The doctoral programme

Description

DOC-FAM builds up on the recent award obtained by ICMAB-CSIC as one of the 22 “Severo Ochoa Centres of Excellence”, an award given by the Spanish Government that recognizes institutions from all areas of knowledge that perform cutting-edge research at world standards. The award as “Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence” to develop “Smart Functional Materials for Social Grand Challenges” (FUNMAT, 2016-2019) demonstrates the outstanding international scientific leadership of ICMAB in the field of Advanced Functional Materials and Nanomaterials. FUNMAT is implemented through several Strategic Priority Actions, designed to invigorate and enhance research, training, exploitation and communication activities of the Institute amongst other things.

The aim of the research programme offered in DOC-FAM is to complement the training aspects of FUNMAT by offering the recruited fellows an excellence training programme in the bourgeoning field of Functional Advanced Materials through an interdisciplinary, intersectorial and international approach with the participation of several partner organisations.
DOC-FAM Leaflet
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DOC-FAM Poster 
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Host Institutions

The Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB-CSIC) is a “Severo Ochoa Center of Excellence" for the development of “Smart Functional Materials for Social Grand Challenges” (FUNMAT, 2016-2019). ICMAB is located in the Bellaterra Campus of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), the best University in Spain according to several international rankings (ARWU, CWUR), providing an excellent environment for the development of the doctoral programme. From 2009, the UAB Campus has been also recognised as a Campus of International Excellence (Sphere UAB-CIE). In addition, four additional partner organisations will be involved in the programme to offer the fellows the perfect interdisciplinary, intersectorial and international environment to carry out their projects. The Catalan Institute of Nanoscience & Nanotechnology (ICN2), the Catalonia Institute for Energy Research (IREC), the Barcelona Microelectronics Institute of the National Microelectronics Centre (IMB-CNM-CSIC) and ALBA Synchrotron (ALBA-CELLS) will contribute to the programme through the funding of several doctoral fellowships.
All the participating organisations in the programme have an outstanding track-record in terms of recruitment and training of doctoral researchers, and they are all endorsed to the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers, ensuring the best possible conditions to enhance the potential and future career perspectives for the recruited researchers.

DOC-FAM Calls

1st Call (2017)

Opening date: 1st October 2017
Deadline: 30th November 2017
11 ESR fellowships offered:
5 @ ICMAB-CSIC
2 @ IREC
3 @ ALBA-CELLS
1 @ IMB-CNM-CSIC
(below the description of the available projects within this Call)

2nd Call (2018)
Opening date: 1st October 2018
Deadline: 30th November 2018
11 ESR positions offered

Available research projects 1st Call (2017)
Deadline 30th November 2017

-Additive manufacturing ink jet printing of high temperature superconducting layers using combinatorial chemistry (Prof. Teresa Puig)-

This project is part of the ERC Advanced Grant ULTRASUPERTAPE which aims to demonstrate an unprecedented approach for fabrication of low cost / high throughput / high performance High Temperature Superconducting (HTS) tapes, or Coated Conductors, to push the emerging HTS industry to market. The breakthrough idea is the use of Transient Liquid Assisted Growth (TLAG) from low cost Chemical Solution Deposition of Y, Ba, Cu metalorganic precursors to reach ultrafast growth rates. The key concept of TLAG relies on the decomposition of barium carbonate via fast heating or fast PO2 step. ULTRASUPERTAPE aims to boost Coated Conductor performances up to outstanding limits at high and ultrahigh fields, by smartly designing and engineering the local strain and electronic state properties of nanocomposite superconducting films prepared from nanoparticle colloids. This fellowship will contribute to the project with the deposition and growth of thick layers (>1 mm) with innovative Additive Manufacturing and Digital Printing methodologies using combinatorial chemistry for fast screening of critical parameters. UV/LED lamps will be used for homogeneous liquid attachment to the substrate. Nanocomposite layer will be obtained from ink jet printing deposition using superconducting precursors and non-reactive nanoparticles inks independently. Additionally, the rheological properties of the solution, thermomechanical properties of the deposited gel and the structural and superconducting properties for the layers obtained by combinatorial chemistry will be analysed with the proper characterization techniques. The fellowship will involve solution chemistry, deposition by ink jet printing, clean-room environment, and advanced characterization tools.

-Advanced characterization of functionalized bacterial cellulose electrodes for stable metal-air batteries (Dr. Dino Tonti)-

Metal/air batteries could allow up to 3-5 times the specific energy of current Li-ion batteries at a lower cost. The design of the positive electrode plays a critical role to achieve an optimal performance, as it has to be conductive, offer a porous network that allows an efficient transport of electroactive species, catalyze the electron transfer, and resist the aggressive oxygen radicals. The best performing electrodes typically consist of a carbonaceous network functionalized with metals or metal oxides as catalysts. However, their durability is often limited, and the mechanisms that lead to their failure are generally poorly understood. This work aims to improve the performance and stability of metal-air cathodes by combining the development of high-quality electrodes with the use of powerful characterization techniques to inspect degradation processes upon battery cycling. In particular, combining different synchrotron-based x-ray absorption methods it will be possible to detect chemical alterations or accumulation of products that would provide clear indications on irreversible electrode processes. As substrate we use bacterial cellulose, a high purity, renewable, safe and easily processable material, consisting of cross-linked nanometric fibers. After pyrolysis it provides electrodes with suitable architecture, and conductivity comparable to those from carbon nanotubes or graphene. It provides at the same time a well-defined model system for basic studies as a scalable material for practical applications. The fellow will participate in the development of more efficient metal/air batteries in the team, in particular:
-Process bacterial cellulose as functionalized binder-free electrodes
-Investigate their electrochemical behavior in batteries
-Investigate the electrode and cell materials before, during and after operation using imaging and spectroscopic techniques, with emphasis on x-ray absorption. 
The present work will be directed by Dr. Dino Tonti in collaboration with Dr. Laura Simonelli and Dr. Andrea Sorrentino, beamline scientists at the Synchrotron ALBA, where a significant part of the experiments will be designed and carried out. Materials will be prepared within the frame of a project focusing on the development of materials and applications based on bacterial cellulose, lead by Prof. Anna Roig. The starting cellulose material will be provided by ICMAB’s Nanoparticles and Nanocomposites group.

