7 July 2016

Sanli Faez, Lars Fritz, Ingmar Swart and Cristiane de Morais Smith work on research projects with innovative characteristics

Utrecht physicists receive research subsidy from FOM Foundation

Last May, the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM) awarded 4.3 million Euros in subsidies to ten applications in the FOM Project Area. The Project Area facilitates projects for fundamental physics research of an innovative nature, with scientific, industrial or social urgency. Three research projects at the Faculty of Science were among the recipients.

Development of instrument for electrophoresis

The first project honoured with a subsidy was Capturing reaction kinetics on a diffusing nanoparticle under the leadership of Dr. Sanli Faez. His proposal received funding for one research assistant, one technician for a year and a materials budget of € 135,000. This will allow him to design an ultra-sensitive optical measurement instrument for electrophoresis, a technique used to separate strands of DNA, proteins or other macromolecules based on their electric charge. The main benefit of this new instrument is it can measure extremely small particles quickly and for an unlimited time, which means that biochemical reactions can be visualised in greater detail. The ultra-sensitive instrument will not only enrich the biochemistry and biotechnology fields, but also the food and pharmaceutical industries, which make considerable use of electrophoresis.

Electron deviations in semi-metals

Another recipient was Dr. Lars Fritz for the research project Splitting and tipping the electron. With the subsidy, Dr. Fritz will be able to fund one research assistant, a post-doc researcher for two years, € 18,000 for a guest budget and € 42,000 in materials. Fritz conducts research into a special type of metals, called semi-metals. Semi-metals combine properties of metals and semiconductors at the same time, which makes them extremely useful in the development of electronics. One well-known example is graphene. The electrons in semi-metals comply with the Dirac theory, which was originally introduced to describe electrons traveling at speeds approaching that of light. Apparently, the speed of light is replaced by an ‘effective speed of light’. Fritz studies changes in the material caused by deviations from the Dirac theory, which can only occur in semi-metals. For example, the speed of the electron is dependent on the direction in which it travels. Fritz’s goal is to be able to predict these deviations in order to support experiments that actually measure them.

One material combines the best of two worlds

The third research project at Utrecht University to receive a subsidy is Functionalized organic-metal (FOM) networks: a platform for designing Dirac fermions, under the leadership of Dr. Ingmar Swart and Prof. Cristiane de Morais Smith. The subsidy will allow them to fund two research assistants and € 142,000 worth of materials. Swart and De Morais Smith will combine their efforts in order to develop materials based on the structure of graphene. Graphene’s unusual electronic characteristics are due to the honeycomb structure of the material’s carbon atoms. Creating such honeycomb structures with building blocks other than carbon atoms presents some unique opportunities for science, as doing so would combine graphene’s excellent conductive characteristics with the desired characteristics of the other building blocks (magnetic moment, spin-orbit interaction) to achieve the best of both worlds. The interplay between experiments and theory will allow both researchers to quickly predict the best combinations of materials and to create and measure them. 


Researchers may submit applications to the FOM Project Area (part of NWO) at any time. The FOM budget for the Project Area for 2016 is 10 million Euros, of which 3 million Euros is earmarked for grants as part of the Physics and Chemistry Sector Plan.