Grants for wild ideas and innovative research

Friday 18 Sep 20


Brian Seger
Associate Professor
DTU Physics
+45 45 25 31 74


Henning Osholm Sørensen
Senior Researcher
DTU Physics
+45 51 68 04 94


Massimiliano Rossi
Associate Professor
DTU Physics


Mayank Jain
Senior Researcher
DTU Physics
+45 46 77 49 09


Rasmus Toft-Petersen
Senior Researcher
DTU Physics
+45 45 25 32 93
Five scientists from DTU Physics have received grants from Villum Experiment of collectively 10 mill. DKK to perform their bold research ideas.

The 5 researchers from DTU Physics are among 21 researchers from DTU and 51 researchers in total, who this year receive grants from Villum Experiment to test their brave, risk-taking and innovative scientific research ideas. Following an anonymous selection process, the projects have been selected from almost 500 applications.

"There are a lot of good ideas at DTU Physics, and I am pleased that the Villum Foundation has chosen to invest in 5 of these "wild" ideas through their Villum Experiment program ", says Jane Hvolbæk Nielsen, director of DTU Physics.

The strong professionalism and the many good ideas at DTU Physics spread over several areas. The fact that the Villum Foundation chooses to support 5 projects shows that the department is involved in several fields.

"The ideas range widely - from biophysics, electrocatalysis, magnetism, radiation physics and fluid flow in porous materials - and this illustrates well the depth of research at DTU Physics. The projects seek clarification of very concrete ideas that connect to our research areas, where we seek both deep insight and applications to technology", Jane explains.

Villum Experiment is something different

The grants, which are part of the Villum Experiment program, are given to bold technical and scientific research ideas, which may not fit into the boxes where many research funds are located.

Villum Experiment is meant for research projects in the technical and natural sciences that challenge norms and have the potential to change our approach to important topics. Applicants are anonymous to the international assessors to sharpen their focus on research ideas and allow researchers to think freely.

The grant is 1-2 million DKK and runs for up to two years. The program is announced annually in open competition with application deadline in March.

Read more about Villum Experiment on the Foundation's website

About the scientists and their projects

Brian Seger: Electronic Tunneling as a Tool for Understanding Electrocatalysts Activity & Selectivity

Brian Seger is working is the field of catalysis for sustainable fuels and chemicals.  In particular his research focuses on electrocatalytic synthesis reactions, such as CO2 electrolysis and alkene-halide coupling.  His work focuses both on fundamental understanding relating to mechanisms and selectivity variations on different catalysts as well as more applied aspects such as high current density gas diffusion electrode cells that are easily transferrable to industrial processes.

This project aims to take a new approach to control selectivity of CO2 electrolysis through the use of electronic tunneling. In electrocatalysis, it is typically the catalyst’s activity that sets the current at a given potential.   However by using electronic tunneling through various barrier thicknesses we will be able to use this approach to control the current at a constant potential. Using tunneling to limit current is similar to how photosynthesis uses light to control catalysis, however in this case we eliminate all the complexities that come with light absorption.  We expect this novel approach to catalysis to give us unique catalytic selectivity, and help us better understand the parameters effecting traditional electrocatalysis as well.


Henning Osholm Sørensen: Opening the black box: imaging nanoparticle transport in porous media

Henning Osholm Sørensen is focusing on developing and applying X-ray characterisation techniques in the studies of material properties of natural porous media. He will conduct this project in close collaboration with Dominique J. Tobler, KU, who works in the field of soil remediation using nanoparticles.

The aim of the project is to enable direct visualisation of nanoparticle transport inside bulk porous media in situ at the nanometre scale. To achieve this goal, an experimental setup will be developed that permits injection of nanoparticle suspension into very tiny samples (diameter ~50 micrometre) while they are imaged in 3D.  If successful, such experiments will open the previously black box of how nanoparticles move through porous materials and how they interact with pore surfaces.


Massimiliano Rossi: Ultrasonic evolution of microalgae: A Darwinian approach for biofuel production

Massimiliano Rossi works in the field of experimental fluid mechanics, with focus on measurement methods based on image analysis. His main research interest is on fluid flows at the small scales, including acoustofluidics, droplets, swimming of microorganisms, and biomedical devices.

The project intends to use a simple Darwinian approach to create new breeds of microalgae that are easier to break. The ultimate aim is to lower the production costs of biofuel based on microalgae. Concretely, an automated microfluidic platform will test the mechanical resistance of microalgae using ultrasounds and let only the weakest ones survive and reproduce. The process is repeated until a new breed emerges: Only the un-fittest will survive!



Mayank Jain: Does Charge Movement in Minerals Drive Landscape Evolution?

Mayank Jain heads the Luminescence Physics group in the RADPHYS Section. His work focuses on understanding of charge transfer dynamics in wide bandgap materials, and applying this knowledge to develop novel methods and instruments for unravelling the recent history of Earth.

Fracturing of bedrock is the key process that shapes the surface of our planet and plays an important role in driving its ecosystems. CRACK will lead to a new understanding of mechanical failure in rocks by investigating the role of energy localisation in crystal defects due to long-term capture of electrons. It will impact diverse areas ranging from understanding the evolution of Earth’s surface in relation to climate change, to assessing the safety of carbon and nuclear waste storage sites.


Rasmus Toft-Petersen: Magnetic switching near absolute zero

Rasmus Toft-Petersen is working in the field of magnetism and superconductivity, and focuses on complex function magnetic materials, in particular the so-called magneto-electric materials. He is the lead scientist of the neutron spectrometer BIFROST, currently under construction at the European Spallation Source (ESS).

This project aims to reveal the fundamental energy scales involved, when a macroscopic number of atoms collectively go from one complex magnetic state to another. In magnetic materials, the directions of the atomic magnetic poles follow a pattern, the magnetic structure. These structures give rise to the macroscopic magnetic properties in anything from hard disks to refrigerator magnets. Observing the magnetic structure switch in real time at room temperature happens too fast for conventional neutron microscopes. This experiment aims to slow down the magnetic switching by cooling a sample down to near absolute zero. Then we will use an electrical field to switch between two distinct magnetic patterns like a stroboscope, allowing us to observe the switching between magnetic states in real time using neutron diffraction.

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