-Atomic structure, strain and composition in functional oxide epitaxial films and nanostructures by advanced transmission electron microscopy and spectroscopy (Dr. Felip Sandiumenge)-

The fellow will carry out studies of the local atomic and electronic structure of thin heteroepitaxial oxide films, their interfaces and crystallographic defects such as dislocations and domain walls, using high resolution (scanning) transmission electron microscopy, and energy dispersive X-ray and electron energy loss spectroscopy. The proposed research is aimed at a fundamental understanding  of microstructural aspects related to the development of devices based on magnetic or ferroelectric tunneling junctions. The materials studied are perovskite-type 3d ferromagnetic insulators like La2CoMnO6 , La2NiMnO6 or ferroelectric BaTiO3The project also faces the study of spin-orbit induced effects on magnetic tunnel junctions for potential application in the implementation of spin-transfer torque -based devices. To this purpose, the epitaxial growth of strongly spin-orbit coupled 5d transition metal oxides, particularly the Ruddlesen-Popper series Srn+1IrnO3n+1 (n = 1, 2, and ∞) is investigated in detail. These phases show dimensionality-controlled systematic transitions of material properties: for example, Sr2IrO4 (n = 1) is an antiferromagnetic Mott insulator,  Sr3Ir2O7 (n = 2) is barely an insulator, and end member SrIrO3 (n = ∞) is a paramagnetic semimetal. Therefore the control of the impact of the growth mechanism on the dimensionality and phase homogeneity of the film structure and stoichiometry is essential.
The transport and magnetic properties of these materials are strongly sensitive to elastic strains, which in turn have a dramatic impact on the oxidation state of transition metals, the spatial distribution of chemical species and oxygen vacancy formation energies. Therefore, high spatial resolution atomic and electronic structure investigations and chemical mapping through state of the art transmission electron microscopy based techniques, are key aspects for the successful development of the project. In the case of ferroelectric tunnel junctions, in-situ microscopy studies will be carried out in order to inspect the microstructural dynamics under operando conditions.

-Bio-inspired Gold Nanoparticles decorated with hollow spheres to trade ions for biomedical applications (Prof. Francesc Teixidor)-

The expertise of the group is on Boron Clusters and all their activities are dedicated to develop both methods to produce these molecular entities and to find niche applications for these compounds, particularly where the organic compounds, these whose backbone is made of carbon, do not have the necessary properties for their application. Recently the proposing subject group published a work (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, 134, 212-221) where the first example of a gold nanoparticle, GNP, that upon a redox process the polarity of the GNP was altered so that upon oxidation with H+ the GNP moved from an aqueous environment to a lipophilic one and that upon reduction it moved back to the polar aqueous medium was reported. This is done using hollow spheres as GNPs capping ligands. In its reduced form the gold core is negatively charged and cations are trapped inside the voids generated due to the hesagonal or square packing of the spheres. In its oxidized form the cations are no longer needed and thus are released thereby making GNPs a possible drug redox controlled releasing system.
In this project we wish to explore the possibilities offered by this GNPs release system by studying the cations that can be transported, the ease of cation release and how relevant can be in intelligent drug release, and see how the architecture of the GNP can be altered and how it affects its properties. The fellow will gain expertise in the preparation of NPs, particularly of gold, electrochemical techniques both in solution and on films, electrolysis and will proceed to develop devices for which he/she will need learning on depositing techniques like spin-coating, thermal or e-beam evaporation, etc.

-Carbon thin film microelectrode devices for the semi-continuous monitoring of heavy metals in waters (Dr. Martí Gich)-

There is a growing need for low-cost technologies to analyse environmental contaminant concentrations quickly, easily and in-field to provide timely data regarding the extent and magnitude of pollution. For instance this need is particularly relevant for the analysis of Arsenic, naturally present in the aquifers of many regions, to semi-continuously monitor the efficiency of decontamination on the waters intended for public consumption. 
To this aim we work on electrochemical heavy metal sensors based on porous carbon-metal nanoparticle composites. Recently we have developed thin films of these materials with an excellent adherence on Si substrates, allowing the photolithographic production of microelectrodes. These show remarkable performance to detect heavy metals in waters and most interestingly, can be reused many times. This makes this technology suitable to implement portable autonomous systems to make in-situ electrochemical monitoring of heavy metals in waters.
The purpose of this project is to develop porous C microelectrodes with Au nanoparticles for the detection of As and its integration into fluidic devices and to expand the range of analytes the system can simultaneously detect to other metals with particular concern (Pd, Cd, Ni, Hg, Cr).  A second objective is exploring the suitability of lower cost alternatives involving paper-based electrodes. Field testing of As in the area of Tacna (Peru) is envisaged in collaboration with local researchers.

-Charge transport studies across stimuli-responsive organic layers (Dr. Nuria Crivillers)-

In the last decades there has been a great effort on the fabrication of solid-state molecular electronic devices. Inexpensive, functional and atomically precise molecules could be the basis of future electronic devices, but integrating them into real devices will require the development of new ways to characterize them and to control the interface between molecules and electrodes. The endeavor to develop the research project will be placed on the design and preparation of molecular memories based on hybrid materials formed by molecular switches, redox-active and/or photochromic, adsorbed onto conductive substrates. The deposition of self-assembled monolayers or films (from evaporation or solution) will be a key step of the fabrication. The charge transport measurements across the layers will be performed and the output current will be used as a characteristic property of the material. Changes on the current upon the application of an external stimulus will be exploited as output of the switch.    
For the electrical characterization of these molecular junctions we will work with a novel technique that basically consists in using a liquid metal as the gallium indium euthectic (EGaIn) to top contacting the molecular active layer. This technique is easy and very versatile and allows forming a soft contact with the layer which is highly desired to avoid molecular damaging or short circuit by the penetration of metal atoms. The candidate will be able to join a pioneer, dynamic and active group from the Department of Nanoscience and Organic Materials (NANOMOL) from the Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB-CSIC).

