ESRF to benefit from ERC grant for nanomaterials research


Kristina Kvashnina has been awarded a maximum level starting grant from the European Research Council for research to be carried out at the ESRF, on the HDZR-operated Rossendorf beamline, BM20. The prestigious ERC grant will enable Kvashnina to set up her own research team and pursue ground-breaking research in the fundamental understanding of actinide and lanthanide nanomaterials.

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The ERC grants are awarded under the 'excellent science' pillar of Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme. They benefit early-career researchers throughout Europe in a wide range of topics and covering all disciplines. The maximum grant awarded is worth €1.5 million.

Kristina Kvashnina and her newly formed team of 5 researchers will collect high quality X-ray spectroscopic data on beamline BM20 using different methods including X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) in high energy resolution X-ray fluorescence detection (HERFD) mode, X-ray emission spectroscopy (XES) and resonant inelastic X-ray scattering (RIXS). The data will then be analysed through electronic structure calculations. 


Kristina installing the crystal analysers on ESRF's ID26 beamline. ©Molyneux.

The research group aims to obtain information about possible electron-electron interactions, hybridisation between molecular orbitals, oxidation states, localisation/delocalisation behaviour of valence electrons in actinide and lanthanide nanosystems and the nature of their chemical bonding.

The samples of actinide and lanthanide nanomaterials will be prepared in Germany at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), which is a world-class laboratory with unique expertise in the synthesis of actinide and lanthanide materials. The HZDR is the funding body for the BM20 Rossendorf beamline at the ESRF.

Actinides and lanthanides refer to two separate groups of metallic elements in the periodic table. Actinides cover the elements with atomic numbers from 89 through to 102, and lanthanides, also known as the rare earth elements, cover those from 57 through to 70. Actinides are radioactive and produce energy during radioactive decay. The research is situated in the field of fundamental science with applications that cannot be known today. The results of this research hold the promise of forming the basis of future developments in many fields and for applied science.

“The ESRF is the only place in the world where we can carry out this research,” says Kristina. “For one, we need a beamline and infrastructure able to safely handle radioactive materials – that is the ROBL beamline at the ESRF which is unique in Europe and possibly the world, and the very secure safety precautions in place at the ESRF. Secondly, we need to have the right instrument, that’s an X-ray emission spectrometer, and thirdly the beamline needs to be able to work with low energy X-rays in the region of 3-7 keV to reach the M4, 5 absorption edges of actinides and the L3 edges of lanthanides. Today the BM20 beamline at the ESRF meets all these requirements.”

Kristina Kvashnina already has a substantial background and experience in experimental and theoretical physics with more than 100 publications and over 1000 citations to her name at the time of applying for the ERC grant.  She obtained a master’s degree in theoretical physics, from the Ural State University (Ekaterinburg, Russia), then pursued a PhD degree from Uppsala University, Department of Physics, Sweden, in the field of soft X-ray spectroscopy. As a PhD student, she used RIXS to study lanthanide and actinide systems at the Advanced Light Source, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (USA) with soft X-rays. After finishing her PhD Kristina moved to the ESRF and continued research on similar systems using hard X-rays. She is also the mother of three children.

Kristina gained a lot of her experience in the high energy resolution hard X-ray spectroscopy field while working at the ESRF’s ID26 beamline for 7 years, until end of 2015. It was on the ID26 beamline that Kristina, together with ESRF scientist Pieter Glatzel, was able to collect data on actinide and lanthanide systems. “I am sure that the project was well received by the ERC committee thanks to us having already proven that it is possible to collect this data at the ESRF,” says Kristina. “The instrumentation plays a vital role and requires the use of crystal analysers. The ESRF has the unique advantage of an in-house crystal-analyser laboratory and can produce these devices with an extremely high quality.”

“We are delighted that Kristina will be able to pursue her research at the ESRF, thanks to the ERC grant and the facilities on offer at BM20. It will be a tremendous boost for her career and we wish her continued success. Her capacity to produce top class science and pull in results has been recognised by the jury, and the award of this grant is additional proof of the confidence she inspires for the success of this project”, says Harald Reichert, ESRF Director of Research.

Text by Kirstin Colvin


Top image: The ERC grant was awarded for the project entitled "Towards the bottom of the periodic table". ¬©Molyneux.