Francesca Ferlaino (Foto: IQOQI / M. R. Knabl)

After having received the START prize and the ERC Starting Grant Francesca Ferlaino, quantum physicist in Innsbruck, has been awarded the ERC Consolidator Grant valued at up to two million Euro with a duration of five years. The experimental physicist uses ultracold gases of rare earth metals to study the quantum properties of matter.

Francesca Ferlaino’s research group was very excited when they received the news some days ago that she had been awarded the ERC Consolidator Grant. This is the second time that the successful researcher has received one of the most highly coveted funding grants of the European Research Council (ERC); she received the ERC Starting Grant in 2010. Ferlaino is going to realize her new project, which is funded with up to two million Euro, at the Institute for Experimental Physics at the University of Innsbruck and the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (IQOQI) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Innsbruck. “This project is a very good example of the importance of the close research cooperation between the University of Innsbruck and the IQOQI. This is the only way to stay ahead in the highly competitive game of landing international research grants,” says Francesca Ferlaino. “This success is also a well-deserved acknowledgement for my research group’s work,” says the excited quantum physicist, whose team investigates quantum properties of matter by using ultracold gases of rare earth metals.

Understanding quantum matter

Francesca Ferlaino works with atoms that are trapped in a vacuum chamber by using electromagnetic fields and lasers and cooled to a temperature close to absolute zero. These ultracold gases show quantum mechanical properties and their behavior can be tuned in a controlled way. The scientists use this system to realize and study quantum physical phenomena. In the experiments Ferlaino and her research team use rare earth metals also used in many of today’s key technologies. Many of these relatively heavy chemicals have a strong magnetic moment and have many valence electrons, which are important for the formation of chemical bonds. These properties offer many fascinating research opportunities. “Because of these properties the atoms of the lanthanides show very complex behavior, which we can control and study in our experiments,” explains Ferlaino. In 2012, she was the first to realize a Bose-Einstein condensate of erbium (Er) and shortly after that she created the first degenerate Fermi gas of the same type. Ferlaino has already proven many-body and few-body dipolar effects using ultracold gases of erbium. At the moment she is working on combining the two strongly magnetic elements erbium (Er) and dysprosium (Dy). This new project will provide the basis for investigating complex geometry-dependent quantum systems. “It is a new adventure, in which we will shift the boundaries of our knowledge of strongly magnetic atoms and which will lead us into areas of quantum physics that have not been investigated so far,” says Francesca Ferlaino. “With this project we would like to gain an even better understanding of the quantum properties of matter.”

About Francesca Ferlaino

After finishing her degree in Naples, Trieste and Florence, Francesca Ferlaino started working in Innsbruck in 2007. Since 2014 she is Professor at the University of Innsbruck and Scientific Director at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (IQOQI). With her work in the field of ultracold quantum gases the 38-year old awardee of prestigious prizes and distinctions has attracted attention internationally. In 2013 she received an Alexander-von-Humboldt Professorship, which she declined in order to keep working on her projects in Innsbruck.