SMART-electron: a new EU-funded H2020 project promises to revolutionize electron microscopy

microscopio elettronico e Giovanni Maria Vanacore

The European Innovation Council (EIC) Pathfinder pilot, established under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, has just funded 58 “game changing” projects with the objective of transforming high-risk and high-impact research ideas into novel technologies. Among these, there is also the project named SMART-electron – ULTRAFAST ALL-OPTICAL SPATIO-TEMPORAL ELECTRON MODULATORS: OPENING NEW FRONTIERS IN ELECTRON MICROSCOPY (H2020-FETOPEN-2018-2020, Grant Agreement n. 964591), coordinated by Dr. Giovanni Maria Vanacore, an Assistant Professor at the Department of Materials Science of the University of Milano-Bicocca, studying ultrafast phenomena in solids and nanostructures.

EIC Pathfinder “supports the early-stages of the science and technology research and innovation around new ideas towards radically new future technologies” (for more information). In the words of Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth: “The array of radically new ideas received for the EIC Pathfinder shows the incredible innovations requiring EU support. Investments in research and innovation means that we can back many more of these yet-to-be-discovered technologies and support visionary researchers and entrepreneurs– making Europe more competitive and ensuring Europe leads the next wave of innovation.”

The vision behind Dr. Vanacore’s project is to establish a novel technological paradigm that exploits the power of control reached with light to coherently shape electron matter waves, providing new routes toward image-resolution enhancement, selective probing, low-dose imaging, faster acquisition, and high temporal and energetic resolutions. “Our ambition is to develop a new technology that would radically change how matter is investigated in electron microscopy”, says Vanacore. “Such an ability would provide a unique tool that would help us in addressing fundamental challenges that the world is facing nowadays in quantum materials, energy storage devices, and drug delivery applications.”

The project, which will start in May 2021, is based on a consortium comprising several high-profile European Universities and Research Institutions. Besides the University of Milano-Bicocca, acting as the coordinator, the consortium includes: the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the Barcelona Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO), the Israel Institute of Technology (TECHNION), and the Nanoscience Institute of the Italian National Research Council (CNR-Nano). The participation of an enterprise, Holoeye Photonics AG, signals the clear industry-oriented perspective of the project. Another company, QED F&S Productions Ltd. is in charge of communication and outreach.

“The project is extremely ambitious and presents several considerable challenges”, concludes Vanacore, “but only when setting the bar so high we can best ourselves to push farther the frontiers of knowledge”.

SMART-electron at a glance

Objective: SMART-electron aims at developing an innovative technological platform for designing, realizing and operating all-optical rapidly-programmable phase masks for electrons. SMART-electron will introduce a new paradigm where properly synthesized ultrafast electromagnetic fields will be used for engineering the phase space of a free-electron wave function. This will allow to achieve unprecedented space/time/energy/momentum shaping of electron matter waves, thus surpassing conventional passive monolithic schemes and revolutionizing the way materials are investigated in electron microscopy.

Programme: H2020-FETOPEN-2018-2020.
Initial date: May 1st 2021.
Duration: 4 years.
Funding: 3.042 MEuro.