ResearchERC Starting Grants for three Heidelberg Scientists

Presse Release No. 75
3 September 2020

European Research Council promotes projects with a total of approximately 4.5 million euros

Three scientists at Heidelberg University are receiving generous support from the European Research Council (ERC), which has awarded each of them an ERC Starting Grant for excellent young researchers. It will fund the research projects of Dr Philipp Preiss in quantum physics, Dr Lutz Greb in chemistry and PD Dr Lucas Schirmer in medicine. ERC resources totalling approximately 4.5 million euros are available for this purpose. The funding period for all three projects is five years.

Dr Preiss’s ERC project “UniRand – Random Unitaries in a Rapid Optical Lattice Simulator” involves experiments with ultracold quantum gases in optical lattices. The aim is to realise many-body systems with completely new properties through laser cooling and optical trapping. “The point is that strongly correlated systems, which occur for example in the solid state, can be simulated with single-particle resolution. That way, we can reconstruct the quantum state of a system atom-by-atom,” explains the physicist, who since 2016 has worked as a post-doc at the Institute for Physics and at the Heidelberg Center for Quantum Dynamics of Heidelberg University. The researchers hope that this will enable them to find new access to correlators and invariants in many-body systems, which have been investigated in theory but have so far not been measured in any experiment. Approximately 1.5 million euros in funding are available to Philipp Preiss’s team for the project.

Dr Philipp Preiss

The scientists in Dr Greb’s ERC project are working on raising the reactivity of elements such as aluminium and silicon in their usual oxidation states. “These elements are the most frequent components of the earth’s crust and normally they show a very inactive chemical response. The key to considerably increasing reactivity lies in changing the spatial arrangement of ligands around the relevant atoms,” underlines the Heidelberg chemist, who since 2016 has led an Emmy Noether group at Heidelberg University’s Department of Inorganic Chemistry. That is designed to enable the development of new materials and catalysts with special qualities, including the light addressability. In the long term, the scientists hope to replace rare and environmentally unfriendly heavy metals in catalytic cycles and functional materials. Lutz Greb’s ERC project, entitled “pCx4All – Calix[4]pyrrole for p-block elements: anti-van’t Hoff-Le Bel configuration and ligand-element cooperativity revive the standard oxidation states”, is receiving approximately 1.5 million euros in funding.

Dr Lutz Greb

Dr Schirmer’s ERC project “DecOmPress – Decoding Spatio-temporal Omics in Progressive Neuroinflammation” is about decoding cell-type-specific molecular disease mechanisms with an emphasis on multiple sclerosis (MS), a prototypic chronic-inflammatory disease of the central nervous system. Here, the participating scientists want to generate a basis for developing novel, cell-type-specific therapeutic approaches to treating MS. “With the aid of so-called omics technologies, such as single-cell RNA-sequencing, we would like to investigate pathological spatio-temporal changes that accompany progressive inflammation inside the nervous system – specific to cell types in both different anatomical regions and various stages of tissue damage,” stresses Lucas Schirmer, who since 2018 has led a research group on MS and related diseases at the Medical Faculty Mannheim of Heidelberg University. High resolution and multi-dimensional profiles of individual cells and tissue structures can be created with innovative, high-throughput methods. This enables the detailed recording of molecular changes accompanying nervous system diseases. Funding totalling 1.5 million euros is available for this ERC project.

Dr Lucas Schirmer

The European Research Council awards the starting grant to outstanding young scientists. Criteria for the funding are the scientific excellence of the early-career researchers and the innovative potential of their research ideas.