-Computational workflows for structural and electronic properties of materials (Dr. Alberto García)-

In the past few decades first-principles simulation methods have reached a high degree of maturity and predictive power, and have firmly established themselves as a key tool for our understanding and optimization of materials properties. The modern simulation approach requires the generation, storage, retrieval, and analysis of ever increasing amounts of data, and the management of ever more complex codes.  Several middleware infrastructures have been developed to tackle these issues. In particular, the AiiDA framework (http://aiida.net) has emerged as a robust tool to develop and exploit the computational workflows needed.
Our research group has a long tradition in the development and application of first-principles codes. In particular, we contribute very actively to the development of SIESTA (http://www.icmab.es/siesta), and are also involved in its interface to the AiiDA framework within the MaX (Materials at the eXascale) EU H2020 Center of Excellence (www.max-centre.eu). This project will involve the development of workflows for the analysis of both fundamental and technologically important properties of materials, focusing, but not limited to, on the electronic properties of 2D materials and on the structural and electronic properties of bulk materials for energy applications.

-Development of new optically active boron clusters-based fluorophores as good candidates for two-photon absorption spectroscopy (Dr. Rosario Núñez)-

The two photon absorption (TPA) process is a third-order nonlinear optical (NLO) process in which materials simultaneously absorb two photons. Materials that exhibit large two-photon cross section can be applied like 3D optical data storage, optical limiting, microfabrication, photodynamic therapy or imaging. Despite the unique structural and electronic characteristic of the boron clusters (in special carborane derivatives), few examples of boron cluster-based p-conjugate systems for TPA have been reported nowdays. The main aim of the present project is the preparation and characterization of novel boron cluster derivatives linked to highly conjugated systems to construct a new generation of optical active systems. All compounds are expected to exhibit photoluminescence (PL) and TPA properties, which would lead to their prospective application in biomedicine, especially in super-resolution fluorescence microscopy, but also in optical limiting. The main advantages of incorporating boron clusters would be improved hydrophobicity, low toxicity, thermal and chemical stability, among others. These compounds might be regarded as potential candidates for anticancer agents for boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT). Main goals of the project:
-To synthesize and characterize molecules with structural arrangement type Donor-Acceptor-Donor (D-A-D) using nido-carborane and closo-carborane as donor and acceptor groups.
-To study the electronic properties of the just made derivatives by steady state absorption and emission spectroscopies.

-To evaluate non-linear properties such as TPA in those molecules having interesting luminescence properties for their potential application.

-Dynamic modulation of plasmons in multifunctional nanophotonic circuits (Dr. Gervasi Herranz)-

When light interacts with metals at the nanoscale, free electrons –which resonate collectively at their natural frequency– reemit electromagnetic waves in the form of plasmons. These are evanescent waves, which have the property of squeezing and boosting the energy density into subwavelength regions. Because of these properties, plasmons are used in nanophotonic applications, e.g., biochemical sensing. The present project aims at exploiting plasmons as data carriers along nanoscale circuits, moving into novel unexplored areas. The underlying premise is that plasmon modulation should enable more efficient data routing through optical interconnects in multicore chips. Different strategies will be explored: (i) First, by exploiting plasmon propagation through metal/ferroelectric interfaces, to change the optical properties by electric fields. Secondly, by incorporating magnetism in two ways, viz.: the propagation of plasmons along magnetic metal/ferroelectric interfaces and (ii.2) by exploiting spin-polarized currents generated by spin-pumping in the radiofrequency range (GHz).
The fellow will be supervised by Dr. Gervasi Herranz, research leader in functional oxide interfaces and photonics. Dr. Herranz aims his scientific activity at the research on new materials for electronics and photonics. he/she will access our advanced optical laboratory, which includes optical spectroscopy and high-resolution imaging tools. The fellow will be acquainted with state-of-the art techniques that allow real-space mapping of optical responses with diffraction limitation.

-Dynamic supramolecular bio-interfaces and hydrogels as biomimetic materials for cancer immunotherapies (Dr. Imma Ratera / Dr. Judith Guasch)-

Despite the enormous efforts in cancer research worldwide, we are still far from efficient medicines in many cases. Encouragingly, several remissions of otherwise terminal leukemia patients with genetically modified autologous T cells using an adoptive T cell therapy have been recently described. This therapy consists of the isolation of T cells, their ex vivo activation and expansion, and the subsequent autologous administration. Nevertheless, the ability to expand T cells in high quantities with a determined phenotype and at a reasonable cost remains a limiting factor for the translation of cancer immunotherapies to clinics because of the long and expensive in-lab treatments required. This project intends to alleviate such limitations with the development of biomimetic lymph nodes (LN) using dynamic biofuncional surfaces (2D) and supramolecular hydrogels (3D). We expect that these hydrogels with tunable chemical and mechanical properties will enhance T cell proliferation rates while controlling the cellular phenotypes ex-vivo. As preliminary step we will also use 2D models consisting of electroactive molecular self-assembly monolayers (SAMs) as dynamic, model substrates to mimic the spatial and temporal cues of natural microenviroments and study the cell-material interface in a simplified system. Thus, this project proposes a multidisciplinary research that merges organic and physical chemistry, materials science and biomedicine to develop stimuli-responsive 2D interfaces and 3D supramolecular hydrogels.
More specifically, the fellow will:
-Design, synthesize and characterize different biomimetic surfaces and supramolecular hydrogels using different techniques such as RMN, IR, HPLC, rheology, atomic force microscopy (AFM), etc.
-Purify T cells from human peripheral blood and analyze T cell adhesion, activation, proliferation and differentiation using the previously synthesized biomaterials with different techniques such as ELISA tests, flow cytometry and optical microscopy to help improving adoptive T cell therapies. 

