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Research Award Is Dream Come True

Berlin Scientist Awarded ERC Starting Grant

№ 278/2011 from Sep 08, 2011

The physics professor Dr. Emad Flear Aziz, a scientist working at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and at Freie Universität Berlin, has been awarded an ERC Starting Grant by the European Research Council. With this grant of 1.5 million euros over a period of five years, Aziz will be able continue his research on functional materials. The title of his project is “Structure and Dynamics of Porphyrin-based Materials in Solution vs. Interfaces.” This is the first ERC Starting Grant awarded to a scientist at HZB. In addition to the ERC Grant, the Helmholtz Association supports Aziz’s research with 250,000 euros.

In this project Emad Aziz aims to combine the technology of short pulse lasers and X-ray light sources to examine the dynamics of biochemical samples in solution. A short laser pulse will be used to initiate chemical or biological reactions, followed by a short X-ray pulse. This provides information about the structural changes occuring at the molecular and atomic levels during the process. An X-ray pulse from a synchrotron source is in the range of picoseconds, and X-ray pulses from a laser can lie in the pico- to femtosecond range.

“Our research focuses on the dynamics in the picosecond to sub-femtosecond range. Many challenges in both basic and applied research require these resolutions,” according to Emad Aziz. “Because of the laser pulses, chemical processes or biological functions can be mimicked, and with the X-ray pulse they can be investigated with time resolution. This way we can understand what happens in these processes at the molecular level.”

For this project Emad Aziz, who completed his university degrees in the field of chemistry, needs assistance and expertise from different fields of science. His vision: Aziz wants to build a wide collaboration network that will remain in place after the five years covered by the ERC Starter Grant. For that reason it is part of Aziz´s plan to include students from Freie Universität in the research at HZB. "I am very optimistic," said Aziz, "because now I have a starting point for realizing my dream of dynamic collaboration between the university and the non-university research institute." The project should facilitate exchange among young researchers from both institutions, and it should give university students an opportunity to experience the advantages of a large research institution such as HZB.

“This proximity to the university conforms with the goals of HZB because it is productive for our joint research,” stated the scientific director of HZB, Prof. Dr. Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla. “We are therefore extremely pleased with Mr. Aziz’s success.” The president of Freie Universität Berlin, Prof. Dr. Peter-André Alt, congratulated Emad Aziz, stating that this grant is evidence of the intensity of cooperation between Freie Universität and its non-university partners in Berlin.

Aziz and the nine members of his team have already laid a solid foundation for the success of the project. At the electron storage ring BESSY II of HZB, they have built a spectrometer for soft X-ray absorption and high-resolution X-ray emission spectroscopy at the micro-fluid jet (LiXEdrom). They are currently designing software and electronics for the communication of short X-ray radiation pulses with short laser pulses. The challenges are immense, Emad Aziz says, “but I am very confident that my team and colleagues at HZB and the university will support me.”

Since the beginning of 2009, Professor Emad Flear Aziz has headed a young investigators’ group at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin. The group studies “Functional Materials in Solution.” Since September 2010 Aziz has been a junior professor in the Department of Physics at Freie Universität Berlin.

The Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie (HZB) operates and develops large-scale scientific facilities for research with photons (synchrotron radiation) and neutrons. The facilities are internationally competitive and offer some unique possibilities for experiments. The facilities are used annually by more than 2500 external scientists from universities and non-university research institutions around the world. At HZB highly specialized research is conducted in the area of materials sciences on topics with special requirements for large-scale facilities. The main fields of research are materials research for energy technologies, magnetic materials, and functional materials. In solar energy research, emphasis is placed on the development of thin film solar cells. Chemical fuels from sunlight is another important research topic. Roughly 1100 employees work at HZB, about 800 on the Lise Meitner Campus in Wannsee and 300 on the Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen Campus in Adlershof.

HZB is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers, the largest science organization in Germany.

With its development strategy entitled “International Network University,” Freie Universität Berlin won excellence status in the German government’s Excellence Initiative. Since 2007 Freie Universität Berlin has been one of nine German universities with excellence status. As part of its development concept, the university set up three strategic centers: the Center for Cluster Development, Dahlem Research School, and the Center for International Cooperation. To coordinate its international cooperation, Freie Universität established liaison offices abroad, for example in New York, Moscow, and Beijing. As part of the Excellence Initiative several graduate schools and research clusters have been granted additional funding. The internationally oriented outstanding university is located in the vicinity of numerous research institutions in Dahlem, a district in southwestern Berlin with a strong tradition as a location for top-notch research. With more than 100 degree programs taught in 15 departments and central institutes, Freie Universität offers a broad range of subjects in the arts, sciences, and social sciences. Freie Universität was founded in 1948 by students and professors, with the support of the American Allies and Berlin politicians.

Further Information

Prof. Dr. Emad Aziz Bekhit, Young Investigator Group for Functional Materials in Solution, Tel.: +49 (0)30-8062-15003, Email:

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