A central challenge in the study of the history of humanity is to understand how evolution has shaped who we are today. Neanderthals are our closest relatives in the human evolutionary family tree. Therefore, understanding the differences and similarities between Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) is crucial for defining our phylogenetic history. Bone palaeohistology, the study of the microstructure of fossilized tissue, offers scientists a window into the past: Mineralized tissue keeps a record of an individuals' growth and adaptive responses, therefore allowing us to study aspects of life history long after fossilisation. Due to the rapid increase of cutting-edge technology of Virtual Histology, we can image the internal microstructure of bone without inflicting damage to the material. This allows for the high-resolution study of important fossils, including those of early humans. Although of such high potential, bone histology is still a highly understudied field in human anatomical evolution. In this project, I combine advanced X-ray techniques (synchrotron- and lab-based phase-contrast microtomography, synchrotron X-ray fluorescence and infrared spectroscopies) with the investigation of a large sample of skeletal elements from the Krapina Neanderthal collection (dated 130 +/- 10 kya), Croatia, to investigate detailed aspects of their developmental biology. I will do this by 1) Establishing the preservation state of the Neanderthal fossil remains, 2) Examining the speed of maturation of juvenile Neanderthals and 3) Assess the type and intensity of Neanderthal physical activity and environmental adaption. Finally, I will employ the newly acquired knowledge and skills to valorise the 3D modelling of fossil bone microstructure for museum and outreach purposes in commercial settings. The results of ENIGMA will significantly contribute to our understanding of Neanderthal biology, and with that, help us to further define what it means ‘to be human’.
In COBRAS we will establish Femtosecond Covariance Spectroscopy, a new spectroscopic technique to measure the optical response of material which is based on stochastic light pulses characterized by frequency uncorrelated intensity fluctuation. By using light with different property every repetition, each reiteration of the experiment can be considered as a measurement under new conditions rather than a repetition of the same experiment. Crucially, within the ERC_StG project INCEPT we have demonstrated that in this limit the frequency of the Raman modes of a sample can be retrieved by measuring the spectral correlations in different pulses which are induced by the interaction with the sample. This is in striking contrast with standard approaches to Raman spectroscopy which are based on the measurement of the integrated emission of Raman sidebands at a given frequency and therefore require a high stability and low noise detection which can be reached only at a significant expense. Conversely, in covariance-based methods noise is a resource that can be exploited (rather than an impediment) and a much simpler and cheaper architecture for the spectrometer can be envisioned. The central idea of COBRAS is to set the way for commercial exploitation of covariance-based approaches to Raman spectroscopy. To this purpose we will develop a prototype spectrometer, study the general applicability of the covariance based methods and identify viable strategies for the commercialization of the spectrometer developed. We stress that the concept proposed here for Raman spectroscopy can be extended to different optical techniques and wavelength ranges. This make us confident that the COBRAS investment may represent a paradigmatic change in the approach to optical spectroscopy, potentially disclosing a new market across different industrial and scientific spectroscopic applications.
Notwithstanding the ongoing race to develop new efficient energy storage and conversion technologies and reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the global emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) due to anthropogenic activities is reaching critic levels, posing a serious threat to a sustainable development. The major objective of this project is to open new avenues toward the capture and conversion of CO2 through the development of novel transition metal-based intermetallic compounds as catalysts for the electrochemical CO2 reduction reaction (eCO2RR). Identifying the active sites of a catalyst and the species involved in the CO2RR electrochemical process is a precondition for the rational design of top-performing catalysts exhibiting both high activity and high selectivity toward valuable products. For this reason, this project aim to understand the dynamic evolution of the catalysts by detecting the intermediate states of the reaction process in real time using state-of-the-art synchrotron scattering techniques, such as operando X-ray powder diffraction and X-ray absorption spectroscopy, to ultimately disclose the mechanisms of reaction. Reaching this goal is the key toward the successful design of technologically relevant catalytic systems able to effectively subtract CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it to useful and economically relevant chemicals.
Standard time domain experiments measure the time evolution of the reflected/transmitted mean number of photons in the probe pulses. The evolution of the response of a material is typically averaged over the illuminated area as well as over many pump and probe measurements repeated stroboscopically. The aim of this project is to extend time domain optical spectroscopy beyond mean photon number measurements by performing a full Time Resolved Quantum State Reconstruction (TRQSR) of the probe pulses as a function of the pump and probe delay. The nature of the light matter interaction and the transient light-induced states of matter will be imprinted into the probe quantum state after the interaction with the material and can be uncovered with unprecedented detail with this new approach to time domain studies. TRQSR will be implemented by combining pump and probe experiments resolving single light pulses with balanced homodyne detection quantum tomography in the pulsed regime. We will apply and exploit the unique capabilities of TRQSR to address two different unresolved problems in condensed matter. Firstly, we will investigate the coherent and squeezed nature of low energy photo-induced vibrational states. We will use TRQSR with probe pulses shorter than the phonon timescale to interrogate the time evolution of the vibrational state induced by the pump pulse. Secondly, we will address inhomogeneities in photo-induced phase transformations. With TRQSR we can perform time domain measurements with a very small photon number per pulse which will give information on the interaction between the material (as prepared by the pump pulse) and individual photons. In this limit, TRQSR will allow us to retrieve rich statistics. While the average will deliver the information of a standard pump and probe experiment, higher order moments will give information on the time evolution of spatial inhomogenieties in the transient state.