-Dynamical modulation of electron spins with microwaves (Dr. Gervasi Herranz)-

At present, most of the digital information is stored in nonvolatile magnetic bits, e.g., in the hard disk drives of PCs and laptops, while data is processed in volatile memory units -e.g., in CPUs-. In order to extend the advantages of nonvolatility to processing units (i.e., adding to them the capability of permanent storage), efficient ways of manipulating the magnetism with electric currents are intensively researched, so that the information encoded in the magnetic bits (viz. with spins in up/down states) can be changed dynamically with electric pulses. In addition, over the past few years, the scientists have realized that some magnetic nanostructures (for instance, Pt/Co stacks) can host topological spin states (e.g. skyrmions), with a vast potential for new applications. With this foreground in view, we propose to modulate the magnetism of magnetic nanodevices using surface acoustic waves controlled by microwave (mw) pulse fields, in the technological relevant range of the GHz, where most telecommunication applications work (e.g., cell phones, RFIDs, Wifi, etc.).
The fellow will be supervised by Dr. Gervasi Herranz, research leader in functional oxide interfaces and photonics. Dr. Herranz aims his scientific activity at the research on new materials for electronics and photonics. He/she will access our advanced optical laboratory, which includes optical spectroscopy and high-resolution imaging tools. The fellow will follow an intensive training, so as to ensure a solid understanding of the techniques. Particularly important, the student will be acquainted with state-of-the art techniques that allow real-space mapping of optical responses with diffraction limitation.

-Engineering bacterial cellulose nanocomposites (Prof. Anna Roig)-

Cellulose constitutes an almost inexhaustible biopolymer, being the most abundant renewable polysaccharide produced in the biosphere. Although cellulose is predominantly obtained from plants, it can also be synthesized by bacteria, algae and fungi. In particular, bacterial cellulose (BC) produced by microbial fermentation has the same molecular formula as plant-derived cellulose but, in contrast, is a pure biopolymer that exhibits a high degree of polymerization and crystallinity. Importantly, BC does not contain lignin and hemicellulose, two non-degradable components and potential sources of toxicity present in plant-derived cellulose. BC also has high porosity, transparency in the UV-NIR and a high water holding capacity. Moreover, a very unique characteristic of BC is the possibility to interfere on its micro(nano) structuration and shape during the bacterial synthesis. Thus, the biosynthesis of cellulose offers to materials scientists a model biopolymer to study structure, topography and new bottom-up approaches to fabricate nanocomposites.
The fellow will develop novel functional nanocomposites based on bacterial cellulose and inorganic nanoparticles. He/she will first focus on the fabrication of nanostructured bacterial cellulose based on the group previous experience and built up more complex materials from this point with the ambition to integrate them in devices. The project is challenging from the materials/nanotechnology point of view.  The fellow will be hands-on in a chemical laboratory and with state of the art material characterization tools.

-Evaluation of biocompatible nanoparticles for biomedical applications using the model organism C. elegans (Dr. Anna Laromaine)-

Nanoparticles (NPs) offer the possibility to chemically and structurally tune their properties impacting on how they interact with biological materials. Hundreds of NPs have been proposed as drug carriers and therapies, however the lack of a time- and batch-efficient method to evaluate NPs and processes prevents establishing general fundamental principles and impedes the progress of these future drugs and therapies unless high throughput methods advance. Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is an invertebrate, transparent worm with 60% genetic homology to humans. The use of this in vivo animal reduce the number of higher animals used, complying with the 3R principles, and speed the process of translation of NPs to the market. Experimental work with C. elegans is easy and accessible to a master student, allowing to the student to gain a broad range of expertise. This worm shares traits to the humans; we will use it as test-bed for the multiparametric optimization of NPs for oral delivery. The combination of anatomical, biochemical and genetic tools with materials science characterization techniques in the tiny C. elegans in vivo and at multiple biological levels (whole organism, organs, tissues, cells and pathways) will breakthrough in the engineering of NPs for oral delivery decreasing time and cost effort. In specific in the use of the similarities of the C. elegans and humans in their metabolism, we want to exploit those traits to develop efficient novel inorganic nanoparticles controlling their size and composition targeting biological applications such as anemia.
This project is highly interdisciplinary and it combines material science, nanotechnology and biology, and it will be developed within an international team. The fellow will work with other PhD students and will learn to work with nanoparticles from the synthesis and characterization point of view and then the nano-bio study of the interaction of NPs with C. elegans.

-Interface engineering for the fabrication of high performing organic field-effect transistors (Dr. Marta Mas)-

Due to technological limitations associated with the use of silicon, substantial efforts are currently devoted to developing organic electronics and, in particular, organic field-effect transistors (OFETs). Indeed, the processing characteristics of organic semiconductors make them potentially useful for electronic applications where low-cost, large area coverage and structural flexibility are required. However, in order to move towards applications, there are some fundamental aspects that need to be further understood to be able to achieve high performing devices with high reproducibility. In particular, the work here will explore the influence of interfaces on the device performance to gain insights on their influence on the transport properties as well as on the structural and morphological characteristics of the organic thin films. For this purpose, electrodes and dielectrics functionalised with different organic self-assembled monolayers will be tested in OFET devices and their influence on the contact resistance (charge injection) and on the semiconducting thin film crystallisation will be investigated.
The fellow will have the opportunity to handle a variety of multidisciplinary techniques such as wet chemistry methods, organic materials processing and characterisation, vacuum deposition techniques, laser lithography for electrode fabrication, electrical measurements, morphological and structural characterisation tools, etc. Further, he/she will join a research team which has a long expertise in the field or organic electronics and has actively participated in many European projects in this area.

