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Reporting period: 2021-05-01 to 2022-04-30

Addressing the grand-challenges that the world is facing nowadays regarding ‘energy’, ‘information’ and ‘health’ requires the development of unconventional methods for unprecedented visualization of matter. To make this a reality, we need to depart from current schemes, which rely on passive and static modulation of an electron wave function using monolithic phase masks or slowly-varying electrostatic and magnetostatic displays. In SMART-electron we aim at developing an innovative technological platform for designing, realizing and operating all-optical rapidly-programmable phase masks for electrons. By introducing a new paradigm where properly synthesized ultrafast optical fields will be used for engineering the phase space of a free-electron wave function, we will be able to achieve unprecedented space/time/energy/momentum shaping of electron matter waves.

Such unique high-speed, flexible and precise control, will enable novel advanced imaging approaches in electron microscopy with enhanced features, revolutionizing the way materials are investigated. In particular, we plan to implement for the first time three beyond-the-state-of-the-art imaging techniques enabled by our photonic electron modulator, namely: (1) Ramsey-type Holography, (2) Electron Single-Pixel Imaging, and (3) Quantum Cathodoluminescence. Such new approaches will lead to unprecedented visualization of many-body states in quantum materials, real-time electrochemical reactions, and spatio-temporal localization of biomimetic nanoparticles in cells for drug delivery.
On a general level, such enhanced imaging capabilities will be a game changer in our ability to visualize the dynamic behavior of nanoscale materials and control the interplay of their multiple degrees of freedom, providing a direct handle on their electronic, optical and thermal properties. This aspect will have a strong technological impact in designing and implementing new-generation devices with unprecedented performance. This will play a decisive role in our ability to respond to the global demands of: i) efficient energy storage; ii) innovative quantum computing schemes; and iii) effective cancer treatments and tumour targeting.
The first reporting period has been devoted to the following activities:

1) Theoretical modelling of an all-optical electron phase mask and preliminary experimental characterization of light-induced electron shaping.
In the first year of project we have developed precise theoretical modelling of the electron-light interaction for different configurations, exploring the combination of transverse and longitudinal light-induced electron modulation, and demonstrating the possibility to use such modulated electron wave functions to implement new imaging techniques in the TEM with enhanced performances. Then, we have conducted several UTEM experiments at EPFL and TECHNION for the characterization of the light-induced modification of the electron transverse and longitudinal profiles of a free-electron wavefunction via externally-controlled optical fields.

2) Design and realization of the first prototype of a Photonic free-ELectron Modulator (PELM).
In parallel, we have worked at the design and realization of the first prototype of photonic electron modulator. First, we identified within the TEM column the most suitable positions to host the PELM. Then, we have designed the necessary changes that need to be implemented to the microscope. Finally, we have realized the first prototypes of PELM’s, which will be soon installed in the TEM.

3) Implementation of imaging and temporal analysis capabilities for the ESPI method.
The UNIMIB team is working at the first-time implementation of the Electron Single-Pixel Imaging technique. The first year of project was therefore related to improving the detection performance of the instrument via: i) the installation of a
direct detector camera for single-electron sensitivity and low-noise acquisition, and ii) the integration of a radio-frequency deflection cavity for temporal-streaking of electrons.

4) Design, realization, and characterization of a modified TEM sample holder for light detection
The TECHNION team is working at the first-time implementation of the Quantum Cathodoluminscence (Q-CL) method, taking advantage of the attosecond longitudinal modulation of a single electron wave packet as provided by the photonic electron modulator. The first year of project was therefore related to the design and realization of the prototype of a modified TEM holder for light detection, together with the characterization and optimization of the operational parameters.

5) Dissemination & communication
In the first year of project we have also focused on the outreach strategy, defining the SMART-electron visual identity, an online presence (Project Website, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn), D&C materials, as well as citizen science engagement events.
Progress beyond the state of the art
From a scientific point of view, we have demonstrated a new optical method in electron microscopy that enables, for the first time, modulation of electron beams via inelastic interaction with computer-controlled arbitrary light fields. These studies represent a radical change of paradigm in the field of electron manipulation, where fast, tailored, and versatile modulation can now be achieved. Key to our new approach is such level of arbitrary dynamic shaping, which was missing in previous works and widens the range of patterns that can be imprinted on the electron wave function, making electron shaping a much easier task to perform. From a technological point of view, the project is prompting the realization of a new device for the ultrafast manipulation of electrons. The deployment of such device, together with its continuous development, would lead to further implementations that go beyond the lifetime of the project.

Expected results until the end of the project
1) The final scientific and technological outcome is the development of a photonic modulator for dynamic multidimensional control of electrons.
2) The final strategic objective is the ability to radically change how materials are investigated in electron microscopy by implementing three new beyond-the-state-of-the-art electron imaging techniques:
2.1) Ramsey-type Holographic Imaging (RHI) technique for investigating quantum systems.
2.2) Electron Single-Pixel Imaging (ESPI) method for mapping real-time electrochemical reactions.
2.3) Quantum Cathodoluminescence (Q-CL) scheme for unprecedented spatio-temporal identification of biomimetic nanoparticles in cells for drug delivery.

Socio-economic impact and wider societal implication
Directly connected to the breakthrough fostered by SMART-electron, the project will prompt the generation of intellectual property and patents. As a result, a novel device would potentially be available to several end users, such as other research groups and/or research institutions and SMEs in the field of photonics and electron microscopy. The scientific and technological advancements described above are significantly contributing to strengthening European leadership in the these fields. At the same time, the project is providing paid work to a number of excellent young researchers. Gender balance is being pursued and the whole Consortium is committed to support young female researchers. In addition, several dissemination actions for participatory shared knowledge are being pursued.
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