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RA1: Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials

Materials science and technology evolves at a fast pace impelled both by demand-driven applications and by strong scientific curiosity attempting to elucidate and comprehend fundamental physical phenomena that control their properties. Progress in materials science does not come up without limitations and shortcomings in synthesis methods, which, in turn, may affect humans and the environment. In addition, new complex nanomaterials or stimuli responsive materials challenge existing characterization tools, increasing the needs for reliable insight in the matter, especially at the nanoscale, and calling for the development of improved investigative methods. Modeling and simulation have become integral parts of materials science and engineering offering support over a broad range of preparation, characterization, and design issues.

Institute research efforts in the area of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials are directed towards understanding the fundamental issues of nanostructured assemblies and atomic arrangement in disordered solids, which will enable rational control over material properties and functionalities. Research activities address three main objectives: (i) to design and develop novel nanostructures and their assemblies as well as functional bulk materials (crystalline and amorphous) for targeted applications, (ii) to undertake feasibility studies of materials incorporation into devices and optimization of their performance, and (iii) to explore implications of nanotechnology in energy, environment, health, and safety. To achieve these targets, experiments proceed in parallel with modeling/simulation towards three main disciplines:

  • Materials synthesis: Architectures, assemblies and novel fabrication methods. We apply a diverse variety of "bottom-up" and "top-down" physical/chemical approaches for the synthesis / production / functionalization of nanostructured materials, low-dimensional crystals (1-D and 2-D), polymers, composites, and amorphous materials. Particular emphasis is placed on the control of reproducibility of nanomaterials growth, which appears as a typical major weakness of current synthesis routes worldwide and appears to be a limiting factor for rapid commercialization. In addition, core activities encompass the development of generic and adaptable synthesis/nanofabrication methods (e.g. laser-assisted, low-temperature chemical vapor deposition, etc.) which are cost effective, eco-friendly and demonstrate potential for upscaling.
  • Advanced Characterization. Material characterization activities at the Institute cover the three main classes, namely, morphology (topology), atomic structure, and investigation of material composition, employing a combination of techniques to probe bulk and surface properties. Triggered by the nanoscale challenges (non-uniformity in sizes and shapes, presence of aggregates/agglomerates, etc.), the Institute has invested serious efforts to advance experimental methods well beyond their standard capabilities to enhance drastically our competence for the reliable characterization of nanostructured materials. This is mainly achieved by employing nanotechnology-enabling investigative tools, e.g., quantitative SERS, environmental SEM, nonlinear optics, etc. Optimization and continuous technique development help develop special technical skills and capabilities that can be of direct benefit to SMEs and industry at the national and at the European level, in their quest to compete on the market sector. Based on our competence in this area, ICE-HT is a core member of the European Materials Characterization Council (EMCC, whose target is to benefit European stakeholders by fostering activities towards improving nanomaterial characterization.
  • Modeling and Simulation. The development of new modeling and simulation tools is key to design, synthesis, and advanced characterization procedures. These tools can decisively support the interpretation of experimental data, in addition to offering understanding of material properties at length and time scales that would be inaccessible by experiments. They can also offer valuable predictions of the material behavior and its performance during device operation. To this end, multiscale simulation methods have been developed that cover the range from the atomic scale (ab initio, molecular dynamics, Monte Carlo,) to the macroscopic scale (continuum approaches). Special emphasis was placed at the interfaces between different material types or different phases of the same material, as well as on embedding inorganic and low dimensional materials in polymer matrices. Combination of experimental techniques for the characterization of the internal structure of porous materials with modeling techniques made possible to provide three-dimensional representations of the materials and predict end properties from a minimal set of experimental data, like single SEM images.

These activities, as summarized in the Figure below, entail multidisciplinarity and mobilize efforts creating interfaces between physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering with quite impressive results in academic output, regarding both productivity and quality of publications. The ultimate goal of the methodological approach described above is to increase the TRL of materials synthesis and their incorporation processes into devices, elaborated at FORTH/ICE-HT, to allow progressive commercialization of nanomaterials, which is often hampered by the lack of large-scale production and reproducibility of technical specifications.


Outline of the ICEHT activities in the Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials RA.

Selected Major Achievements

  • Transformation of commercial ultra- to nano-filtration membranes for water purification by advancing a controlled method to incorporate carbon nanotubes into the thin selective layer.
  • Direct deposition of CVD grown graphene membranes to artworks to provide UV shielding, de-acidification, oxygen and humidity barriers for the protection of old and modern paintings and artworks.
  • Development of a catalytic reactor which is capable of in-situ characterization of graphene growth on the surface of liquid copper.
  • Nanowire gas sensor growth on conductive substrates for CO detection with room temperature operation and fast response and recovery time scales.
  • First demonstration of large scale (cm2) growth of uniform, few-layer (1-2) nm MoS2 electrodes on flexible substrate for DSSCs with performance better than that of Platinum (Pt).
  • The internal reforming concept for more efficient and compact polymer electrolyte fuel cells operating on liquid fuels (methanol).
  • Development of polymeric coatings of Kevlar textiles that led to the increase of protection level by combining bulletproof with antistabbing properties.
  • Synthesis, characterization and full study of mononuclear lanthanide(III) complexes, which behave as single-ion magnets.
  • Soluble semiconducting copolymers showing controllable emission colors and their use in solution printed flat light emitting diodes.
  • First demonstration of laser produced plasmas used for food adulteration detection, classification and controlling protected designation of origin of different agricultural products with the help of machine learning approaches.
  • 1st position in the ESA Competition 'FLY your THESIS' 2016. ESA Parabolic flight campaign was held on November 2017. "Behavior of Photopolymer Fiber Composite Structures in Microgravity (deployment, polymerization and characterization)".
  • 2nd prize of the International CubeSat and Mission Contest, Northwestern Polytechnic University, Xi'an, November 2018.
  • Development of a transmission environmental scanning electron microscope on the existing ESEM microscope introducing new electron detection modes.
  • A specialized, scientific software was developed and tested for nanostructured materials, that is based on the fundamentals and uses a minimal set of SEM images.


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