Yesterday, 5 November 2020, the European Research Council (ERC) has announced that the project TOMATTO – “The ultimate time scale in organic molecular opto-electronics, the attosecond”, led by Fernando Martín (IMDEA Nanoscience and Universidad Autonoma de Madrid), Mauro Nisoli (Politecnico di Milano) and Nazario Martín (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) has been awarded a Synergy Grant that amounts to almost 12 million euros for the next 6 years.
The ultra-fast motion of electrons induced by the interaction with light is the basis of the conversion of solar energy into electrical energy and plays a crucial role in fundamental processes in Nature such as photosynthesis, the transport of signals in biological molecules, the mechanisms of DNA damage, and many others. The common denominator in all these processes is the absorption of light and the generation of microscopic electric currents. What happens inside the individual molecules immediately after the interaction with light is still a mystery, because light initiates events that evolve on extremely short time scales, of the order of attoseconds (i.e. of a few billionths of billionths of a second).
TOMATTO, which will be developed by a team of experts in laser technologies, the synthesis of new organic materials and computational methods, aims at filming the motion of electrons induced by light in molecules, with an unprecedented temporal resolution, with the aim of designing molecular materials with improved opto-electronic properties. To do this, a new attosecond laboratory at the forefront of the international arena will be built at the Attosecond Research Center (www.attosecond.fisi.polimi.it) of the Politecnico di Milano, a new supercomputer incorporating the latest advancements in hardware and software developments will be installed at the Computer Center of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and new opto-electronic organic materials, with still unforeseen capabilities, will be synthesized at Complutense University.
The project synergistically combines the development of innovative laser technologies and new measurement methods with extreme time resolution, with the most advanced methods of organic synthesis and computational modeling. “Understanding how light interacts with matter on the attosecond time scale – says Fernando Martín- and how the ultra-rapid motion of electrons depends on the molecular structure, are in themselves extremely important scientific objectives. The ability to understand and control these processes on the time scale of attoseconds offers the possibility of opening up new research fields beyond the scope of the project. In particular, we foresee important applications to the study of light-guided processes in a variety of both natural and artificial structures, ranging from systems of biological interest, to advanced materials with new functionalities. TOMATTO has the potential to lead to important and not easily predictable discoveries and advances: a typical example of high-risk high-gain research ”.