ERC Consolidator Grant for Philip Moll

MPSD Director Philip Moll has been awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant worth €3 million to investigate the interfaces between two regions in the same strongly correlated single-crystal material. Understanding these interactions is a key step in the development of advanced materials whose electrons show exotic behaviors – the so-called quantum materials. While devices in the ‘silicon age’ are based on the combination of semi-conductors and metals, quantum materials form the basis for extremely fast and efficient future technologies.

Moll, who leads the Department for Microstructured Quantum Matter at the MPSD, studies how certain materials react to extreme strain by exposing them to high magnetic fields or temperatures. These microstructured materials can change radically under strain, for example by becoming magnetic or superconducting.

Until now, quantum material design has focused on the electronic interaction between two distinct materials, as Moll explains: “When two different materials touch, the electrons at the interface inherit properties of both constituents, and hence new electronic behaviour appears that is fundamentally distinct from the sum of its parent materials.”

However, the ERC Consolidator Grant allows Moll to take a different approach: His team will engineer the electronic interactions within a single material instead. “The ambitious goal of the ERC-project XBEND is to explore a new paradigm for interfaces between two regions of different electronic interactions within the same single crystal, for example superconductivity, magnetism, directional conductivity known as ‘nematicity’, and many more complex electronic orders. Such correlated materials are known to be easily switchable by strain, say from a magnetic to a superconducting state.

“Unlike previous experiments that studied large crystals with carefully prepared homogeneous strain, XBEND will create microstructures in which the strain strongly varies with position. This will allow us to design landscapes of electronic behavior, and study the touching points between electronically different regions.”

Moll hopes that this leap into gradients may open up entirely new avenues of design and control over correlated electron states in the future. At the same time, this research will explore systematically the important yet often ignored role of unwanted gradients as a likely origin of incompatible experimental data that spark major debates in the field of correlated matter.

Philip Moll joined the MPSD as Director in 2021. His Department investigates quantum materials on the microscale and develops new techniques to produce high-quality crystalline microstructures for electrical transport, magnetization or heat conductivity measurements.

Having completed his Doctor of Sciences at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, in 2012, Moll worked there as a postdoctoral researcher until 2014. He then pursued his research at UC Berkeley (USA) until 2016, when he joined the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids as leader of the research group Physics of Microstructured Quantum Matter. In 2018, he became Assistant Professor at the EPFL’s Institute of Materials.

He received the ABB Award of the Swiss Physical Society in 2014 and an ERC Starting Grant in 2017. The following year, he was awarded the Nicholas Kurti Science Prize and a Professorial Fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation. In 2020, he was selected as World Economic Forum Young Scientist.

The European Research Council has awarded Consolidator Grants totalling €657 million to researchers from 37 nations in this funding round. The sought-after grants will create around 1,950 jobs for postdoctoral fellows, PhD students and associated staff. Out of 2,222 proposals, 321 (14.4%) were accepted.

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