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Research topics 2019

The Zernike Institute NRC 2019 call for proposals under the BIS scheme was a success, with four new collaborations between its members granted funding. The advisory committee led by prof. dr. Hagan Bayley (Oxford) gave the green light to fund a total of 23 PhD positions to the following new research directions:

Cancer as a materials science problem

Erik van der Giessen (project lead), George Palasantzas, Wouter Roos, Marleen Kamperman, Patrick van Rijn, Patrick van der Wel, Siewert-Jan Marrink, Marthe Walvoort, Jan Jacob Schuringa and Frank Kruyt.

Cancer is initiated by genetic modifications, but develops by altering its own physical context. It is through a process known as mechanotransduction that cells sense their environment and adapt to it by modifying their own cellular as well as the extracellular structure. There is increasing appreciation that mechanical forces play a key role in many of the hallmarks of cancer [1]. However, the cellular and extracellular changes by which tumour cells adapt to mechanical forces are often overlooked and therefore incompletely understood, as is the potential involvement of specific oncogenes. A team of researchers from ZIAM and UMCG are committed to making a quantitative connection between physical forces and genetic defects. The aim of the current program is to study the stiffness of cells and tissues for two partially opposing types of cancer by means of careful experiments and multiscale computational modelling. Subsequently, we aim to identify key malfunctioning proteins inside cells, on the cell membrane as well as in the extracellular matrix, by a combination of computational modelling, structure analysis and mutation studies. Interference with these proteins could become a future target to prevent the release of cancer cells from a tumour, invasion and further development of the tumour.

[1] Austin R., Cancer biology still needs physicists. Nature 550: 4312 (2017).

Emergent functionalities in atomically controlled 2D heterostructures

Bart Kooi (project lead), Justin Ye, Bart van Wees, Meike Stöhr, Marcos Guimarães, Petra Rudolf, Caspar van der Wal, Tamalika Banerjee, Beatriz Noheda, Maxim Mostovoy and Graeme Blake.

Symmetry breaking at interfaces between dissimilar materials is known to produce fascinating emergent behaviour, offering numerous possibilities for its utilization in future applications like electronics or sensors. In the present project we will explore new materials systems, based on 2D materials, their van der Waals heterostructures as well as heterostructures involving complex oxides and materials lacking inversion symmetry. The research programme is thoroughly designed with the aim to discover new emergent electromagnetic and optical functionalities at materials interfaces with a central role being played by the electron spin. This project brings together world-leading experts with unique complementary expertise and will exploit state-of-the-art infrastructure for materials synthesis and structure and property characterization. The project is organized to stimulate collaboration among the PhD students and their PIs. The research is aimed to produce breakthroughs that will form a strong basis for new research initiatives and associated (inter)national consortium formation.

Up and Hot: Breaking the Shockley–Queisser limit

Maria Loi (project lead), Maxim Pchenitchnikov, Jan Anton Koster, Remco Havenith, Thomas Jansen, Kees Hummelen, Monique Tromp and Graeme Blake.

To go beyond the Shockley–Queisser limit, which establishes that a maximum efficiency of 33% can be obtained converting solar light to electricity using a single semiconductor, it is necessary to reduce losses that occur due to the absorption of high-energy photons and to the transparency towards low energy photons. While some possible strategies have been proposed in the past 30 years, very little practical success has been obtained, mostly because of the lack of suitable materials showing the necessary physical characteristics. In the case of high-energy photons, those strategies include the extraction of hot-electrons, the generation of multiple excitons, or the fission of a singlet for generating two triplets. For low energy photons upconversion strategies have been proposed, but up until now they have demonstrated very limited practical capabilities. Here, building on preliminary results obtained in recent years at the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials, and with a multidisciplinary team comprised of synthetic chemists, theorists, spectroscopists and device physicists, we aim to provide not only the missing materials for hot electron extraction and for upconversion, but also to implement these materials in a single device with enhanced efficiency.

Out-of-equilibriumchemical systems: exploiting the fundamental principles of life

Patrick Onck (project lead), Sijbren Otto, Wouter Roos, Bert Poolman, Siewert-Jan Marrink, Ben Feringa, Patrick van Rijn, Dirk Slotboom, Ryan Chiechi, Giuseppe Portale, Shirin Faraji, Wesley Browne and Patrick van der Wel.

Living systems operate at a thermodynamic state that is out of equilibrium. This endows living organisms with the fascinating ability to autonomously grow, adapt, learn, replicate, signal, respond and heal. This dynamic, dissipative state is very different from the thermodynamic equilibrium regime relevant to most processes in today's materials chemistry. Within this research effort we take up the exciting challenge to create and study functional systems that operate in the thermodynamic regime of life. In this unique program, leading chemists, physicists and biologists will join forces to develop new out-of-equilibrium systems and materials that have life-like, adaptive properties. With this consortium we are in a strong position to make a significant step forwards in tackling one of the major outstanding challenges in the field of synthetic biology and materials chemistry.

Last modified:17 May 2019 10.01 p.m.