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Research areas

Nanoscience takes advantage of the properties shown by materials at the nanometric scale (10-9 m), which often differ in terms of physics, chemistry or biology from their behaviour at larger scale. By nature interdisciplinary fields come together to study this area making it a key enabler in driving the development of cross-technological, intersectoral solutions to societal problems.

Designed to ensure a key role in addressing societal challenges, the research areas in IMDEA Nanociencia ensure the research follows regional and national strategies whilst aligning strongly with the European framework programmes -a strong view towards Horizon Europe.

P1: Organic nanosystems for light harvesting and energy conversion

This programme deals with the design and synthesis of molecular nanostructures and nanomaterials, their spectroscopic characterization, including their time-resolved optical response, and their self-assembly at surfaces. The expertise required includes the functionalization of different nanoforms of carbon, namely fullerenes, carbon nanotubes and graphene, metal-organic frameworks, spin-cross over architectures, organometallic compounds and semiconducting quantum dots to be self-organized on surfaces by means of covalent or supramolecular approaches and the implementation of various spectroscopic techniques, including spectroscopy of single molecules. The practical objective is the use of this information for the optimization of functional organic devices, such as organic solar cells, as well as the preparation of a variety of materials for hole and electron transport, respectively, in perovskite- based solar cells.

P2: Fundamental properties of 2D materials

The use of advanced microscopies and spectroscopies with atomic resolution is essential to characterize matter at the nanoscale. The scientists involved in this programme have developed at IMDEA Nanociencia advanced Scanning Probe Microscopes, mostly STM and non-contact AFM to investigate problems such as the epitaxial growth of graphene, its chemical functionalization, the design of metal-intercalated graphene heterostructures, the characterization of topological insulators, the self-assembly of molecules at surfaces, the on-surface synthesis of nanomaterials from molecular precursors, the design of surface-confined metal-organic architectures, the in-situ fabrication and response of nano-catalysts. Many of these areas have been developed in close collaboration with researchers from P1, who have synthetized the relevant molecules. We have also developed tip-induced electroluminescence in conjunction with P1 and the spin polarized imaging of magnetic nanostructures jointly with the programme on Nanomagnetism (P4). Friction at the nanoscale and theoretical modelling were also involved. Activities of this programme have implications for aeronautics, electronic, magnetic, sensory, and energy applications.

P3: Nanomedicine against cancer and infection

This programme focuses on the development of novel nanotechnologies for medical applications that will result in better, more efficient, and cost-effective therapeutic and diagnostic tools. Examples are, the preparation and use of functionalized magnetic nanoparticles (MNPs) for cancer treatment -to the point that this nanotechnology developed at IMDEA Nanociencia is already in a clinical study. MNPs selectively target tumors for multimodal treatment as drug nanocarriers and heating inductors. This research is highly interdisciplinary, combining a wide range of expertise from the nanoparticle synthesis to the pre-clinical applications. In search of efficiency in the fight against cancer, another area within Nanomedicine is addressing the need to reduce toxic side effects associated with cancer therapies using different strategies, (i) self-immolative linkers that attach drugs to nanoparticles and release a drug once in target cells and (ii) design of new pH-sensitive chemotherapeutic agents that can be activated by the tumor micro-environment.

The generation of sensors based on nanoparticles for detection of targets of medical interest is a research area that aims to exploit the higher sensitivity and specificity of nanostructure-based diagnostics platforms. Researchers at IMDEA Nanociencia have developed, jointly with clinicians of the Ramón y Cajal Hospital, distinct diagnostic tools able to detect biological targets, in particular, COVID 19 with financial support from the ISCIII. Other successful examples are the use of nucleic acid conjugated gold nanoparticles to detect different biomarkers involved in diseases such as uveal melanoma, or pancreatic cancer.

P4: Nanomagnetism and critical raw materials

The scientific activity of the Nanomagnetism programme is at the forefront of both fundamental and applied research on magnetic nanostructures, dealing with the preparation and characterization of advanced multifunctional magnetic nanomaterials with enormous impact for our society, including sensing & information storage (spintronic & spin-orbitronic), energy production and conversion (permanent magnets), as well as biomedical (magnetic nanoparticles) applications.

We are equipped with a powerful battery of techniques that enable the investigation of many properties of multifunctional magnetic nanostructures, including both inorganic and organic materials, grown by molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) or sputtering in UHV environment, as well as by chemical synthesis routes. These are ultrathin films, superlattices, or nanoparticles and their properties are characterized by morphological, chemical, structural, electronic, transport, and (mostly optic-based) advanced vectorial magnetometry techniques. Particular emphasis is paid to the growth, the magnetization reversal processes (in both quasi-static and dynamic regimes), and their magnetoresistance responses. Additionally, external large scale experimental facilities (i.e., synchrotron, neutron, or ion-accelerator sources) are often used to elucidate some fundamental aspects. We aim at a better understanding of fabrication processes and physical properties of new materials and functionalities as a first step towards the development of devices with custom- chosen properties, with potential for sensing, information storage, energy, and biomedical technologies.

P5: Solid state quantum devices for information

Quantum technologies are crucial to address the challenges of the information society. This programme was created as part of the Severo Ochoa award, incorporating new scientists, laboratories and nanofabrication tools. We have designed and studied single photon emitters and detectors, unclonable devices and cavity quantum electrodynamic resonators. Scientists have collaborated tightly with the Centre of Astrobiology (CAB-INTA-CSIC) in the development of Kinetic Inductance Superconducting resonators for space exploration and quantum computation.

P6: Technology translational platform

The Translational Platform is concerned with bridging the gap between our laboratories and what reaches to society. This supplements the research programmes with assessments, feasibility evaluation, prototyping and testing of the corresponding research outputs and their scaling-up and practical implementation. Translational research can be described as research that moves an idea past the basic discovery stage towards and through proof-of concept along the route of increasing technology readiness levels (TRLs). It integrates multiple disciplines, leads to technology platforms and/or engineered systems developed in collaboration with industry or other practitioners.