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Department of Physics

The Cavendish Laboratory
Left: Alice Thorneywork and Right: Robert-Jan Slager

Alice Thorneywork and Robert-Jan Slager are two of the 397 early-career researchers who have won prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grants, following the first call for proposals under the EU’s new R&I programme, Horizon Europe.

The grants, worth about €1.5 million each, will help the two ambitious young researchers launch their own projects, form their teams and pursue their best ideas at the Cavendish Laboratory.   

A well-recognised expert in the field of topological phases, Robert-Jan Slager’s research aims at studying multi-gap topological physics from various perspectives. The originality of the project concentrates on new topological phases in the contexts of non-equilibrium systems, meta-materials and superconducting structures.

"Topological phases of matter lie at the heart of physics, connecting elegant mathematical principles to real materials that are believed to shape future electronic and quantum computing technologies,” explains Sager. “Not only are we looking to develop abstract theoretical models but we are also working closely with experimentalists to identify suitable (meta)materials, in which proposed topological phases can be observed and theoretical descriptions can be validated."

Alice Thorneywork’s project, NOISE2SIG, aims to decipher information hidden in experimental noise using a unique combination of model systems built from soft matter. While noise is a universal aspect of experimental science, such information is often overlooked because interpreting the apparently random fluctuations in a signal is extremely challenging, especially in non-equilibrium scenarios.

“The award of €1.43M from the ERC will support my team as we develop the state-of-the-art experimental models – exploiting colloids, microfluidics, optical tweezing, nanopores, and complex macromolecules constructed from DNA origami – that will allow us to isolate, identify, and better understand the individual factors contributing to physico-chemical noise,” said Thorneywork.

This new approach will provide exciting new insights into non-equilibrium soft systems at a fundamental level. “More broadly, it will further the development of analysis methodologies translatable to a wide range of molecular phenomena and emerging technologies, from transport through biological membranes to flow in lab-on-a-chip devices and sensing with functionalised nanopores,” added Thorneywork.   

In total, €619 million is being invested in excellent projects dreamed up by scientists and scholars at universities and research centres in 22 EU and associated countries, including the UK (46).

This grant competition attracted over 4,000 proposals, which were reviewed by panels of renowned researchers from around the world. The grants will create more than 2,000 jobs for postdoctoral fellows, PhD students, and other staff at the host institutions.

Learn more about the Thorneywork Group

Learn more about the Slager Group