LiU researchers receive Wallenberg grants 

Two LiU researchers each receive around SEK 34 million for five years from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. Håkan Olausson is working on ultrafast pain signalling, while Feng Gao is developing new materials for solar cells and light-emitting diodes.

Montage för puffbild. Feng Gao and Håkan Olausson IFM, Linkoping University

Håkan Olausson, professor in the Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine and the Center for Social and Affective Neuroscience (CSAN) has received SEK 34.5 million to study the ultrafast pain-signalling system.

The discovery that pain can be signalled as fast as touch challenges current theories. The LiU researchers now plan to study the function of the previously unknown ultrafast pain receptors. The research can give clues that help to understand chronic pain and pave the way for new treatment methods.

Pain signalling in humans has long been considered to take place significantly more slowly than the signalling from touch. In contrast, parts of the pain system in certain other mammals can transmit nerve signals just as fast as the signals from touch are transmitted. Against this background, the scientists investigated whether a similar system can be found in humans.

Ultrafast pain receptor

Using a technique that makes it possible to detect signals in nerve fibres from a single nerve, they were able to identify a previously unknown ultrafast pain receptor. When the same individual nerve cell was subsequently activated, in order to investigate the receptors, the subjects in the experiment experienced sharp pain. It is these previously unknown ultrafast receptors that Professor Håkan Olausson will focus on in a project that has been awarded funds from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.

“The grant is vital for us to be able to study the rapid pain system in detail and carry out long-term translational studies together with Uppsala and Stockholm”, says Håkan Olausson.

In addition, the research group is also attempting to develop a method to study the ultrafast pain system in patients. They hope to be able to determine whether, and if so how, the new system plays a role in unexplained chronic pain. In the long run, the scientists hope to be able to find new methods for pain relief.

Feng Gao, senior lecturer in the Division of Biomolecular and Organic Electronics, has been awarded SEK 34 million for five years to develop alloys of double perovskites for use in the light-emitting diodes, solar cells and other optoelectronic applications of the future.

Perovskites consisting of metals and halides are a new family of semi-conducting materials defined by their crystal structure. They are relatively easy to manufacture and have good semi-conducting properties. However, the most promising perovskites contain lead, which reduces their suitability for practical use. Feng Gao was selected in the autumn of 2017 as a Wallenberg Academy Fellow, to develop non-toxic double perovskites, in which a double set of metal molecules replaces the lead. The research group is currently working on this, and has made progress.

Alloys of double perovskites

In this new cross-disciplinary project, four LiU scientists with different areas of expertise are to collaborate to develop new alloys of double perovskites. In addition to Feng Gao, Professors Igor Abrikosov, Weimin Chen and Mats Fahlman will participate in the project.

“We are proud and happy that our project has been selected to receive funding. We’re looking forward to being able to test our ideas, but we’re also conscious that this is a high-risk project. That’s why I’m particularly grateful for the support from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation”, says Feng Gao.

The project has three aims:
to develop within five years alloys of double perovskites with excellent optoelectronic properties, to develop a new generation of optoelectronic components (solar cells and light-emitting diodes) with better properties, and to investigate the possibility of developing perovskite materials suitable for use in spintronic applications, such as components for more efficient energy storage, transfer of data, and possibly also in quantum computers.

Breakthroughs of the future

In this round the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation has awarded a total of SEK 640 million to 20 excellent projects in basic research within medicine, the natural sciences and technology, all of them believed to have the possibility to lead to scientific breakthroughs.

Translated by George Farrants

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