Cnr-Spin is coordinator of the H2020 FET-Open project ‘OXiNEMS’ financed by the Research Executive Agency of the European Commission. The 4-years ‘OXiNEMS’ project has been granted 3 MEur for developing innovative nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) based on multifunctional (epitaxial) transition metal oxides, a class of compounds that show a wide range of physical properties that can be tuned by chemical doping and strain. Oxide NEMS are expected to impact on the current technology of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) that mostly relies on silicon and silicon-related materials. The ‘OXiNEMS’ team will implement ultrasensitive detectors able to measure very weak magnetic fields targeting those generated by human brain activity, of the order of tens of femtotesla. Importantly, these innovative sensors will be extremely robust to applied magnetic fields overcoming, for what concerns this aspect, the operational limitations of the sensors (namely SQUIDs -Superconducting QUantum Interference Devices) currently used worldwide in magnetoencephalographic (MEG) systems, that probe the functioning of the human brain.
Differently from SQUIDs, thanks to their sensitivity and robustness to strong static and pulsed applied fields, the ‘OXiNEMS’ sensors are foreseen to allow the effective integration of MEG with other recently developed imaging techniques such as ultralow field (ULF) Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and with techniques traditionally non-compatible with MEG, such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). Thus, the new class of multifunctional sensors implemented in this project could give rise to a new generation of multimodal systems allowing to image brain activity and connectivity with high spatial andtemporal resolution, with a sound impact on basic and clinical neuroscience.
The project consortium is coordinated by Luca Pellegrino, Cnr-Spin researcher, and is formed by four European research groups (National Research Council (Cnr)- coordinator (IT), Chalmers University of Technology (SE), University of Hamburg (DE), University G. d’Annunzio of Chieti-Pescara (IT)) and two companies (Quantified Air B. V. (NL) and META Group (IT)). The Cnr unit is composed of Cnr-Spin researchers and associated members from the Physics Department of the University of Genoa and the Cnr Institute for Photonics and Nanotechnologies (Cnr-Ifn) with an operating group at Polifab, the micro and nanofabrication facility of Politecnico di Milano. The financing from the European Commission will allow the recruitment of several postdoctoral researchers and PhD students.