ERC grants aim to advance knowledge but also to transform scientific discoveries into innovative products and services, creating economic value that meets society’s needs. The ERC, which is part of the European Horizon Europe programme, is a system which supports exploratory research and whose only selection criterion is scientific excellence. CEA researchers are regularly selected under a program to carry out research projects in a wide variety of fields.
SATTOC, ATTOsecond chemical solution
Winner : Hugo Marroux is a researcher at the Interactions, Dynamics and Laser Laboratory of the IRAMIS Institute of the CEA (LIDYL). After completing a thesis at the University of Bristol on ultrafast dynamics in molecules, Hugo Marroux then completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley, where he specialized in physical-attosecond (i.e., order of 10-18 seconds). He then did a second postdoctoral fellowship at EPFL where he studied the chemical dynamics of molecules surrounded by solvent, using deep ultraviolet spectroscopy (radiation with a wavelength of the order of ten nanometres). He joined the Attosecond Physics group of the Interactions, Dynamics and Laser-LIDYL Laboratory in 2021.
Scientific goal : The research uses the shortest pulses of light available today: pulses lasting a few seconds. These laser pulses in the X-ray field make it possible to excite the electrons located in the inner layer of the molecules, that is, as close as possible to the atomic nuclei. These excited states of matter are very ephemeral because they last only a few femtoseconds (10-15 s). However, they have the specific advantage of allowing molecules to be observed from the point of view of a single type of atom. Hugo Marroux will study, as part of his ERC project, the specific electron transfers of these states of matter and will then develop laser protocols to manipulate them. For this, he will rely on the experience and state-of-the-art infrastructure offered by LIDYL laser platforms.
Social advantage : This study will be able to highlight the processes of electron and energy transfer inside the molecules, after a high-energy excitation. It is essential to understand these mechanisms to better guide radiotherapy protocols.
TDVision: Detailed cortical mechanisms of top-down visual processing
Winner : Timo van Kerkoerle is a cognitive science researcher at the UNICOG Laboratory, Department of NeuroSpin, the research center for innovation in brain imaging at CEA’s Frédéric-Joliot Institute for Life Sciences. Timo van Kerkoerle studies how the brain allows us to perceive and interact with the world around us. How our brains encode abstract mental representations and use them to guide perception is still not well understood.
Scientific goal: To establish correlations between perceived or perceived mental states and observable and measurable states of neuronal activity, Timo van Kerkoerle created within the institute a deep neural imaging platform based on the use of the most advanced technology, three-photon microscopy . Complementary to functional magnetic resonance, magnetoencephalography and electroencephalography, it is the only technique capable of visualizing an almost complete local population of neurons. Thanks to this operating microscope from 2021, Timo van Kerkoerle aims to study the neural mechanisms of attentive vision in animal models in an unprecedented level of detail.
Social advantage : This fundamental research project is expected to find applications in the fields of health and digital technology. On the one hand, it should improve our understanding of mental disorders in which alert vision is selectively affected, such as in schizophrenia, autism and depression. On the other hand, it will contribute to progress in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), necessary for example for self-driving cars which is based on an artificial intelligence capable of “mimicking” our relationship with our environment: how we see it and how we interpret what we see. Indeed, the more we understand how vision works, the more we are able to build the most relevant AI algorithm possible.
TINY: two isotopes for the search for neutrinoless double beta decay
Winner : Anastasiia Zolotarova researcher in fundamental physics, carries out research on the nature of neutrinos. He carried out his thesis at the Institute for Research on the Fundamental Laws of the Universe of the CEA (Irfu) which he defended in 2018 at the University of Paris-Saclay on the “study and selection of crystals for the research of double decay beta neutrinoless with scintillating bolometers After a postdoc in a CNRS laboratory in Orsay, he continued his research activities at Irfu within the framework of a second postdoctoral.
Scientific goal : This research project will study the properties of neutrinos, which notoriously do not correspond to the predictions of the Standard Model. The neutrino oscillations have in fact confirmed that they have mass, while the Standard Model predicts that they are massless. Physicists are therefore trying to challenge this standard model because there are still many questions and gray areas: Why isn’t there as much antimatter as there is matter? Why is the neutrino a bit special compared to other particles of matter such as its cousins leptons and quarks? To go beyond the standard model, one runway is to understand the nature of neutrinos. How ? Via neutrinoless double beta decay (0νββ) with new technologies based on bolometric detectors developed for two new isopots, the best candidates to detect this neutrinoless double beta decay. The TINY pilot experiment consists of a demonstrator on a scale of a few kilos which will allow establishing the world’s best limits for neutrino-free double beta decay.
Social advantage : By managing to take the standard model as the default, Anastasiia Zolotarova contributes to advancing knowledge on the nature of neutrinos. The origin of the very small mass of neutrinos escapes the Higgs mechanism which explains the origin of the mass of elementary particles. Furthermore, the neutrino is the only particle of matter that is electrically neutral. It could therefore be its own antiparticle. It would not be a Dirac* particle like the others but of a different nature called Majorana where neutrino and antineutrino would be one and the same entity. Double beta decay without neutrino emission would therefore produce only matter and not antimatter, which could have a consequence on the mystery of the matter-antimatter asymmetry of the Universe.
* A Dirac particle is any particle of type fermion whose antiparticle is different. This is the case for any charged particle (an electron and its positron, for example). They are so called because of Paul Dirac’s demonstration in 1928 of the existence of the positron. (Source: Wikipedia)