-Multiredox nanoclusters and nanoparticles for enhanced oxygen redox reactions in metal-air batteries (Prof. Nieves Casañ)-

Metal/air batteries are among the most promising novel battery chemistries. They could allow up to 3-5 times the specific energy of current Li-ion batteries while significantly lowering their cost. In spite of intense investigation efforts in the past few years still their performance and durability are not satisfactory to establish as a technology. This is mostly attributed to the lack of an optimal control of the complex reduction processes of oxygen that need to take place quickly and reversibly. Remarkable improvements can be achieved by alternative paths involving soluble catalysts (redox mediators, RM) in the electrolytes. Nevertheless, many studied RMs, typically organic molecules, demonstrated to be not stable enough in the harsh cell environment. We propose the use of multiredox nanosized oxides, such as polyoxometalate clusters or other nanoparticles such as FeOx , IrOx as RM. These oxides are already known by their reversible redox activity in oxidation and reduction processes and in many cases by their catalytic activity, which would add a second advantage in O2 reduction process.
This work, by aiming to the development of efficient and stable redox mediators for metal/air batteries, has three main objectives: 1) elucidation of existing and novel electrode mechanisms, 2) finding of alternative cheaper materials and 3) development of high energy storage devices. 
The main focus will be directed towards Aluminum/oxygen devices, based on previous reactivity tests performed. The fellow will participate to the development of more efficient metal/air batteries in the group, and share materials and setups with other students. In particular he/she will:
-Develop oxide clusters and hybrids by wet chemistry

-Investigate these materials and their behavior in the electrochemical systems using microscopic, spectroscopic and electrochemical techniques.
-Develop, model and test flow cells based on the electrochemistry of these materials using Al anodes, and 3D O2 reduction cathodes

-Nanoelement integration in oxide films for novel electronics (Dr. Alberto Pomar)-

Manipulation of matter at the nanoscale has been recognized by the EU as a key area to open new horizons in diverse fields as big data, biomedicine and energy. In particular, a major challenge is to find efficient approaches to integrate regular patterns of nanoscale objects (atoms, clusters, ...) into large surfaces of functional materials. The feasibility of a new route to fabricate long range ordered arrays of nanoobjects based on the use of templates obtained by self assembly has been demonstrated. These nanotemplates are achieved by fine tuning of growth kinetics during the sputtering process of transition metal oxides (TMOs) thin films. Our scientific objective is to combine the unique electronic, magnetic or optical properties inherent to quasi-zero-dimensional nanostructures with the exceptional range of applications offered by TMOs used as nanotemplates (colossal magnetoresistance, ferroelectricity,…). As light-matter interaction is enhanced by the presence of nanoscale objects through electromagnetic confinement at surfaces and interfaces, the tuning of electronic properties of the template will lead to new concepts in optoelectronics.
The fellow will be responsible for the preparation of devices consisting of nanoparticles deposited by cluster gun on top of oxide-based nanotemplates prepared by sputtering. He/she will be also in charge of the study of electronic properties of the devices. 

-Nanotechnology and clean energy: Nanoporous catalysts for hydrogen production (Prof. Elies Molins)-

The objective of the project is the building of microreactors for the production of hydrogen from water and/or ethanol using in most cases solar light. The microreactors are expected to generate hydrogen on demand for feeding fuel cells used for powering devices, avoiding the problems of hydrogen storage and transport. The microreactors are composed of channels filled with porous catalysts through which liquid water and/or ethanol flow. Two important parts of the project are the design of the channel structure and the preparation of the catalysts. Both parts are not independent, as the flow through the reactors depends both on the channels and on the porosity of the catalysts, and the microreactors need to ensure a flow large enough as for feeding continuously the fuel cells. The group at the ICMAB is in charge of developing new catalysts that are tested by the collaborating group at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC). These catalysts are composed of one or more metal oxides (titania, zirconia and ceria, at the moment) in some cases doped with noble metal nanoparticles. The main challenge of this part of the project is to get an adequate control on the characteristics of the catalysts, allowing their preparation with tailored compositions and pore structures.
The fellow will integrate in a group that is developing a project about new nanoporous catalysts for hydrogen production in microreactors built by 3D printing. He/she will be in charge of preparing the catalysts, of characterizing them, determining their microstructure and composition, and of analyzing the relationship between their characteristics and the results of the hydrogen production tests. The fellow is also expected to play an active role in the design of preparation routes for the catalysts.

-New challenges in spin-orbit physics (Dr. Carlos Frontera)-

Spin-orbit coupling (SOC) is a relativistic effect linking orbital and spin angular momenta of an electron that becomes significant for atoms with high atomic number. Recently research on 5d transition metal oxides (TMOs) with pronounced SOC is flourishing due to the emergence of new topological states and potential application in spintronics. In these 5d transition metal oxides, several energies scales are competing (Hubbard’s interaction, Hund’s coupling, SOC, crystal field and electron kinetic energy) and a rich family of behaviors has been revealed. Moreover, SOC is at the heart of manipulating spin solely by electric fields, an attractive pathway for designing electronic devices, in particular magnetic random access memories with reduced energy consumptions. Much attention is currently devoted to the study of spin-transfer torque (STT) through which it is possible to realize spontaneous magnetization precession and switching. By using the generation of pure spin currents by ferromagnetic resonance (FMR), spin pumping from a ferromagnet (FM) into a non-magnetic (NM) material is one of the most promising candidates for these applications. Our project aims to the study of the efficacy of spin pumping in perovskite-based iridates thin films and multilayers and the influence of critical parameters as epitaxial strain, interface quality or barrier conductance. The fellow will be responsible for the preparation of iridate-based thin films and heterostructures and to perform and analyze magnetodynamic properties. 

