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AMOLF integrated training in nanophotonics, femtophysics and mesoscopic biophysics

Final Activity Report Summary - AMOCROSS (AMOLF integrated training in nanophotonics, femtophysics and mesoscopic biophysics)

The aim of the AMOCROSS project was to provide high-level interdisciplinary training to early-stage researchers in three emerging research fields: nanophotonics, femtophysics and mesoscopic biophysics. The research programme of this project comprised three research lines that each contained two subprojects. On each of these subprojects (six in total) a PhD student was employed. These students came from Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and Serbia. The research studies of these students were interdisciplinary between the three above-mentioned fields, and for all six students the research work will result in a doctoral degree. In one of the six subprojects the research programme deviated from the original proposal. Due to hiring problems, the subproject on the study of the force generation of growing bacterial cells was replaced by a subproject on attosecond (10-18 seconds) physics.

The research work was very successful and led to a large number of high-quality scientific publications including publications in high-impact journals like Physical Review Letters, Angewandte Chemie and the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The research was also of strong interdisciplinary nature. At the boundary of nanophotonics and femtophysics, the properties of charge carriers in semiconductor quantum dots were studied with advanced far-infrared THz spectroscopic techniques employing femtosecond laser pulses. It was discovered that the mobility of the charge carriers, which is essential for using these quantum dots in solar cells, is strongly dependent on the relative size of the quantum dot with respect to the exciton Bohr radius. Femtosecond pulses were also used to study the intrinsic properties of nanophotonic structures. It was discovered that the strongly enhanced material-light coupling in nanophotonic structures can lead to very special properties of light, like the occurrence of special evanescent waves within the nanostructure and complex propagation behaviour as a result of multiple scattering effects.

At the boundary of femtophysics and biophysics, the location and clustering of water in bilipid membranes were investigated using femtosecond spectroscopy techniques. To this purpose a new technique was developed, named vibrational resonant energy transfer (VRET). With this technique it was demonstrated that most of the water molecules embedded in bilipid membranes are contained in water nanoclusters. However, a small but significant fraction of the water molecules was observed to be completely isolated from these clusters. At the boundary of nanophotonics and biophysics, the role of regulatory proteins on the switching behaviour of microtubules from a growing to a shrinking state was studied. It was discovered that regulatory proteins at the ends of the microtubules can increase the switching rate by more than a factor of 10.

In addition to the above mentioned scientific research results, the students also participated in important technological advancements. Several new advanced spectroscopic techniques were developed like the above mentioned technique of VRET. In addition, new equipment was designed and built, like a new near-field microscope that is capable of measuring independently the two different orthogonal vector components of a light electric field in the plane of the structure under investigation. Another example of newly developed equipment is a multiplex CARS microscope capable of performing correlated spectroscopic and microscopic measurements. Yet, another example is a new attosecond (10-18 second) XUV-IR pump-probe setup in which the properties of the attosecond XUV pulses can be much better controlled via a seeding process.

Apart from doing research work, the students also received training in many aspects. All students were instructed intensively in the techniques and scientific background required for their research work. In addition, the students were trained via special courses including time-management courses, English and Dutch language courses, and management courses. Several students also went to summer and winter schools in advanced fields of research. In conclusion, the AMOCROSS programme has been a great success, as it has led to the strong interdisciplinary training of six talented young researchers from the European Union, a large amount of high quality scientific publications, the development of new spectroscopic and detection techniques, and last but not least, to six highly qualified doctors of science that will be of great value to European industry and academia.