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ERC Starting Grant for Maximilian Beyer

5 September 2023
Physicist Maximilian Beyer receives a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for his research into laser cooling of molecular helium. Beyers research is focused on precision measurements of the simplest molecules in our universe - molecular hydrogen (H₂) and its ion (H₂⁺) – to test quantum electrodynamics.

To reach very high precision in the measurements, Beyer would like to fixate the molecules in space. This is necessary, because when molecules move around, they experience the laser radiation used in the measurements differently. That’s the Doppler effect, which is also known in everyday life: it causes an ambulance siren to sound higher in pitch when it is approaching than when it is receding. Having the molecules at one location makes it also easier to determine and compensate interactions with the environment, which might otherwise distort the measurements. 

Laser cooling
He will use the ERC Starting Grant to study the next slightly more complicated molecule: molecular helium (He2). He2 is the simplest molecule for which laser cooling to near absolute zero temperature seems feasible - which is the main goal of this project. At near zero temperature, the molecules hardly move due to the vanishing kinetic energy and therefore allow very precise measurements. 

Platform for fundamental physics and chemistry research
If successful, the team will deliver the fifth-ever molecule that was directly laser-cooled and trapped. Compared to all other molecules laser cooled to this day, the simplicity of He2 makes very accurate calculations of its collision properties possible. This will allow to study ultracold collisions and chemical reactions with unprecedented accuracy. Being able to understand and control the collision properties is crucial for producing a molecular Bose-Einstein condensate. With such a system, applications range from testing quantum electrodynamics to quantum information and many-body physics. 

ERC Starting Grant
The Starting Grant from the ERC is awarded to talented early-career scientists who have already produced excellent supervised work, are ready to work independently and show potential to be a research leader.