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Research program

Our strength lies in focused, curiosity-driven, symbiotic studies of functional materials involving researchers from different disciplines. We approach problems holistically: from the design, synthesis, and characterization of these materials, to the theoretical modelling and controlled exploration of their properties by fabricating devices. Our strategy is to focus on problems that combine complementary top-down and bottom-up approaches, augmenting the strengths and different areas of expertise of individual groups.

The research program of the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials is achieved through two Focus Areas.

FA1
FA1

Focus area leaders: B.L. Feringa and B. Poolman

This Focus Area studies biomolecular complexes, their functionality, and the potential for integrating multiple functions within them, modification, mimicry, and control via synthetic chemistry.

Molecules and Networks for the construction of a synthetic cell

Living systems create remarkable materials; cellulose, photonic structures, adhesives, biofuels, silks, slippery and sticky surfaces, etc. The most effective way to harness these materials for technological applications is to isolate the complex synthetic pathways and cellular machinery that Nature has developed and integrate them into manufacturing processes; i.e., to create synthetic, living systems.

The research program of Focus Area 1 currently focusses on two major topics:
(i) Membrane Dynamics; and
(ii) Complex Networks.
Next to this, there is a whole new research line (Biomedical Applications) on tailoring of materials for clinical applications.

Objectives and fundamental questions that are pertinent to the research program of FA1 include:
(a) Design of functional and multicomponent artificial membranes and cell–like confined systems. Can we design and synthesize bio-hybrid building blocks as membrane or cellular components (filaments, self-assembly in confined space)? How to integrate functions like catalysis, sensing, transport, and signal transduction?
(b) Synthesis of far-from-equilibrium self-assembled systems and materials. Can we arrive at dynamic (responsive or adaptive) self-assembled, out-of-equilibrium systems in aqueous environments? How do we couple catalytic conversion to assembly processes, transport, motion etc., using bio(-hybrid) catalysts? How do we control responsive behaviour in self-assembled systems at various length scales?
(c) Control of Networks and cooperativity in cells and biohybrid systems. Is it possible to use molecular switches and motors as adaptive, addressable or multitasking control elements in biological networks, membrane transport proteins, information processing (transcription-translationreplication), etc. (viz. non-invasive interfering in biological /biohybrid systems with high spatio-temporal control)? How can cooperativity, signal-amplification and feedback loops be achieved in biohybrid systems?

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FA2
FA2

Focus area leaders: B.J. van Wees and J.C. Hummelen

This Focus Area designs and investigates new synthetic-organic and inorganic materials with nanometer-scale structures that give rise to new electromagnetic (multi-)functionality.

Molecules and materials for complex and emergent behavior

Within the framework of Focus Area 2, the institute will strengthen its already prominent, international position in the research field of nanostructured materials for electromagnetic functionality. Many scientific goals, approaches and methods formulated and performed by the institute over the last years continue to receive recognition at the national and international level as enabling solutions to the most important of society’s challenges; especially those involving novel and energy efficient approaches to sensing, actuation, storage of data, information and energy as well as innovative approaches to computing. Within Focus Area 2, these challenges will be targeted through fully integrated physical and chemical research into miniaturization of (opto-) electronic devices and key functional materials. Our approach is to develop a fundamental understanding of energy, charge and spin transport at the molecular and mesoscopic level, as well as in the design and creation of revolutionary materials for energy harvesting and conversion and new materials and composites as components for electronic systems that consume minimal power. Cheminformatics and computational science are key guides in our materials design strategy.

While the emphasis, to date, has been on further miniaturization and faster dynamics, efforts are trending towards the systems approach to materials functionality. New materials need to be optimized over a range of length scales to enhance functionality and reduce energy consumption. This systems approach to materials functionality makes use of unique materials such as graphene and carbon nanotubes and useful architectures such as biomimetic and domain-driven designs. These new materials, developed via fundamental and curiosity-driven research, will lead to materials systems for sensing, information processing and energy conversion with a diverse range of disparate applications. Of note are the five specific examples of upconverters in photovoltaics; contrast agents in medicinal imaging; nanostructured scaffolds for gas storage or molecular sieving; new molecular semiconductors in photovoltaics; and active components in micro- and nano- (single molecule, single molecular layer) electronics and spintronics in biosensors and biocompatible electronics and even cytotoxic agents and components of artificial tissues with specific conductivity requirements.

While in practice there are no boundaries within the institute between the various levels of materials research,
we categorize our efforts over the next years with three domains of systems and complexity:
(a) Single molecules and monolayer materials,
(b) Nanostructured bulk materials, and
(c) Emergent behavior in complex materials.
Hybrid approaches, both in terms of materials (inorganic/ organic), and functionality, are rapidly gaining prominence.

Last modified:16 December 2015 10.48 a.m.