-New oxynitride materials with luminescent and magnetic properties (Prof. Amparo Fuertes)-

The partial substitution of the anion oxide by nitride expands and tunes the physical properties of oxides, and oxynitrides are an emerging group of solids showing high dielectric constants, colossal magnetoresistance, ferroelectricity, red luminescence and visible light photocatalytic activity among other properties. Nitrogen and oxygen show similar electronic and crystal chemistry features and may substitute for each other in the same crystallographic sites. Nitrogen is less electronegative, more polarizable and more charged than oxygen and its introduction in an oxidic compound increases the covalent character of the bonds with the cations and the crystal field splitting. This results in changes in the electronic levels that affect many physical properties. The research project focuses in the development of new optical and magnetic materials using nitride to tune the properties of oxides. Silicate oxynitrides will be investigated as hosts for red shifted Eu2+ and Ce3+ luminescent materials showing large colour tuneability, low toxicity and high thermal stability. Perovskite oxynitrides will be developed to produce new electronic materials containing lanthanides and late transition metals as magnetic cations.
The fellow will train in non conventional synthetic methods at high temperatures with strict control of atmosphere and other parameters in order to produce the targeted oxynitrides. The crystal structure will be determined by using the Rietveld method from powder diffraction data and the structural parameters will be correlated with the observed physical properties. The research group hosting the fellow has a long experience in the development of new nitrided materials with a diversity of properties including superconductivity, photocatalytic water splitting, colossal magnetoresistance and luminescence.

-Organic radical-based nanoparticles with novel multiferroic characteristics as new therapeutic agents (Prof. Jaume Veciana/Dr. Imma Ratera)-

The project proposes a new strategy towards all-organic multiferroic based on organic radicals (OR) combined with charge-transfer salts. The soft nature of the crystals once processed as nanoparticles (NPs) will be exploited in a very innovative approach as therapeutic agents for ion channel disorders as a proof-of-concept of its potential use in nanomedicine. The multiferroic NPs near the cells will allow a remote control of voltage to locally generate few mV signals to control opening and closing of the ion channels of cell membranes gated by external magnetic fields. Magnetism and ferroelectricity are essential to current technologies, and the quest for multiferroic materials, where the two phenomena are intimately coupled, represents a challenging task for fundamental research with an enormous technological potential. Despite the superior structural and functional versatility of organic materials, current research efforts are mainly devoted to inorganic materials, such as perovskite oxides (ABO3), whose physics is fairly well understood but whose intrinsic limitations are starting to emerge. This project proposes an ambitious and new strategy towards all-organic multiferroic materials combined with the typical characteristics of molecular materials, including softness, low cost, biocompatibility, tunability, easy processing and wider structural versatility as their modular architectures can be easily modified by chemical synthesis and crystal engineering.
The fellow will prepare ferroelectric charge-transfer (CT) crystals decorated with organic radical side-units and explore their great potential in biomedicine. He/she will use advanced supramolecular engineering techniques to assess this new family of materials where new physics and novel electrical and magnetic properties will emerge from the subtle interplay between intramolecular electron-transfer (ET) in Radical-Donor, OR•-D, derivatives and intermolecular charge-transfer interactions in stacks of donor/acceptor species in which our group have wide experience.
 

-Polar materials for efficient light energy harvesting (Prof. Josep Fontcuberta)

To achieve a sustainable society, solar energy harvesting appears as the most convenient approach. Photovoltaic (PV) energy is now a reality that is providing an everyday greater fraction of our energy consumption. The quest for efficient materials that allow to absorb light photons and transforms them into electric power, has been so far dominated by expensive compounds such as cadmium telluride or crystalline silicon. Polycrystalline silicon is an alternative although much less efficient. The efficiency of the recently discovered perovskite halides (2009) increased from a modest 3 % to at about 22 % nowadays, thus offering expectation of alternative low-cost material, approaching the so-called quantum efficiency limit QE (QE ≈ 30 %). However, although progressing fast, these compounds suffer from severe materials problems, which cast some doubts on their ultimate performance. In this context polar materials, such a ferroelectric oxides offer radically new possibilities. In brief, polar materials are non-centrosymmetric and they may host permanent electric dipoles in their structure. These dipoles may give rise of internal electric fields that can efficiently extract photo-induced electric charges, thus giving rise to efficient photo-conversion. Therefore, not surprisingly, ferroelectric materials are now receiving a renewed attention for PV applications. Moreover, it is not yet known if the accepted QE limit also holds in non-centrosymmetric materials. Indeed open-circuit voltages much larger than the semiconductor band gap have been observed in some of these materials thus showing that there is much to discover and investigate. This is a frontier of knowledge.
We aim at breaking this frontier by exploring the photovoltaic response of several materials which are either non-symmetric in nature or engineered to be non-symmetric. We shall fabricate the appropriate devices and measure the photoresponse of some nanometric oxide thin films and multilayers oxide. Materials will be prepared using word while stat-of-the-art thin film deposition techniques and suitable lithographic techniques available at ICMAB. The fellow will learn how to fabricate photovoltaic cells based on polar materials (for instance, ferroelectrics) and to test them with the vision to determine their potential performance for efficient light-electric charge conversion. Equipment to be used include: advanced thin film grown facilities, high and low temperature electric measurements, nanoscopic proximity probes and X-ray facilities and access to nanofabrication labs. Our proximity to the neighboring ALBA European Large Scale Synchrotron facility is an extra bonus that allows a unique insight on some of our cutting edge materials.

