The Grants by the GA CR for Excellent Research won by the FZU

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Scientists from the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences (FZU) have managed to win projects in the competition opened by the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic (GA CR). They have achieved tremendous success in all listed categories, including the new EXPRO program to support excellence in basic research. The funding will enable the research of a wide range of topics across physics.

The FZU has won 26 GA CR projects out of a total of 93 submitted grant applications in 2018 (see Table 1). Four other successful international projects are pending approval by partner organizations. This represents a total success rate of 28% to 32% relative to the number of projects submitted (depending on the number of international projects approved by foreign partner organizations). The success rate of the FZU is, thus, in most categories above the national average (more).

Project type Submitted Approved Success rate (%)
Standard – proposer 47 12 26
Standard – co-proposer 23 8 35
Junior 9 4 44
International 7 1 14
EXPRO 7 2 29
Total 93 27 29

The numbers of submitted and approved projects and the success rate of applications submitted by the FZU in response to the competition by GA CR in 2018. International projects are still pending approval by partner organizations.

The GA CR uses public funding to fund basic research in the Czech Republic. It evaluates projects distributed in four categories. Standard grant projects have been supported since the Agency was established, with the projects generally designed to support basic research. Junior grants are aimed at boosting basic research by enabling young excellent workers to form their own workgroup and to purchase modern equipment. International projects are designed in cooperation with foreign departments, and as such, they must be approved by partner organisations abroad. A new EXPRO category was established by the GA CR in 2018, with the intention to support excellence in basic research.

EXPRO is aimed at teams led by top experts with international reputation or at young researchers with a reliable potential for excellence. The aim of it is to improve the quality of basic research in the Czech Republic. EXPRO, along the lines of the European prestigious ERC programme, promotes the “high risk – high gain” projects (high risk and high-profit projects) which have the chance to bring about a major change in the field. A similar option was missing in our country until recently.

The FZU has achieved major success in the first year of existence of the new EXPRO program, with 2 projects won from a total of 36 projects awarded across all disciplines. In the challenging competition in EXPRO in 2018, the winning proposals were submitted by prof. Tomáš Jungwirth, PhD and Ing. Jiří Hlinka, PhD.

Successful EXPRO projects from the FZU

The team of Mr Tomáš Jungwirth received EXPRO support for the Terahertz and neuromorphic anti-ferromagnet based memories. The objective is to lay the scientific foundation for the future transition from semiconductor to spintronic computer memories. The spintronic memories are based on the use of a particle property which is unparalleled in the macro-universe – on the spin. The project is built around the recent discovery made by the research team, as a result of which electrical recording of information into the spin of particles in anti-ferromagnets is made possible. The discovery will allow thousands of times faster memories than those conventional with semiconductor technologies (more).

The second EXPRO project, to be implemented by the team of Jiří Hlinka from the FZU, will investigate into ferroelectric skyrmions. Skyrmions are vortex strands of vector fields (see Figure 1). Similar structures had been anticipated in the past and, in the case of ferromagnetic substances, also confirmed. Mr T. Skyrme, whom they were named after, used this concept to model properties of elementary particles. The aforementioned team is going to look for skyrmions in ferroelectric substances, i.e. in substances whose structure may easily be modified by an external electric field.

A cross section through a skyrmion fiber. The polarized state of the ferro-electric substance represents an electric polarization vector, indicated at each point by an arrow. The polarization points around the vortex to a place before the drawing (red colour), it turns inside the filament and it points behind in the centre of the drawing (blue colour). The possibility of the formation of ferro-electric skyrmions was theoretically predicted but it has not yet been demonstrated in an experiment. Mr. Jiří Hinka’s team is going to search after them on behalf of the FZU.