Thursday, 4 February, 2021

SMART-electron: the EU-funded H2020 project that promises to revolutionize electron microscopy and the investigation of materials

The development of a new technology that would radically change how matter is investigated in electron microscopy is the objective of the SMART-electron project (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. SMART-electron is one of the 58 “game-changing” projects funded by the European Innovation Council (EIC) Pathfinder pilot program, which “supports the early-stages of the science and technology research and innovation around new ideas towards radically new future technologies” (link here).

The “revolutionary” vision behind the project is to establish a new technological paradigm that would exploit light pulses to manipulate at will electron waves in an efficient, rapid and arbitrary manner. This would promote the implementation of completely innovative methods for materials investigation, capable of improving the performance of an electron microscope in terms of image resolution, acquisition speed, sensitivity to specific sample properties, and reduction of sample damage effects.

The operational phase of the project will start next May thanks to the EIC Pathfinder funding and to a consortium of universities and research institutes comprising: the University of Milano-Bicocca, acting as the coordinator, 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.

“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.”