Three RWTH Researchers Receive ERC Starting Grants


RWTH scientists Martin Salinga, Franziska Schoenebeck and Norbert Schuch have been awarded prestigious European Research Council Starting Grants. The researchers succeeded in a competitive two-stage selection process and will now receive project funding in the amount of approximately 1.5 million Euros each over a period of five years.



Martin Salinga



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  Andreas Herrmann

Dr. Martin Salinga – The Dynamics of Amorphous Semiconductors in Neuromorphic Electronics

After decades of progress in computer technology it is safe to say that traditional computer architectures are not able to achieve the efficiency of biological neural networks. For this reason, an increasing number of researchers is working on biomimetic approaches in information processing.

A neural network consists of interconnected neurons which as part of the nervous system form a functional entity. The NEURAMORPH project aims at developing compact components that regulate the strength of synaptic connections between artificial neurons. To this purpose, due to the natural dynamics of their electric excitability, amorphous seminconductor materials are to be used – a completely novel approach. Adequate control of the properties of these synaptic elements requires a thorough understanding of the relaxation processes in such amorphous materials. The project seeks to offer new insights into the relationships between material composition, structural dynamics, and the changing electric excitability with the help of physics experiments and computer simulations.

Martin Salinga, born in 1979, teaches and conducts research as a senior researcher at the Institute of Physics of New Materials at RWTH Aachen. After a two-year research abroad period, with stays at Harvard University and the IBM Almaden Research Center, San José, California, Salinga returned to RWTH Aachen in 2006.

In Aachen, he continued his studies on switching properties of phase change materials and, after completing his doctorate in 2008, took on a position as research group leader. Since July 2011, he is subproject team leader in the Collaborative Research Center “Nanoswitches” initiated by the JARA-FIT collaboration, where he is also a member of the steering committee. His team investigates the dynamics of resistively switching materials and their application in novel electronics.

Prof. Dr. Franziska Schoenebeck – Concepts in Catalysis

Catalysis is ubiquitous in modern chemistry as it has the potential to contribute to solving today’s global challenges. Furthermore, it is essential for production processes in the chemical industry, which manufactures about 80 percent of its products with the help of catalytic processes. While the field has grown significantly over the past decades, the underlying mechanisms are not always fully understood.

For future developments of innovative approaches and to meet the high demand for selective and sustainable processes, detailed mechanistic understanding would be highly beneficial. However, insight-driven developments and especially reactivity designs have so far been extremely rare. The Schoenebeck Group combines the tools of experimental and computational chemistry to gain access to the mechanistic details of key catalytic steps and thus to facilitate reactivity design.

Franziska Schoenebeck, born in 1982, has been a Professor at the Institute of Organic Chemistry at RWTH Aachen since 2013. She was selected by the expert jury of the "Program to Support the Return of Highly Qualified Scholars from Abroad" by the Federal State of North-Rhine Westphalia and thus receives 1.25 million Euros in funding to expand her research group at RWTH Aachen. From 2015, her research will also be supported by an ERC Starting grant.

Schoenebeck studied chemistry at TU Berlin and at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, UK, where she later also completed her Ph.D. Subsequently, she held positions at the University of California in Los Angeles and at ETH Zürich. In 2014, she received several awards, including the ORCHEM Prize for Young Investigators awarded by the German Chemical Society (GDCh), the "Dozentenpreis" from the Chemical Industry Fund, and the JPOC Award for Early Excellence in Physical Organic Chemistry.

Prof. Dr. Norbert Schuch – Understanding Quantum Systems

Complex systems of interacting quantum-mechanical particles show a wide range of diverse unconventional effects. These may serve as a basis for future technologies such as high-precision measuring devices, high-performance storage media, or novel quantum computers.

The diversity of the involved physics phenomena is due to the quantum-mechanical entanglement of these systems. Parts of such a system cannot be described in isolation, which makes it highly difficult to understand its underlying physical mechanisms.

The project “Wavefunctions for strongly correlated systems“ (WASCOSYS) uses methods from quantum information theory, in particular from entanglement theory, in order to develop new approaches for the modeling of complex quantum many body systems. These methods are expected to contribute to a fundamental, comprehensive understanding of the structure of complex quantum systems and thus, in the long term, to the development of novel quantum materials.

Since March 2012, Norbert Schuch, born in 1978, has been a Junior Professor in Theoretical Physics with a focus on Condensed Matter at the RWTH Aachen Institute of Quantum Information, which is anchored in JARA, the Jülich-Aachen Research Alliance. Schuch studied Physics at the University of Regensburg and obtained his doctorate from the Max-Planck-Institute of Quantum Optics and TU Munich. He also conducted research at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, USA.