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New Humboldt fellows at LMU

Munich, 02/09/2012

Three more researchers from abroad, sponsored by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, have chosen to spend a research sabbatical at LMU Munich. Professor Christophe Salomon of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris is the recipient of a Humboldt Research Award. His host in Munich is Professor Immanuel Bloch of the Faculty of Physics. Dr. Shoichi Toyabe (Chuo University, Tokyo, Japan), who has received a Humboldt Fellowship, will also be based in the Faculty of Physics, where he will collaborate with Professor Dieter Braun. Dr. Paul Dicken of Cambridge University, another new Humboldt Fellow, will be the guest of Professor Hannes Leitgeb in the Faculty of Philosophy, Philosophy of Science and the Study of Religion.

The Humboldt Research Award is bestowed on outstanding academics whose achievements in research have had a significant impact on their own discipline and who are expected to contribute to further ground-breaking advances in the future. The Foundation’s Fellowship Program enables highly qualified postdoctoral scholars and scientists from abroad to carry out research projects in Germany. Successful applicants work together with an established investigator of their own choice.  Thus the number of Humboldt-sponsored scholars hosted by a university is a useful indicator of that institution’s international reputation and the size of its network of contacts.

Christophe Salomon
Christophe Salomon is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in the fields of ultracold quantum gases and the use of state-of-the art atomic clocks for high precision metrology. He is Directeur de Recherche (1er classe) in the Laboratoire Kastler Brossel at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he has principally been involved in developing new cooling techniques for the attainment of extremely low temperatures. During his stay in Munich, he plans to establish these methods in Immanuel Bloch’s department at LMU, and will attempt to extend their current limits still further. An extension of the technique to even chillier levels would make an entirely new class of experiments possible. This in turn would permit researchers to investigate fundamental questions pertaining to the origins of high-temperature superconductivity, since such ultralow temperatures permit the direct observation of magnetically ordered states that are of particular relevance in this context. If the desired temperatures can indeed be reached, the researchers intend to focus on the investigation of so-called fermionic quantum gases, in which novel pairing mechanisms may give rise to unconventional, so-called FFLO superconductors. Salomon is also closely involved with the design of the first atomic clock to be based in outer space, and in the course of his stay at LMU he will also work on new approaches to precision metrology that could allow scientists to place more exact limits on the degree to which physical constants might vary with time.

Physicist Christophe Salomon studied at the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures de Paris, and at the University of Paris (Orsay and Paris-Nord). In 1980 he began his doctoral studies as a Research Associate at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), where he obtained his doctorate in 1984. He then moved to the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA) in Boulder, Colorado (USA), returning to France in 1986 to take up a post in the Laboratoire Kastler Brossel (LKB) at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. He now holds the position of a Directeur de recherche (1er classe) of the CNRS at the LKB, where he leads a research group devoted to the study of ultracold Fermi gases. In addition, Salomon is a Principal Investigator on the ACES/PHARAO Project which is now under active development in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA). Christophe Salomon has been honored with numerous awards for his research including an ERC Advanced Grant (2008) and the Humboldt-Gay-Lussac Research Award (2011).

Paul Dicken
Paul Dicken’s research focuses on issues in epistemology and the history of science and philosophy. In his doctoral dissertation, Dicken set out to defend Bas van Fraasen’s Constructive Empiricism, which is generally regarded as the most advanced variant of the antirealistic viewpoint among contemporary theories in the philosophy of science, against attacks from philosophers who adopt a more classical stance. Van Fraasen’s approach is based on the idea that the aim of science is to construct theories that account for empirically observable phenomena. Hence acceptance of a scientific theory only implies the belief that the theory is empirically adequate, and not that it is true with respect to unobservable entities. In the autumn of 2010 Dicken spent some time at the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy, collaborating with specialists there with the goal of following up his new interests in the philosophy of science and, in particular, in the version of antirealism constructed by Rudolf Carnap. His current research project at LMU will also focus on Carnap’s philosophy of science and its significance for contemporary debates in the field. 

Paul Dicken obtained his doctoral degree at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University. He then served as Director of Studies for Churchill College (2007-2010) and Pembroke College (2008-2010) at that same institution. He joined the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy at LMU as a Visiting Research Fellow in 2011.

Shoichi Toyabe
A thorough appreciation of the range of interactions available to classes of biomolecules that have the potential to reproduce themselves by replication is a central prerequisite for an understanding of the earliest steps in the evolution of life. Here, it is crucial to be able to identify within a pool of random RNA molecules those that can productively interact to facilitate their own replication, and thus ensure their survival in the face of disintegrative forces. Shoichi Toyabe will use his Humboldt Fellowship to explore this issue experimentally.  He plans to reconstruct important steps in the process of chemical evolution that is thought to have taken place on Earth 4000 million years ago, which forged the basis for the development of the first viable cells and living organisms. His major goal is to define a set of non-equilibrium conditions that could have facilitated the development of ever more complex self-replicating structures.

Shoichi Toyabe studied physics at Tokyo University, obtaining his doctorate in 2007. His doctoral research included ground-breaking experimental work on the statistical mechanics of single particles and biomolecules, performed in cooperation with Masaki Sano. He now holds an Assistant Professorship in Physics at Chuo University in the Japanese capital.

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