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Water is a peculiar liquid. In fact, it's thanks to some of its peculiarities that our "blue" planet looks the way it does, and that life has evolved most of the characteristics we recognise today. ERC grantee Prof. Anders Nilsson has made his career out of studying water, in particular trying to understand the secret double life water leads at extremely cold temperatures.
After the birth of quantum mechanics in the early 20th century, this branch of physics evolved from being primarily the conceptual framework for the description of subatomic particle phenomena to providing inspiration for new technological applications. New hybrid architecture of quantum systems is now being developed in order to foster the implementation of cutting-edge quantum technologies.
In physics, scientists can predict the existence of a particle which is eventually, soon after or considerably later, observed experimentally. The Higgs boson is one of the most striking recent examples. ERC grantee Leo Kouwenhoven has recently made such a demonstration proving the existence of the “Majorana fermion”, a particle theorised in the 1930s. Detecting Majorana’s particles is not only exciting for particle physicists; thanks to their properties they could prove useful as stable “quantum bits” of information that could make quantum computers a reality.
Quantum theory, despite being one of the most successful scientific theories in history, throws up some bizarre ideas: quantum spin, the uncertainty principle, wave/particle duality, quantum entanglement and non-locality - or “spooky action at a distance” as Einstein once called it. But these are not just abstract concepts or the preserve of theory: Dr Szabolcs Csonka is working on isolating fundamental particles so as to study these phenomena first hand in electrons and thus bring quantum computers one step closer to reality.
Many of the electronic gadgets we currently take for granted already use ‘spintronics’ – for instance, the high-capacity hard disks that we find in today’s laptops. With the help of her ERC funding, Professor Roberta Sessoli is advancing our knowledge of the fundamental properties of molecular magnets and quantum spin, research which may lead to new molecular spin-based technologies. Prof Sessoli will attend the conference ERC – 5 years of achievement and the Italian National Information Day on the ERC funding schemes in Rome on 25 June 2012.