Date: February 18, 2016, No. 14

Award for computer scientist and quantum physicist

Two ERC consolidator grants for researchers at the University of Stuttgart

The European Research Council (ERC) is funding two projects of the University of Stuttgart with consolidator grants from March onwards for five years. The AMPLIFY project (Professor Albrecht Schmidt) is researching the support of human perceptive faculties through technology. In the SIRPOL project (Professor Hans Peter Büchler) the interaction between photons is examined. The funding for both projects amounts to around two million Euros each. 

The Rector of the University of Stuttgart, Professor Wolfram Ressel, was delighted about the award of the two ERC grants: “The funding by the ERC is a great acknowledgement of the research strength we have at the University of Stuttgart. We now have a total of twelve on-going ERC grant projects with AMPLIFY and SIRPOL. We will be able to realize other project acquisitions in this year, for example through appointments. This illustrates the high international level and the international orientation of our university.“

Technical extension of the human senses


Professor Albrecht Schmidt, Head of Research in the Excellence Cluster SimTech is supervising the AMPLIFY project (“Amplifying Human Perception Through Interactive Digital Technologies“).

Although the research can be found in computer science, Professor Schmidt has human being in his sights. Cognitive and perceptive tools are to be developed for his senses with the aid of digital technologies. They are to be used naturally and intuitively. The vision is artistic perceptions and synthetic reflexes that could indicate, for example, a lack of movement.

The research in human-computer-interaction is the key discipline to develop intelligent systems that can be controlled intuitively. Concrete “discoveries“ would be, for example, a pair of glasses that extend the natural sense of sight. Functions such as the distance vision of binoculars could be intuitively controlled by means of pupil movements. Therefore, supported by computers, the human is given skills he would not have without such cognitive and perceptive tools.

The EU will be funding AMPLIFY in the next five years with a sum of just under two million Euros. With this the computer scientist Professor Schmidt and his group would like to get reinforcement and further perspectives through researchers from psychology and the neurosciences. The team would particularly like to dedicate the funding period to basic research. In the long-term, however, Professor Schmidt is planning to implement the findings of the coming years in applied developments. 

Professor Schmidt teaches at the Institute for Visualization and Interactive Systems (VIS). He has been researching for many years in the field of human-computer-interaction. His teaching and research focuses lie in the field of pervasive computing (computer penetration of everyday life). He is particularly interested in the user interfaces development as well as mobile and embedded interaction. 

Interaction between light particles


Professor Hans Peter Büchler from the Institute of Theoretical Physics is receiving a grant for his SIRPOL project (“Strongly interacting Rydberg slow light polaritons“). He would like to examine a method that can provoke strong interaction between individual photons (light particles). This type of interaction normally does not exist. Phenomena such as light refraction, light scattering or reflections are based solely on the interaction between photons and atoms.   

The SIRPOL team therefore wishes to examine how an interaction between photons can be theoretically possible. The starting point is the observation that Rydberg atoms (atoms with specific electron charge) have a strong interaction between each other and change their wave function in the presence of a photon.  

Further points to be examined are whether photons can be put into a crystalline phase through the observed interaction – for example a ball comprising solely of light particles. However, Büchler is hoping with his project to research additional new types of states, unknown to date, of material and photons.   

It will be possible thanks to the funding by the ERC to expand the research team with four research assistants. Funds for the intensive exchange with international cooperations are now available. 

Büchler has specialized in the research of quantum mechanical many-particles systems as they are able to be generated by means of ultra-cold atomic and molecular gases as well as photons. As a theoretical physicist, however, he is not taking an experimental approach with his work group but is making discoveries on the basis of equations and analytical calculations on the observed systems. 

Background information on the ERC grants

The ERC consolidator grants are directed towards scientists whose doctorates were completed a maximum of twelve years ago. The individual funding can amount up to 2.75 million Euros. Just under a fifth of the applications for the current tender for the grants was successful.