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European funding for single-atom manipulation to Toma Susi

Finnish physicist Toma Susi has received the prized ERC Starting Grant of the European Research Council that funds pioneering basic research. The five-year grant of 1.5 million euros allows him to establish a research group at the Faculty of Physics of the University of Vienna to create a new way to manipulate materials at the atomic level.

Toma Susi (Image copyright: Oleg Domanov)

"ERC-Grants are an important indicator for the international competitiveness of universities and enable leading-edge research. I am pleased that the University of Vienna has now been awarded in total 40 ERC Grants", said Rector Heinz W. Engl.

Toma Susi
Materials are defined by their chemical structure – which atoms are placed where. To control their properties, one can either exchange atoms, or change their arrangement. The only tool to directly manipulate individual atoms, the scanning probe microscope, has since the late 1980s been able to move weakly bound atoms over surfaces held far below room temperature. A fundamentally different tool, the scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM), has recently become able to reliably focus an electron beam with sub-atomic precision. This allows the scientists to directly see each atom in two-dimensional (2D) materials like graphene, and also to target individual atoms with the beam.

In 2014, together with collaborators from the UK, Susi discovered that silicon impurities occasionally found in graphene jump during imaging. Computer simulations explained the mechanism — an electron “kicks” the carbon neighbor of a silicon atom – revealing the potential to use the electron beam to manipulate strongly bound materials with atomic precision. With the support of the Austrian Science Fund and working with his colleagues of the Faculty of Physics at the University of Vienna, Jani Kotakoski and Jannik Meyer, Susi recorded the first controlled movement of a silicon atom last year, establishing the basis for the ERC project.

For the next five years, the multidisciplinary ERC Starting Grant "Atomic precision materials engineering (ATMEN)" will allow Susi to combine experiment and simulation to develop electron beam manipulation into a practical tool. Its goals are to improve our understanding of the mechanism, advance the implantation of atoms beyond silicon, accelerate accurate modeling, and automate manipulations. Atom-scale engineering of strongly bound materials is set to open a new vista for nanotechnology, giving an ultimate level of control to study many questions in materials science.

Personal details
Born and educated in Helsinki, Finland, Toma Susi received his award-winning doctorate in nanomaterials from Aalto University in 2011. After moving to Austria for a two-year Austrian Science Fund (FWF) Lise Meitner fellowship in 2013, Susi stayed to lead an FWF Stand-alone project. He has worked on materials synthesis, spectroscopy, electron microscopy and modeling, authoring over 30 peer-reviewed articles and reviews mostly on heteroatom-doped carbon nanotubes and graphene. Susi is an active participant and organizer of international conferences and an advocate for open access publishing.

40 ERC grants have already been awarded to the University of Vienna
Since 2007, 20 researchers have obtained an ERC Starting Grant. The University of Vienna has received 40 research awards funded by the ERC since 2007, including fourteen Advanced Grants, one ERC Proof of Concept and five ERC Consolidator Grants.

Video: ERC Starting Grant for Toma Susi

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