ERC grant
ERC grant

ERC Starting Grants for research into magnetic switching and Avicenna

Two researchers at Radboud University will receive a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). This 1.5 million euro grant offers them the opportunity to form their own research groups and expand on their research.

ERC Starting Grants are awarded annually to talented young scientists with more than two but less than seven years of experience since completion of their PhD. The recipients at Radboud University will be doing research into the philosopher Avicenna, and into the selective switching of magnetic order.

Avicenna Live: The Immediate Context of Avicenna’s Intellectual Formation (ALIVE)

Andreas Lammer, Center for the History of Philosophy and Science

The Muslim polymath Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā, d. 428/1037) is the most influential philosopher of the Arabic-Islamic intellectual tradition and is justifiably regarded as one of the most important philosophers of all times. He is often described as a Mozart-type Wunderkind, who very early had completed his education and perfected his understanding of reality. Yet, throughout his life, Avicenna was also an eager student of his teachers or himself a dedicated teacher to his students – leading to the key-question of ALIVE: to what extent have Avicenna’s personal relations with his peers influenced the formation and formulation of his own philosophy? Did he, perhaps, reform and reformulate his thoughts in light of his personal interactions?

ALIVE will explore a unique selection of essential yet hitherto widely neglected source texts for the immediate context of Avicenna’s intellectual development. Bringing to life his personal interactions with both the generation of his direct teachers and the generation of his direct students, ALIVE will provide fundamentally new insights into, and effectively reconsider, the very formation of Avicenna’s philosophy. The clear goal of the project as a whole is to deliver an entirely novel paradigm for all future investigation in the field. At the same time, ALIVE will make an important contribution to the Digital Humanities by furnishing an open source online platform that will facilitate the study of diverse and difficult textual corpora.


Carl Davies, Institute for Molecules and Materials

In modern condensed matter physics, one of the most prominent research directions has been the investigation of methods that facilitate ultrafast and minimally-dissipative switching of spontaneous ordering. In recent years, breakthrough experiments have revealed that circularly-polarized femtosecond pulses, in the visible spectral range, can non-thermally perturb magnetization via the ultrafast inverse Faraday effect. However, the associated pathway of energy flow (from light to electrons to spins) incurs substantial parasitic energy losses, while simultaneously restricting the functional duration and amplitude of the spin stimulus to the highly limited lifetime and strength of the photo-excited electrons.

Davies’ project aims to unveil an alternative and potentially superior method for the selective switching of magnetic order. It will do so by exploring the possibility of manipulating and ultimately reversing magnetization using left- or right-handed circularly-polarized optical phonons driven at resonance. To coherently pump such phonons, this project will exploit the intense and narrow-band infrared light pulses delivered by free-electron lasers. The ensuing rotational motion of ions, in a manner analogous to the ultrafast Barnett effect, is predicted to temporarily create a magnetic moment that could be sufficiently strong enough, by virtue of the longer lifetime and non-linear character of optical phonons, to drive large-amplitude permanent reorientation of magnetization.

By constructing state-of-the-art multi-color pump-probe techniques, operational in both stroboscopic and single-shot modes, the existence, character and universality of this never-befpre-seen source for magnetic recording and processing of data will be discovered. While the challenging and high-risk experiments proposed here explore largely-uncharted physics, they could reveal a disruptive new tool that enables the highly-efficient, ultrafast and directional switching of spontaneous order.

For more information, see the HFML-FELIX page.

Contact information

For further information, please contact one of the researchers involved or team Science communication via +31 24 361 6000 or media [at] (media[at]ru[dot]nl).   

Philosophy, Molecules and materials