Two Imperial academics win ERC Advanced Grants for ’cutting-edge’ research

Professor Aron Walsh aims to push the limits of what’s possible in materia
Professor Aron Walsh aims to push the limits of what’s possible in materials modelling
Two Imperial academics have won European Research Council grants to accelerate their ground-breaking research into materials and chemical engineering.

ERC Advanced Grants - worth up to 2.5million each - are designed to support excellent scientists with a recognised track record of research achievements.

President of the ERC Professor Maria Leptin said: "By following their scientific curiosity, these senior researchers are pushing the frontiers of our knowledge in a wide range of fields. It’s essential to fund this type of cutting-edge research to keep Europe at the scientific forefront."

Supercharging Metal-Organic Frameworks

Semiconducting materials are the building blocks of modern electronics. They are often based on rigid inorganic crystals or disordered organic polymers.

Professor Aron Walsh , from the Department of Materials, aims to tackle a new class of compounds that offer the potential for higher flexibility and performance.

The project - Supercharging Metal-Organic Frameworks (SuperMOF) - will develop the theoretical description and design principles for hybrid organic-inorganic semiconductors.

Professor Walsh said: "This is an incredibly exciting time for hybrid frameworks, with a pace of discoveries similar to the first semiconductor research in the early 20th century."

"This is an incredibly exciting time for hybrid frameworks." Professor Aron Walsh Department of Materials
The ERC grant will support the development of new materials modelling tools, including data-driven machine learning and multi-scale techniques, to tackle the chemistry and physics of these complex materials.

This includes simulating changes in the crystal structures of frameworks caused by temperature, light, and electricity.

Professor Walsh added: "I aim to push the limits of what’s possible in materials modelling. These are soft crystals, where a weak stimulus can have dramatic effects. They challenge our very understanding of how materials interact with charge."

The project aims to use metal-organic frameworks to realise a new generation of porous semiconductors with energy storage and conversion capacities beyond conventional materials.

Professor Walsh said "I am thankful for the ERC’s support for fundamental research. I am motivated by understanding the microscopic chemical bonding in hybrid frameworks, but this should provide a blueprint to optimise the electronic behaviour and realise their full potential in future devices."

Understanding complex systems

Professor Serafim Kalliadasis has become one of the few academics in Europe to have won two ERC Advanced Grants.

Complex and many-body systems are common in nature - such as how water droplets form on a leaf, cloud formation or swirling patterns of smoke. They are also ubiquitous in social dynamics - such as human behaviour and the spread of news on social media.

"I’m particularly proud to say that this is my second ERC Advanced Grant, and underlines the fact that we persistently do high-quality work." Professor Serafim Kalliadasis Department of Chemical Engineering
Current models and frameworks which help to understand how these systems work suffer from a number of limitations which makes it challenging to apply them to real settings and restricts their applicability to largely idealised systems.

This project aims to develop a general theoretical-numerical framework aided by rigorous data-driven techniques and machine learning, that is free from the limitations of current methods, and fits all problems across all scales without having to re-derive a model each time we have a new system.

The new framework will be applied to a wide-range of environments such as vapour-liquid transition and droplet formation, bacteria populations, flocks of humans and the onset of fake news on social media."

Professor Kalliadasis explains: " The project will develop generic methodologies as stepping stones towards a general fundamental understanding of non-equilibrium processes. This in turn will enable us to address long-standing open questions and challenges."

Professor Kalliadasis added: "This award is the perfect vehicle to pursue my vision of a broad, integrative and highly complementary approach to many-body systems, be it fluids or other systems.

"I’m particularly proud to say that this is my second ERC Advanced Grant, and underlines the fact that we persistently do high-quality work.

"It is also extremely satisfying to be held in such a high esteem by my peers. Especially, as the research is in completely different areas and it touches on many different fields studied by well-established communities."

The grant award will be used to fund several dedicated post-doctoral researchers on different aspects of the research, and workshops at Imperial. The project - Machine-Aided General Framework for Fluctuating Dynamic Density Functional Theory (FDDFT) - will also involve Prof Kalliadasis’s long-time collaborator from the Department of Mathematics, Professor Grigorios Pavliotis.

Professor Kalliadasis’ previous grant , won in 2010, focused on developing mathematical models to analyse the way fluids behave when they come into contact with other fluids and solid surfaces, on the microscopic level and on a large scale.