advanced Grant, is focused on new kinds of multifunctional materials. Ikkala’s broader research framework is connected to biomimetics, which studies how and why nature constructs systems and materials that have unique properties.
"Biomimetics is a broad research area that has stimulated the development of new materials that are strong, tough, biocompatible, dirt repellent, or that have glowing colours or reduced friction. Up to now, research in this area has mostly focused on either materials’ passive properties or properties that can be continually changed in the same way, for example by modifying the temperature", explains Professor Olli Ikkala.
"More recently, material scientists have been inspired by signalling in biological systems, energy dissipation and managing non-equilibrium systems. In the new ERC project, I want to delve into new kinds of biomimetic materials that are active and that interact with their environment in new ways. The materials can change their state when energy is fed into them, and they can also learn new characteristics,’"continues Ikkala.
Understanding of self-assembly has increased rapidly in recent years, and this allows the creation of ever more demanding functions and states of disequilibrium in new multifunctional materials.
Controlled use of quantum phenomena in heat engines and refrigerators
Jukka Pekola received a €2.4 million ERC Advanced Grant for developing quantum heat engines and refrigerators and for research on quantum thermodynamics. Professor Pekola has studied thermal fluctuations and energy transfer in superconducting nanostructures for the past two decades.
"Quantum heat engines are currently being actively studied on the theoretical level. So far, however, there hasn’t been any success in producing devices that actually utilise quantum thermodynamics and quantum phenomena. In this research, we aim to construct quantum heat engines and refrigerators and try to find out whether their efficiency and cooling power can be improved in a controlled way with the help of quantum phenomena. At the same time, we will obtain information about thermodynamic phenomena in real-life quantum systems", Academy Professor Jukka Pekola explains.
"The research will play a key role in the control of future applications for quantum phenomena. The results could also have impact in areas such as controlling the energy consumption of electronic devices," Pekola adds.
The quantum technology field is currently undergoing a massive revolution as quantum phenomena are gradually shifting from research environments into new technologies and eventually into commercial use. Possible future applications include highly sensitive sensors for industry or medical imaging as well as quantum computing and simulations that open up completely new possibilities, for example, in the development of materials for the energy sector and pharmaceutical industry.
Professors Olli Ikkala and Jukka Pekola began their research careers at the same time, at the beginning of the 1980s, in the Helsinki University of Technology’s Low Temperature Laboratory. Nowadays, these students of the Low Temperature Laboratory, today part of the Aalto University Department of Applied Physics, have achieved success in many respects, including obtaining the much sought-after ERC funding. Since 2007, Finland has received ERC Advanced funding for a total of 38 researchers, six of whom have been awarded the funding for a second time.
Professor Ikkala also leads the Centre of Excellence in Molecular Engineering of Biosynthetic Hybrid Materials, HYBER. Professor Pekola heads the Centre of Excellence in Low Temperature Quantum Phenomena and Devices, LTQ.
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Photo credits: Olli Ikkala/Academy of Finland and Jukka Pekola/Jukka Pekola.