Highly endowed EU grant to develop new tools for nanoscale optical spectroscopy

(Nanowerk News) One of the Starting Grants awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) in its latest funding round has gone to Professor Achim Hartschuh, who works at the Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacology at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) München. The award is worth approximately 1.5 million euros over a period of five years. Starting Grants are designed to support cutting-edge research by supporting outstanding researchers who have already shown themselves to be particularly creative. This latest accolade confirms LMU's position among those institutions that have received the most ERC grants. LMU has won more ERC grants than any other German university. Moreover, it has improved its position relative to its European competitors, and is now placed ninth in the top ten.
Hartschuh, who is a member of LMU's Center for NanoScience (CeNS) and of the Nanosystems Initiative Munich (NIM), a Cluster of Excellence based at LMU, receives the award for a project entitled "New tools for nanoscale optical spectroscopy - Functional imaging of single nanostructures using antennas". As Hartschuh explains, "The aim of the project is to develop innovative methods for use in optical microscopy and apply them to the study of nanostructures. These new methods should, for the first time, make it possible to monitor light-induced phenomena in single nanostructures in real time."
To achieve this goal Hartschuh will utilize a method which he himself helped to develop. The approach is based on the principle of the optical antenna, but combines this with techniques borrowed from the realm of ultra-fast laser spectroscopy. Optical antennas are sharp metal tips which, when irradiated with a laser, focus the incident light into an extremely small volume. They can therefore be used to amplify the weak optical signals produced by individual nanostructures – making it easier for these to be detected and characterized. The combination of two different methods makes it possible to obtain data with very high spatial and temporal resolution. Such high degrees of resolution are essential if one wishes to study the physical and chemical behavior of nanostructures in detail.
Hartschuh first intends to examine one-dimensional nanowires and nanotubes. Not only are these already well established as model systems in the field, they are also of great practical interest for future applications in the areas of nanoelectronics, optoelectronics and photovoltaics. However, at present, the physical properties of these nanostructures – the relationship between their atomic structure and their optical and functional traits, for instance – are poorly understood. With the help of his new optical method, Hartschuh hopes to close this gap in our knowledge. "The potential applications include the investigation of light-induced phenomena, such as photosynthesis or the analysis of organic polymers that are important for photovoltaics," says Hartschuh.
Professor Achim Hartschuh studied physics in Tübingen and Stuttgart, obtaining his PhD in 2001. He then moved to the University of Rochester (USA), before returning to Germany to take up a position at Siegen University in 2002. In 2005 he was appointed Junior Professor at the University of Tübingen. Hartschuh became a Full Professor at the Department of Chemistry at LMU in 2006.
ERC Starting Grants
The sole criterion for the assessment of proposals submitted to the ERC is the scientific excellence of the Principal Investigator and the research project. The project must be highly innovative – implying that the outcome is not assured – but lead to significant breakthroughs in the field if successful. It should be designed as a collaborative exercise and be interdisciplinary in character. The EU-funded program for the support of basic research was initiated in 2007.
Source: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München