-Quantum dots, quantum nanowires and quantum rings made by chemical methods for QLEDs (Prof. Francesc Teixidor)-

QLED means Quantum dot light emitting diodes and are a form of light emitting technology. They consist of nano-scale crystals that can provide an alternative for applications such as display technology. The structure of a QLED is very similar to the OLED technology. But the difference is that the light emitting centers are semiconductors, for the project proposed here cadmium selenide (CdSe) nanocrystals, Quantum Dots, Quantum Nanowires and Quantum Rings. The Inorganic Materials and Catalysis (LMI) group at ICMAB has developed a state of the art new procedure capable to produce Quantum Dots, Quantum Nanowires and Quantum Rings in aqueous medium, that permits to produce large quantities in a very efficient way. This is a great alternative to the organic method as it allows a very easy way to get the QDsn QRs and QNWs in solid. For the preparation of the QLEDs a layer of cadmium-selenium quantum dots is sandwiched between layers of electron-transporting and hole-transporting organic materials. An applied electric field causes electrons and holes to move into the quantum dot layer, where they are captured in the quantum dot and recombine, emitting photons. The spectrum of photon emission is narrow, characterized by its full width at half the maximum value.

-Responsive molecular materials employing curcuminoid ligands: design, characterization and surface deposition (Prof. Nuria Aliaga)-

In the areas of nanoscience and nanotechnology, molecular-based materials with tailored functionalities rise as promising candidates toward innovative applications. However, one of the most important challenges faced toward their realistic implementation is the achievement of optimal combination between designed molecules and nanodevices. The project involves:
-The synthesis of a new family of asymmetric curcuminoid ligands (CCMoids) containing at least two different functionalities that will complement (e.g.: acceptor-donor moieties,…);
-The coordination of the new CCMoids to different metal centers and
-Detailed study of selected compounds toward their insertion on surfaces and/or nanodevices.

The designed molecules mean to fulfill the requirements of the physical devices providing updated nano-prototypes with improved properties. The fellow will be in charge of the synthesis of different molecular materials using asymmetric curcuminoids ligands (CCMoids), detailed characterization of the final materials and deposition of selected prototypes on surfaces and/or nanodevices.
The research group FunNanoSurf is committed to the synthesis of molecular and polymeric structures based on curcuminoids ligands and porphyrin derivatives and application in the areas of nanoscience and nanotechnology, with particular emphasis on the subjects of biological recognition, MOFs, molecular magnetism and molecular electronics/spintronics.

-Stabilization of proteins by a self-assembled inorganic coating for new functional advanced materials (Prof. Clara Viñas)-

Proteins are widely available materials with a high degree of sophistication. They perform many tasks within cells. Some are involved in structural support and movement, others in enzymatic activity, and still others in interaction with the outside world. Indeed, the functions of individual proteins are as varied as their unique amino acid sequences and complex three-dimensional physical structures. The fact that proteins are responsible for nearly every task of cellular life, including signals reception from outside the cell and mobilize intracellular response presumes that they can be very useful in many catalysis, communication and electronics technologies. In addition they are as diverse as the functions they serve. But they have a major problem: they denaturize with temperature. The task of this research project is to find a way to enable proteins to become endured materials able to be part of devices or processes. This is foreseen to be successful not by complicated formation of covalent bonding but by the much more attractive  self-assembling of molecular inorganic materials.

-Thermal diodes and thermal transistors based on nanoscale semiconductors (Dr. Riccardo Rurali)-

The goal of this project is providing a theoretical framework aimed at understanding and controlling the manipulation of heat flux within semiconducting nanowires. The fellow will focus on the calculation of the phonon dispersion and the thermal conductivity of nanostructured semiconductors, mostly one-dimensional nanowires. He/she will perform numerical simulations in order to devise realistic approaches for the engineering of a thermal diode and a thermal transistor, the fundamental building blocks of phononics. In electronics information is transferred with charge carriers, whose motion can be easily controlled with external fields. This is not the case of phononics, where phonons —the basic particles that carry heat— have no mass or charge: this is why we live in a world of electronic devices and heat is normally regarded as a source of loss. The goal of this project is reversing this viewpoint and move to a new paradigm where heat can be actively used to transfer energy, thus information, in a controllable way.
Nanowires present multiple advantages over bulk materials to achieve heat rectification, mostly due to their reduced dimensionality and to the flexibility given by the chemistry of growth to yield structures that appear to be suited for these applications. This approach allows envisaging a truly zero-power analog of electronics, as in our world heat is indeed ubiquitous and phononics circuits will effectively need no power supply. Additionally, learning how to modulate the heat flow will have also important consequences in conventional electronics —where heat dissipation at the nanoscale is a major issue— or in devising efficient thermoelectric materials —where materials with low thermal conductivities must be engineered. The activity of the group of Theory and Simulation of Materials is equally shared between the development of new algorithms and methods for the calculation of properties of materials and nanostructures and applications in various cutting-edge areas of materials science, particularly semiconducting nanostructures, novel functional oxides, and other reduced dimensionality systems.

-Two-dimensional organic hybrid structures for artificial photosynthesis (Dr. Esther Barrena)-

The conversion of solar energy to chemical energy represents one of the most attractive prospects to solve the global energy and environmental challenges, as sunlight and water are abundant and renewable. Artificial photosynthesis aims to mimic its natural role model, which, in essence,  uses molecular systems to harvest sunlight, to oxidize water and to drive a cascade of electron and energy transfer reactions. The basic principles involve the capture of solar energy, the transfer of the excitation energy to special locations- the reaction centers- and the charge separation for the subsequent electron-transfer processes. However many challenges persist in achieving the desired goal of cheap and efficient conversion of solar energy into chemical energy. Still very little detailed mechanistic information is available at atomic-scale about the behaviour of water at on interfaces of different nature and of the specific interactions and involved processes.
This project focuses on the exploration of novel two-dimensional heterostructures based on organic assemblies and graphene with potential application in photocatalysis and artificial photosynthesis. The study aims at understanding fundamental interface phenomena related with the structure and the photochemistry of these 2D Systems, explored at atomic-scale level. As experimental methods, the work will use scanning tunneling microscopy and frequency modulation atomic force microscopy (STM/nc-AFM) in ultra-high vacuum complemented by near-ambient pressure x-ray photoemission studies (XPS/NEXAFS) performed at the ALBA Synchrotron Light Source.

