A Marie Curie Action (MCA) was a key step in attracting a talented Russian physicist to Europe and stimulating an important strand of co-operation between European and Russian scientists and research institutes whose work could play an important role in advancing environmental monitoring and safety capabilities for the direct benefit of society.
© Fotolia, 2013
When she applied for a Marie Curie Fellowship, an award specifically designed to support the mobility of gifted young researchers, Elena Romanova was a young professor at Saratov State University in Russia specialising in photonics. The work carried out by Professor Romanova had the potential ultimately to be used in the fabrication of portable spectroscopic sensors, or networks of sensors, to detect and measure contaminants and dangerous substances in air and water.
For this practical result to be achieved, Professor Romanova recognised that the next step in her professional development was to complement the purely theoretical, modelling aspect of her specialism so far with a detailed understanding of non-linear optical materials and novel technologies for processing those materials. In her own words: 'I decided it would be interesting to create a bridge with real life.'
With the support of her Marie Curie Fellowship, Professor Romanova was able to start that process by undertaking a year of research at Nottingham University in the UK. Hosted by the university's Interdisciplinary Centre for Photonics and Electronics – and able, at the same time, to work closely with the Novel Photonic Glasses Research Group, located at the same university – Professor Romanova started to research the processing of optical materials, under the project title: 'Femtosecond modification in glasses with application to novel laser designs.'
To complete the 'bridge with real life', Professor Romanova still needed to gain input from the field of high powered lasers. For this reason, her year at Nottingham University was followed by a 6-month period hosted by the Nonlinear Dynamics and Optics Division of the Institute of Applied Physics at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Nizhny Novgorod – an acknowledged world leader in high powered lasers.
Now back at her home university, Saratov State University, Professor Romanova is in no doubt about the lasting benefits of her Marie Curie Fellowship – during which she participated in 10 international conferences and had 8 papers published. 'I have gained understanding of how to apply my theoretical models in photonics to create optical devices by using novel optical glasses and new fabrication methods,' she explains.
Another important outcome of the Fellowship, Professor Romanova says, was the establishment of links not only between the three institutes with which she herself was directly associated – Saratov State University, the University of Nottingham, and the Russian Academy of Sciences, but between these and a further seven research institutes in Europe and Russia. These links, she says, create a high-level interdisciplinary network of scientists with the potential to apply for European Union 7th Framework Programme (FP7) contracts.
Already, the group has received a grant from the Royal Society for a project to develop mid-infrared transmitting devices for medicine, and it has submitted further applications to both the Royal Society and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research. There are also plans to submit a project to the NATO 'Science of Peace and Security' programme, and the goup is involved in a project to provide ecological monitoring and control on motorway bridges across the Volga River in Russia.
Not least, says Professor Romanova, the Marie Curie Fellowship has played a key role in transforming her own approach to research - from a curiosity-driven one to a socially driven one.
'Our main goal now is to create a network of sensors or portable sensors for the control of the environment by spectroscopy of gases in the atmosphere,' she says. 'Such devices are in great demand everywhere – in industry, in cities and in the natural environment.'