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Significant ERC funding for Robert Fickler to study twisted ions

Published on 25.1.2022
Tampere University
Kvanttiteknologian tutkija tutkimuslaboratoriossa koneiden keskelläRobert Fickler studies phenomena on quantum physics field in university's laboratory on Hervanta Campus. Photo: Jonne Renvall / Tampere University
Robert Fickler, an Associate Professor at Tampere University, has been awarded European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant of 1.5 million euros for his research on the field of quantum science. The funding is targeted to developing a novel tool based on twisted ions in his TWISTION research project.

A recently developed field of research investigates techniques and effects of structuring matter-waves, i.e. a wave-like beams of massive particles. At its core is one of the most fundamental principles of quantum physics, the so-called wave-particle dualism. According to the principle, quantum objects can appear as waves and particles, even though in classical physics both concepts are something very different.

Observing wave-particle dualism in the lab

The project called TWISTION will be the first to demonstrate a structured matter wave consisting of heavy, charged atoms, i.e. ions. In particular, the project aims to generate an ion beam with a twisted screw-like wave structure. It allows the exploration of yet unknown interaction mechanisms that will be unique to twisted ions.

With this project, Robert Fickler, who is an internationally leading expert in structuring quantum optical systems, seeks to redefine the state-of-the-art of this novel branch of quantum science at the interface between optics and atom physics.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to implement this ambitious project I’ve had in mind already for a couple of years. We can now thoroughly examine the most beautiful features of quantum physics, that are at the same time the most difficult to explain by common sense. We will show the wave nature of freely propagating ions, which are commonly depicted as little particles. Maybe even more exciting is that we can explore effects directly linked to the wave-particle dualism. For example, is the internal structure of the particle-like ion affected by the external twist of the ionic matter wave?” he ponders.

Twisted matter-waves could act as nano-sensors

Robert Fickler conducts his research at Tampere University, which is a world leader in photonics field and the host of the Academy of Finland’s PREIN flagship. The 60-month ERC funding enables him to hire a group of researchers who will set up this entirely new experiment in atom and quantum optics research. The project expands the ongoing research on photonics at Tampere University, putting it on the map of atomic quantum sciences.

Tampere University has great benefits to offer the project, such as nanofabrication facilities and a well-equipped Microscopy Center. The former will help to develop the required new tools to structure matter waves, the latter will enable testing them in commercial microscopy systems. This brings the new techniques close to real-world applications at an early stage.

“Although the main target of the project is to promote basic research and to better understand the quantum world, the tools developed will also be useful in future quantum technologies. For example, twisted matter-waves can act as novel types of nano-sensors, which will increase the capabilities of modern electron and ion microscopy systems”, adds Robert Fickler.

ERC Starting Grant for top-level early-career scientists

The project is funded by the European Research Council, which grants funding to top researchers for high-level frontier research. In its funding decisions, the scientific quality of the application is the only assessment criterion. The ERC Starting Grant is for top researchers with 2 to 7 years of experience since completion of their PhD. At Tampere University, ERC funding has been granted to 11 researchers since 2015.

The ERC Starting Grants awarded were the first research grants under Horizon Europe R&I programme. The ERC Starting Grants awarded were the first research grants under Horizon Europe R&I programme. Read more on ERC Starting Grants.

Further information

Robert Fickler
+358 50 447 8492
robert.fickler [at]

Text: Anna Aatinen
Photo: Jonne Renvall