Two Basel Physicists Receive prestigious EU Grants

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded both professors Jelena Klinovaja and Ilaria Zardo from the Department of Physics at the University of Basel an ERC Starting Grant. The two physicists will receive up to 1.5 million Euros over the course of the next five years for their ambitious research projects.

Prof. Dr. Jelena Klinovaja

For quantum computers to become reality, information encoded in a quantum state – the qubit – has to be preserved for as long as possible. Unfortunately, today’s qubit systems are prone to errors and their lifetime is barely long enough. However, there is one promising candidate in a race for long-lived qubits: so-called topological qubits.

Better understanding of the physical effects which can limit their lifetime will answer an important question, namely if topological qubits can overcome the shortcomings of conventional qubits or be combined with them into hybrid structures with enhanced performance.

In her theoretical project, Prof. Dr. Jelena Klinovaja studies topological phases in condensed matter systems. This is a highly active research field that has attracted a lot of attention in recent years, in particular, due to the promise that topological quantum computing could be tolerant to local errors.

The first evidence of special topological states, so-called Majorana fermions, has been obtained experimentally. However, these states are not powerful enough and cannot provide all basic universal operations needed for a quantum computer. In her ERC project, Klinovaja wants to go a crucial step further and study more exotic states that emerge only in strongly interacting systems and that will be sufficient for universal quantum computation. The ERC is funding her project with 1.2 million Euros.

Since 2014, Klinovaja has been working as assistant professor of physics at the University of Basel. She studied physics at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. In 2009, she came to the Department of Physics at the University of Basel where she obtained her doctorate in 2012, for which she received the Swiss Physical Society Prize 2013 in Condensed Matter Physics. In 2013, she was awarded a three-year fellowship by Harvard University in Cambridge (USA), where she worked at the Department of Physics before she moved to her faculty position in Basel.

Prof. Dr. Ilaria Zardo

Controlling heat transmission in nanomaterials

Phonons are vibrations of crystals, responsible for the transmission of sound and heat. Phononics is still a young research field, and manipulation of phonons is a challenging goal. If phonons could be manipulated, one could precisely control the direction of sound and heat – similar to light. With her project, for which the ERC has granted her 1.5 million Euros, Prof. Dr. Ilaria Zardo wants to come one step closer to achieving this goal.

The physicist is planning to develop tiny thermal circuits with suitable interfaces. Using these nanostructures, she wants to launch, probe and manipulate the stream of phonons. Zardo’s proposed research promises a deeper understanding of quantum physics and will be of great relevance for fundamental research as well as for technological applications in the field of thermal management.

Also, Ilaria Zardo and her team intend to answer the question if phononics can become complementary to electronics. Since phonons and electrons interact, progress in manipulating phonons could also lead to improved performances of electronic and optoelectronic devices.

Since 2015, Ilaria Zardo has been working as assistant professor of experimental physics at the University of Basel. She studied physics at the University La Sapienza and obtained her doctorate in 2010 at the Technische Universität München. In 2015, she received the Hertha Sponer Prize. This prize is awarded to female scientists for outstanding scientific work in the field of physics by the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft.

ERC Starting Grants

The ERC Starting Grants from the European Research Council (ERC) are the most renowned funding contributions for early career researchers in Europe. Through these grants, the ERC promotes innovative fundamental research and supports excellent and independent young researchers. The grants aim to facilitate the build and consolidation of independent research teams. ERC grants are part of the European Research Framework Program Horizon 2020.