Posted: July 16, 2010

Novel microscopy technique for three-dimensional imaging of nanostructures wins ERC starting grant

(Nanowerk News) The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded a Starting Grant to the TERATOMO proposal presented by Rainer Hillenbrand. The grant has a budget of nearly 1.5 M€ for a 5 year work program. TERATOMO is the acronym for Near-field Spectroscopic Nanotomography at Infrared and Terahertz frequencies. The core objective of the project is the development of a novel microscopy technique for three-dimensional imaging of nanostructures with infrared and terahertz light.
Infrared (IR) and terahertz (THz) light is extremely sensitive to different material properties and thus can be used for characterizing chemical composition, crystal structures as well as conduction properties. However, due to the diffraction-limited spatial resolution, conventional techniques cannot be applied to image local material properties in nanostructures or nanodevices This problem can be tackled by near-field optical microscopy that uses a sharp tip to focus the light to nanoscale spot sizes, thus allowing to generate two-dimensional (2D) maps of surfaces with a spatial resolution far below the diffraction limit. "By developing novel near-field techniques paired with computed image reconstruction, we now want to develop three-dimensional (3D) near-field microscopy. This shall allow to image the inside of nanostructures with IR and THz light, in a similar way as Computed Tomography (CT) sees inside the human body" says Rainer Hillenbrand.
Rainer Hillenbrand earned his PhD from the Technische Universität München for research and development in optical near-field microscopy. From 2003 to 2008 he was Head of the Independent Junior Research Group "Nano-Photonics" at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, which was funded within a Nanofutur grant awarded by the German Federal Government for Education and Research. As anticipated by the Nanofutur project, in 2007 the spin-off company Neaspec GmbH was founded with the mission to develop IR and THz near-field microscopes for the research laboratory and to promote their industrial applications. Since 2008 Rainer Hillenbrand continues his scientific research activities as an Ikerbasque Research Professor (Basque Foundation for Science) and Nanooptics group leader at CIC nanoGUNE in San Sebastian, Spain.
Rainer Hillenbrand is already the forth winner of an ERC grant within CeNS in 2010: The other grantees are Philipp Tinnefeld, Dieter Braun and Thomas Klar. Furthermore, two other CeNS members were awarded with this prestigious grant already in 2009: Jens Michaelis (LMU Munich) and Matthias Schneider (at that time at the University of Augsburg).
ERC Starting Independent Researcher Grants aim to support up-and-coming research leaders to establish or consolidate their independent research group. Being a very competitive program, proposals are assessed only in terms of their scientific excellence, and less than 10% of the applications were accepted in the 2009 call.
Source: LMU Center for NanoScience