At the frontiers of nanoscience

Leiden physicists are partners in a collaboration with TU Delft thataims to push the frontiers of nanotechnology. The consortium has been awarded 35.9 million euro for this purpose: a so-called Gravitation Subsidy. Leiden University and TU Delft will be contributing an additional 15 million.

Nanotechnology: pushing the frontiers

Nanotechnology means transforming material atom by atom. Theory, experiment andtechnology are seamlessly interwoven in the world of quantum mechanics - but there is still a lot to learn. With their 35.9 million euro Gravitation funding, Delft and Leiden physicists will be developing their NanoFront project, seeking out - and extending - the frontiers of nanoscience. Their activities will focus on the following three areas:

1. Investigating the frontiers of Quantum Science
Like true teenagers testing the boundaries of parental authority, the researchers will be seeking the frontiers of quantum laws under the motto of How far can I go? How large does an object have to be before it ceases to obey quantum laws? What exactly is the secret of the new but already world-famous Majorana particle? Can you make a computer connection with molecules?

2. Probing the boundary between living and dead matter
They will also be tackling one of the most fundamental questions ever: where does life begin and where does it end? Living and dead matter meet at atomic level, but how? The researchers will be investigating the smallest constituents of biological cells: the atoms of DNA, the movements of proteins. But they will also be creating their own biomolecules to see how everything works. Their goal: a build-your-own kit for a real cell.

3. Pushing the frontiers of nanotechnology
The researchers’ third ambition is to create new nanotools. They are primarily interested in tools that will allow them to find out more about the Nanoworld, to proverbially kill two birds with one stone. But they are also keeping in mind future applications in industry and medicine. For instance new ways of looking into cells with scanning microscopes. Or even better techniques for following catalysing processes in real-life conditions.

Casimir Research School

The Leiden and Delft researchers have been working together for a number of years, carrying out research but also in the context of the Casimir Research School which is training the next generation of researchers. The master’s students and PhD students of this research school, whose favourite pastime is already pushing the frontiers of science, will also be given a chance to work on the NanoFront.


Frontiers of Nanoscience (NanoFront)
Subsidy: 35.9 million euro
Lead researchers in this project are Professors Cees Dekker, Leo Kouwenhoven and Henny Zandbergen (TU Delft) and Carlo Beenakker, Joost Frenken and Michel Orrit (Leiden University).

The Leiden Institute for Research in Physics is also participating in another subsidised Gravitation Programme, in the field of theoretical physics. In addition, Leiden experts in Child and Family Studies and Developmental Psychology are also participating in a project.


The Gravitation programme is financed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. In total, six research teams from different Dutch universities have been granted funds to collaborate in creating excellent scientific research programmes over a period of ten years. Minister Bussemaker has made 167 million euro available for six projects.

With Gravitation, the Ministry and NWO are giving a new impetus to collaboration at the highest scientific level. The excellent consortia are intended to give a high profile to top university research. Among the projects selected are also two consortia in which Leiden physicists are participating.

(15 November 2012)

See also

Fundamentals of Science is one of the six profile themes of research at Leiden University
Millions for Leiden physicists and child and family studies experts in Gravitation programme

Last Modified: 15-11-2012