ERC Consolidator Grant for Marijn van Huis

For research into new nanomaterials that have functional properties

Dr. Marijn van Huis (Physics) has received an ERC Consolidator Grant of two million Euros for being the first to produce live atomic-level resolution images of how nanomaterials are formed in a solution. This is interesting for the development of new sustainable and smart materials, but also for issues such as understanding earthquakes.

Marijn van Huis
Dr. Marijn van Huis

Van Huis studies the formation of a new class of nanomaterials that have unique, often customisable, properties. This could enable the production of a solid-state laser with an adjustable wavelength, for example. On the other hand, his research deals with natural processes, such as converting magnesium oxide into magnesium hydroxide in soil. Since this increases the volume by 100 percent, it could lead to seismic activity, and even earthquakes. Van Huis shows a video on his monitor illustrating this conversion process. Unfortunately, the scale involved is still too coarse for his research purposes.


“I want to uncover the forces behind the formation of these kinds of nanomaterials, and the relationship between their structure and their properties. That is necessary for the industrial applications of these types of nanomaterials, but may eventually also offer the opportunity to design new, functional types. However, at the moment we still do not completely understand how these kinds of processes occur.”


Van Huis considers the combination of theory and experiments to be essential for his research. His Vidi proposal from four years ago, for example, focused entirely on simulations research. “With detailed quantum mechanical and semi-empirical atomic situations, we study which energies play a role during the formation of nanoparticles. In doing so, we discovered that it is very interesting to manipulate the surfaces and to intentionally introduce defects into the nanoparticles’ crystalline structures. This produces nanoparticles with entirely new optical and magnetic characteristics, for innovative monitor technology, faster computer memory and more efficient photovoltaic cells.”

"The business community, especially the chemical industry and electron microscopy companies, are very interested in these developments.”

Electron microscopy

The nanomaterials that Van Huis studies are created in a solution. By using a number of smart tricks, it is now possible to study the synthesis process in the solution using a transmission electron microscope. However, the resolution is still poor due to the thickness of the water layer. Van Huis has thought of a way to make the water layer so thin that atomic-level resolution should be possible. “I expect that it will take a few years to develop this new scientific technology, but when we do, we will be the first in the world to be able to observe the formation of nanomaterials in a solution. The business community, especially the chemical industry and electron microscopy companies, are very interested in these developments.”

Marijn van Huis

Marijn van Huis (1975) studied and earned his PhD. in Physics at the Delft University of Technology. After that, he worked as a postdoc in Delft and Antwerp. In 2006, he received a Veni grant, and won a Vidi grant in 2012. He came to Utrecht with the Vidi grant to work in the Soft Condensed Matter group with Prof. Alfons van Blaaderen and Prof. Marjolein Dijkstra. Van Huis is also the interim scientific head of the ‘EM Square’, the Faculty of Science’s new electron microscopy facility.


The research conducted by Marijn van Huis is an example of Future Energy & Resources, part of Utrecht University’s strategic research theme Sustainability.