Millions for Leiden research programmes
The Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM) has awarded 9.9 million euro to five new research programmes in which Dutch physics stand out on the international scene, and in which both scientific and social concerns are clearly apparent. Three of the five programmes involve researchers from the Leiden Institute of Physics.
In vitro experiments with purified proteins can teach us a lot about the functioning of protein systems, but it is unclear how these concepts can be translated to the much more complex environment found in real living cells. The research programme focuses on explaining the molecular physics underlying the effects of crowding (interactions between molecules at very high densities) on proteins and their interactions with DNA. For a fundamental understanding of these effects, the researchers must bridge the gap between biophysical in vitro experiments and studies of biological processes in their physiologically relevant environment. The subsidy makes it possible to combine the strengths of several leading biophysics research groups. Further knowledge of the role of physics in these systems can be directly translated to a multitude of important biological processes. Leiden University researcher John van Noort is involved in this research programme, in collaboration with the Delft University of Technology and VU University Amsterdam.
Electrical connections can now be made with a single molecule. In this programme the scientists wish to demonstrate the effects of quantum interference (destructive or constructive interference of different waves at the same time and place) on the conduction of single molecules. Research into interference effects on the level of single molecules is still in its infancy. In addition to fundamental understanding, one of the main challenges of nanotechnology is the use of insights about organic molecules for applications in electronic devices. Programme leader Delft University of Technology is collaborating in this programme with Jan van Ruitenbeek and Sense Jan van der Molen from Leiden University.
What remains of a strongly connected structure if you remove all the excess connections one by one? You then create an entirely new type of material. The mechanical response of such materials just before they lose their coherency and fall apart is unique. Recent theoretical work has revealed that small changes in structure, temperature, composition and load have an unprecedented strong effect on the characteristics of these materials. This principle paves the way for materials which become stronger as they threaten to break, self-repairing materials, and materials that can easily absorb shocks and sound. The researchers use a completely new strategy to make innovative materials. The programme covers the spectrum from new fundamental physics to materials that are ready for industrial applications. Leiden researchers Vincenzo Vitelli and Martin van Hecke are working together in a team of theoretical and experimental physicists from VU University Amsterdam, Eindhoven University of Technology, the FOM Institute AMOLF and Utrecht University in collaboration with Unilever R&D (Research and Development).
(3 December 2012 / MD)
Fundamentals of science is one of the profile themes of research of Leiden University.