ERC Synergy Grants for LMU

10 Oct 2019

Researchers in the Faculties of Biology and Physics at LMU have received highly sought-after grants from the European Research Council (ERC) for two interdisciplinary research projects.

Two LMU researchers have been awarded Synergy Grants by the European Research Council (ERC). Professor Dario Leister (Chair of Plant Molecular Biology), a member of the Faculty of Biology, is Corresponding Principle Investigator of the project “PhotoRedesign: Redesigning the Photosynthetic Light Reactions”, while Priv. Doz. Dr. Peter Thirolf in the Faculty of Physics is a Principal Investigator in the project “Thorium Nuclear Clock: Thorium Nuclear Clocks for Fundamental Tests of Physics”. The ERC’s Synergy Grants are intended for teams of 2-4 researchers, whose interdisciplinary collaboration promises to lead to great advances of the current state of the art, thus pushing the frontiers of knowledge. Synergy Grants are worth up to 14 million euros and are disbursed over a period of 6 years.

Project summaries

The project to be undertaken by Dario Leister and his colleagues is nothing if not ambitious. Entitled “ PhotoRedesign : Redesigning the Photosynthetic Light Reactions”, it aims to enhance the efficiency of the molecular processes that underlie the phenomenon of photosynthesis. The primary goal is to increase the yield of biomass per unit input of solar energy beyond that currently attainable in photosynthetic organisms, such as cyanobacteria, algae and plants. Plant photosynthesis uses solar energy to split water molecules, obtaining electrons and protons from the hydrogen and releasing molecular oxygen. The protons drive the synthesis of the high-energy compound ATP which is ultimately employed, together with the free electrons, to convert carbon dioxide into sugars and other vital biomolecules. The project team aims at developing innovative strategies to boost the fraction of solar radiation captured by what is known as the light reaction of photosynthesis.

This approach will make it possible to improve the levels of carbon fixation attainable, thus increasing the yield of biomass that can be harvested from algae and plants and used as a sustainable source of both energy and food. The multidisciplinary character of the project takes account of the complexity of the task. LMU’s Dario Leister will serve as Corresponding PI. The other two Principal Investigators of the project are Professor Josef Komenda of the AlgaTech Center in Trebon (Czech Republic) and Professor Neil Hunter at the University of Sheffield (UK).

For more information on Dario Leister’s research, see Plant Molecular Biology

Peter Thirolf is one of the four Principal Investigators of the project “ ThoriumNuclearClock : Thorium Nuclear Clocks for Fundamental Tests of Physics”, which will be coordinated by Professor Thorsten Schumm (Technical University of Vienna). The team members are all engaged in the development of the first nuclear clock, based on an energy transition in the nucleus of the thorium isotope 229Th. This promises to exceed the precision of today’s best atomic clocks (which make use of changes in the energy levels of atomic shell electrons) by up to an order of magnitude. In addition, such a clock opens up a unique spectrum of applications. These applications extend from improvements in the precision of satellite-based navigation systems to the exploration of new physics beyond the current Standard Model. For example, the clock can be used to address the question of whether the constants of nature are truly constant or actually vary in time.

The other Principal Investigators involved in the project are Dr. Ekkehard Peik at the PTB (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt) in Braunschweig and Prof. Marianna Safronova of the University of Delaware in Newark (USA). The project group also includes partners from the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg and the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology in Aachen.

For more information on Peter Thirolf’s research, see: Probing a nuclear clock transition

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