Scientists awarded European Research Council starting grants

Congratulations to Dr Ross Howie and Dr Davide Michieletto who were awarded European Research Council starting grants. 

The European Research Council (ERC) awards starting grants each year to talented early-career scientists who have already produced excellent supervised work and show potential to be a research leader.

Metallisation of hydrogen

Ross’s project concerns the metallisation of hydrogen. Element number one, hydrogen, is the simplest and most abundant element in the universe. The relative abundance is reflected in the gas giant Jupiter, where under extreme pressures and temperatures, hydrogen exists in a dense metallic fluid state. In 1935, it was predicted that such a metallic state could also be realised at considerably lower temperatures, but up to now this has not been achieved.  The metallic state of hydrogen is expected to exhibit a whole host of fascinating properties at high pressure, from room temperature superconductivity, to a novel superfluid liquid ground state.  It is thus the holy grail of extreme condition science. Recent experimental progress has brought us tantalizingly close to the metallisation conditions, but the metallic state has remained elusive. Ross proposes a novel hydrogen research programme that will combine complex diamond sculpting, time resolved spectroscopy and novel fast compression techniques to extend the pressures achievable in the lab.  The project promises to resolve many outstanding questions surrounding one of the most fundamental unsolved problems in condensed matter physics: the metallisation of element one.

Topologically active polymers

Davide is a recently appointed Royal Society University Research Fellow. His project concerns synthetic and biological polymers: such as the ones that make every-day plastics and living cells. Most of the polymers in everyday materials have a fixed structure that cannot be changed in time. In this project, Davide proposes to shift this paradigm by considering polymers whose architecture can be modified in time via operations that cut and glue the polymers' backbone at the expense of energy.  Davide names them "topologically active polymers" (TAPs). These novel polymers may find applications in medical devices, such as hydrogels that can selectively respond to the concentration of certain proteins. Given the fundamental importance of polymer science and the ubiquity of protein-regulated topology-altering operations on DNA in vivo, this exciting bottom-up project will not only open a new area of fundamental research with potential far-reaching applications but will also shed new light into the workings of certain vitally important classes of proteins.

Both Ross Howie and Davide Michieletto are based in the School’s Institute for Condensed Matter and Complex Systems.