ERC Starting Grant

Diamond optical vortexes to picture exoplanets directly

Astronomer Olivier Absil, a FRS-FNRS research associate in the Department of Astrophysics of the University of Liège, has just received an ERC Starting Grant of €1.5 million for his project to develop synthetic diamond optical vortices that will improve the detection of exoplanets.


icture exoplanets is a particularly complicated task, which can be compared to the detection from Belgium of a firefly flying around the lighthouse in the port of Athens. Specific devices, called coronographs, must be used to attenuate the blinding light of the star and reveal the faint light from the planets around it. The VORTEX project (Taking extrasolar planet imaging to a new level with vector vortex coronagraphy) defended by Olivier Absil as an astronomer at the University of Liège, supported to the tune of €1.5 million by an ERC Starting Grant, aims to develop a particularly promising type of coronograph, based on an optical vortex effect. In collaboration with the University of Uppsala (Sweden), microscopic gratings are engraved on small synthetic diamond pellets to create such vortices in the infrared range. Already being installed on very large telescopes in Chile (VLT) and the United States (in the form of prototypes), these coronographs will make it possible to photograph exoplanets with unequalled sensitivity, and to characterize the atmosphere of these new worlds. This new technology could be the key to photographing the Earth's twin sisters with future giant telescopes (30-40m in diameter) and future space telescopes.

ERC Starting Grants

ERC Starting Grants are major instruments deployed by the European Research Council to fund frontier research projects in Europe, stimulating scientific excellence and creativity among young researchers. The highly selective procedure selects only the best researchers and research projects of the highest level, combining audacity and competence to tackle new avenues of research likely, if successful, to substantially enrich knowledge.

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