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Four ERC grants awarded to researchers at École Polytechnique

Four researchers from École Polytechnique were awarded an ERC grant that recognizes and supports excellence in their research: Sébastien Corde, Sébastien Michelin, Grégory Nocton and Ugo Boscain.

France has become this year the third country hosting the largest number of recipients of "Starting grants" of the European Research Council (ERC). Four of these 46 grantees are researchers at Ecole Polytechnique, in one of the joint laboratories with CNRS and ENSTA ParisTech.

Sébastien Michelin

Sébastien Michelin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanics and is also currently Deputy Director of the Hydrodynamics Laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique (LadHyX, École Polytechnique and CNRS). His interests lie in the fields of fluid mechanics, fluid-solid interactions and propulsion at microscopic scales.

His research uses numerical modeling and tools from applied mathematics to study these phenomena. Sébastien Michelin was awarded an ERC Starting Grant for his project "CollectSwim: Individual and Collective Swimming of Active Microparticules". This project will focus on the design, study and control of the physical properties of active fluids, that are based on suspensions of self-propelled chemical microparticles. Some of these properties, such as the fluid’s viscosity, are directly influenced by the particles’ motion at the microscopic scale.

Understanding these processes and obtaining predictive models could lead to the creation of synthetic fluids with controllable properties through the collective dynamics of the active particles.

Grégory Nocton

After a thesis on uranium chemistry carried out at the CEA, Grégory Nocton began his career within the Andersen group at Berkeley in the United States. In 2011, he joined École Polytechnique as a CNRS researcher at the Molecular Chemistry Laboratory (LCM, École Polytechnique and CNRS); since 2012, he teaches in the Department of Chemistry at École Polytechnique. Grégory Nocton was awarded the 2016 Bronze Medal of the CNRS.

The research of Grégory Nocton is focused on the synthesis and characterization of organometallic complexes for catalysis. The organometallic complexes comprising non-innocent ligands associated with non-noble metals, using their remarkable redox properties for chemical transformations with low environmental impact and low cost, have developed significantly in recent years.

Lanthanides are, however, still too absent from these compounds even though they permit access to highly valuable products. The research of Grégory Nocton as part of the ERC grant, concerns the activation of methane and its direct use as the alkylating agent olefin. This research brings a real paradigm shift in the extent that this activation, which would be through organolanthanides with non-redox innocent ligands, would ensure a better selectivity and many environmental compatibility process of chemical transformations.

Launched in 2011, the ERC Proof of Concept is intended for researchers who have already obtained an ERC grant. This additional funding should enable them to establish the innovation potential of ideas arising from their exploratory research projects funded by the ERC.

Ugo Boscain

Ugo Boscain is the Director of Research at the Centre for Applied Mathematics (CMAP, École Polytechnique / CNRS) and, since 2011, a lecturer at l’X.

Ugo Boscain’s research regards image processing by using sub-Riemannian geometry. Winner of an ERC Starting Grant in 2009 for his project "Geometric Control Methods for the Heat and Schrodinger Equations (GeCoMethods)" Ugo Boscain developed an algorithm for image reconstruction, mainly based on anisotropic diffusion. This algorithm reproduces the operation mode of the primary visual cortex in mammals.

The ERC Proof of Concept Grant will allow him and Mario Sigalotti, as part of the Inria GECO team, to develop the results of this research and to showcase the innovation potential of this project, namely the creation of a hardware for the implementation of an artificial visual cortex.

Sébastien Corde

Sébastien Corde is an assistant professor at École Polytechnique and conducts his research in Applied Optics Laboratory (LOA). His research focuses on particle acceleration with plasmas. The accelerating electric field achievable with current technologies is limited by electrical breakdown which damage the equipment.

The alternative considered by Sébastien Corde results in accelerating these particles with plasma waves and has the advantage of greater acceleration or of more compact accelerators. Two strategies are possible to create this plasma wave: the use of lasers, which however has low energy efficiency, or the use of a particle beam as they do at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre (SLAC), more effective but more cumbersome (2km device).

This ERC grant encourages the M-PAC project (Miniature beam-driven Plasma ACcelerators), at the interface between these two techniques: create plasma waves by using a particle beam, more compact than the SLAC, this beam being created by a laser. By studying this alternative, Sébastien Corde hopes to answer big questions that arise in the field which would allow to validate the viability of using plasma for accelerators and colliders of tomorrow. Sébastien Corde’s research highlighting a new method for accelerating positrons in plasma was published in Nature on Aug. 27, 2015.