Dr Pascal GEHRING from NAPS Division of the Institute of Condensed Mater and Nanosciences of Université catholique de Louvain (IMCN - UCLouvain) has been very recently awarded an ERC Starting Grant, that allocates 1.8 million € over five years.
Heat engines are an integral part of our daily lives. They power cars or produce electricity by converting heat into work. Increasing their efficiency is very difficult and only marginal improvements have been achieved over the last decades. Thus, to reach the ambitious climate goals, it is necessary to go beyond conventional technologies. Atom-sized systems where quantum mechanical effects come into play could enable this: theory predicts that their efficiency can be boosted beyond the classical limits imposed by thermodynamics. However, so far, this has not been tested in practice due to a lack of suitable model systems.
I propose to build a molecular heat engine of only a few atoms in size, with such high control over its structure and properties that these predictions can finally be tested. The results will teach us about the fundamental properties of atom-scale quantum systems and heat flowing through single molecules. It will inspire new ways to increase the performance of thermoelectric applications such as waste heat harvesters, nanoscale spot-cooling devices, or even thermal rectifiers and transistors.