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First ERC Consolidator Grant for Chemnitz University of Technology: Electrochemist Receives One of the Most Prestigious EU Grants for Cutting-Edge Research

Prof. Dr. Karin Leistner from Chemnitz University of Technology will develop materials for electrochemically switchable micromagnets with outstanding energy efficiency for later use in medical technology, microscopy, and microrobotics, for which she will receive two million euros

  • Portrait of a woman
    Prof. Dr. Karin Leistner, head of the Professorship of Electrochemical Sensors and Energy Storage at the Institute of Chemistry at Chemnitz University of Technology. Photo: Jacob Müller

Prof. Dr. Karin Leistner, head of the Professorship of Electrochemical Sensors and Energy Storage at the Institute of Chemistry at Chemnitz University of Technology (TUC), was successful in the current round of the prestigious ERC Consolidator Grants of the European Research Council (ERC). For her research project "ACTIONS: Engineering Magneto-Ionic Materials for Energy-Efficient Actuation and Sensing," the electrochemist will receive around two million euros over the next five years. With this outstanding success, Leistner is among the only 308 grantees selected from  2,130 applications, 66 of which are from Germany. The grant is the first ERC Consolidator Grant awarded to TUC and is one of the most prestigious EU funds for excellent cutting-edge research. Through her research in the field of magneto-ionic materials as a new promising class of materials in magneto-electrics, Leistner aims to develop important foundations and innovative solutions for tiny magnetic components that could revolutionize areas such as medical technology, microscopy, and microrobotics.

"After successfully securing the first ERC Starting Grant for Chemnitz University of Technology about two years ago, we are now thrilled to receive the first ERC Consolidator Grant. I sincerely congratulate my colleague Leistner on this outstanding success in an extremely competitive and prestigious competition at the European level, which makes the international research excellence of our university outstandingly visible," says the President of Chemnitz University of Technology, Prof. Dr. Gerd Strohmeier.

Magneto-ionic materials as a groundbreaking path to energy-efficient magnetic micro- and nanosystems

Two hundred years after the discovery of electromagnetism by Danish scientist Hans Christian Oersted, magnetic systems have become indispensable in many large-scale technical applications, such as electric motors. However, harnessing this potential on a smaller scale has been challenging. This is because micrometer-scale electromagnets require relatively high electric currents to generate switchable magnetic fields for reliable operation. This leads to problems with heat generation and low energy efficiency. "The Chemnitz project ACTIONS proposes a groundbreaking new approach to energy-efficient magnetic micro- and nanosystems based on magneto-ionic materials. In magneto-ionic material, the magnetic properties can be controlled by electrochemical reactions at room temperature and low voltage in a very energy-efficient way. However, the underlying electrochemical and magnetic processes are often not yet understood. Further fundamental research at the interface between magnetism and electrochemistry is urgently needed. We use special methods such as magneto-optical Kerr microscopy in an electrochemical environment to gain a better understanding," explains Leistner.

Switchable magneto-ionic magnetic field sources could potentially replace conventional micro-electromagnets

"Research into electrochemically switchable magnets at the nano- and micrometer scale has long been a major wish of mine. I am thrilled to be able to realize this project at TUC with the ERC Consolidator Grant. I am convinced that magneto-ionic micromagnets will open up completely new possibilities for energy-efficient miniaturization of magnetic systems. Many fields such as microfluidics, electron optics and microrobotics could benefit from this," says Leistner. In her project, the chemistry professor wants to further develop magneto-ionic materials for magnetic actuation and sensing. To this end, Leistner will for the first time move from thin films to magneto-ionic 3D nano- and microstructures with tailored magnetization alignment. "These structures are expected to produce magnetic fields and gradient fields that can be switched with low voltages," says Leistner. The result could be magneto-ionic magnetic field sources that could potentially replace conventional microelectromagnets.

Leistner is one of the world's leading experts in magneto-ionics and has been actively involved in this field since its inception. In this EU-funded project, she will combine her expertise in magneto-ionics with her long-standing experience in the electrochemical synthesis of nanomaterials. For specific tasks, she will collaborate with Prof. Dr. Olav Hellwig, head of the Professorship of Functional Magnetic Materials at Chemnitz University of Technology, as well as with Prof. Dr. Kornelius Nielsch and Prof. Dr. Axel Lubk from the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research (IFW) Dresden.

Background: ERC Consolidator Grant 2023

In 2023, the European Research Council (ERC) will again offer the ERC Consolidator Grant as part of the Horizon Europe program. This grant supports excellent researchers at an early or mid-stage of their career to consolidate their scientific independence, often by expanding their research group. ERC Consolidator Grants are open to all topics and disciplines. The funding confirms the excellence of the project and demonstrates that the recipients are among the best in their field.

About Prof. Dr. Karin Leistner

Karin Leistner studied materials science at TU Dresden and École Nationale Supérieure de Mines de Saint-Étienne and received her doctorate from TU Dresden. She then worked as a Postdoc at the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research (IFW) Dresden. In 2016, she spent six months researching epitaxial electrodeposition at the Physics Department of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby/Vancouver (Canada). Subsequently, in 2017, she took over the leadership of a junior research group at IFW Dresden on the topic of "Nano-electrodeposition and magneto-ionics". In May 2021, she was appointed to the Professorship of Electrochemical Sensors and Energy Storage at TUC. Magneto-ionic materials are one of the main research areas of Prof. Leistner's working group. At TUC, they are being investigated as a new class of materials in the field of magnetoelectrics.

For more information, please contact Prof. Dr. Karin Leistner, Professorship of Electrochemical Sensors and Energy Storage, tel. +49 (0)371 531-36463, e-mail karin.leistner@chemie.tu-chemnitz.de.

Mario Steinebach

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