-Ultra-high field conductors for accelerators physics (Dr. Joffre Gutiérrez / Prof. Teresa Puig)-

In order to prove supersymmetry, solve the riddle of dark matter, or find hidden extra dimensions (which in turn could answer unresolved questions about the nature of gravity), in between other key incognitos of modern physics, accelerators need to produce collisions with higher energy. Therefore, the future of the research in high energy physics conducted in accelerators is in need of a technology that can outperform the already existing ones, both, the Nb-based low temperature superconductors used as magnets, and the copper coatings used as beam screeners. We propose that High-Temperature superconductors, in particular REBa2Cu3O7-x (RE = Y, Gd) coated conductors (a thin layer of high-temperature superconductor ceramic material deposited on top of flexible metallic substrates, typically stainless steel, hastealloy or nickel-based alloys) can provide such technology. The project aims to explore the frontiers of these materials in these new areas, studying the behavior of the quantized fluxlines (vortices) under the demanding conditions for accelerators. We plan to study their performance under high magnetic fields (up to 16T), radio frequency 0.4-1GHz and under synchrotron radiation. The feasibility of this technology will be evaluated from current state of the art coated conductors. However, we adapt the novel growth method based on transient liquid assisting epitaxial growth from chemical solution deposited ink jet printing layers, being developed in the ERC Advanced Grant of the group of Prof. Teresa Puig, to acquire knowledge materials fundamental for these demands. The vortex pinning characteristics will be studied under this strict conditions and the thick superconducting nanocomposite coated conductors will be material engineered accordingly.
Additionally, in order to study the possibility of integrating CC into devices, we will evaluate the mechanical properties and effect of bending radius to the superconducting properties <77 K. All in all, we expect to prove that CCs can be best material available for ultra-high magnetic field generation, and that they can maintain low impendence under the extreme conditions found in high energy accelerators, making them the best candidate to develop the technology required for the future of high energy physics.

-Advanced photoelectrodes for next generation of solar energy storage: photobatteries (Dr. Teresa Andreu)-

The research project will be focused on a new approach to store solar energy. Besides the coupling of photovoltaics and batteries, the photoelectrochemical approach can be more efficient since the photons are directly transformed to chemical energy (batteries). The research project will be focused on the study of the interfaces for an efficient charge transfer, which will require an interdisciplinary approach: from physics to electrochemistry. The light absorbers will be either silicon or thin film technologies (CIGS or kesterites, in collaboration of the Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells group of IREC), which will be passivated and functionalized according to the required battery chemistry. Simulation tools will be employed to optimize the electrochemical cell configuration, and several prototypes will be fabricated by 3D printing for its validation.
The fellow will develop novel photoelectrodes to store efficiently solar energy in redox flow bateries. The main goal will be the development of a full cell configuration with an efficiency of at least 10%. The main responsabilities will be the synthesis and funcional characterization of the photoelectrodes.

-Atomic scale modification of catalysts for carbon dioxide recycling (Dr. Teresa Andreu)-

The research project will be focused on new formulation of catalyst for FT synthesis, with a focus in the atomic scale modification of catalyst by the use of overlayers obtained by ALD (atomic layer deposition) or SILAR (Successive ionic layer adsorption and reaction) to stabilize the cobalt or iron nanoparticles against agglomeration and inhibit metal sintering during operation, a common source of deactivation. Additionally, the material deposited on the nanoparticle surface can inhibit coking, and tune the catalyst selectivity. Reaction mechanism and model: Spectroscopic operando techniques will be used to study the reaction mechanism at nano-scale under operating conditions of FT synthesis, with an emphasis on the role of promoters in the formation of intermediates. Reaction models and deactivation mechanisms will be deduced from these analyses.
The fellow will develop tailored catalysts for Fisher Tropps synthesis to produce synthetic fuels from renewaval syngas (CO+H2) and analyse the reaction models and deactivation mechanisms by spectroscopic operando techniques. The main responsabilities will be the synthesis and funcional characterization of the nanoparticles. He/she will have the chance to interact and collaborate with EU institutions in the framework of an ongoing project “Heat-to-Fuel” where 2 different FT reactor configurations will be tested and demonstrated, being able for the candidate to acquire other soft-skills and expand his career opportunities.

-Band-gap engineering concepts for high efficiency kesterite based solar cells (Prof. Alejandro Pérez)-

The research project will be focused in the development of high efficiency solar cell devices based in Cu-chalcogenide earth abundant absorbers, mainly kesterites (Cu2(Zn,Cd,Ba,Mg)(Sn,Si,Ge)(S,Se)4). Advanced strategies for achieving high efficiencies will be analyzed and implemented, including band-gap grading concepts. Till now, these concepts that has been of key importance for CdTe and Cu(In,Ga)Se2 have been barely studied in kesterites. Both approaches, anion and cation substitutions will be studied using the well stablished sequential method available at IREC. Different band-gap profiles will be investigated, including high band-gap effect at the back and front of the photovoltaic devices, as well as “U” shape band-gap grading. The impact on the absorber properties, as well as in the devices performance will be assessed using a plethora of characterization techniques, including morphology, composition, structure, optical, electrical properties. The final objective is to demonstrate a kesterite solar cell with conversion efficiency approaching the 20% threshold.
The fellow will be in charge of developing specific processes for high efficiency kesterite based solar cells. He/she will be in charge of the development of high efficiency kesterite devices through very innovative approaches, starting with the sequential process based in sputtering and reactive annealing already stablished at IREC.

-Ceramic 3D-printing of multimaterial energy devices (Dr. Albert Tarancón)-

Three-dimensional printing technologies are playing a revolution in manufacturing customized structural parts. However, less attention is being paid to 3D printing of functional parts and multimaterials devices. Extending 3D printing to this field will open new avenues for advanced materials extremely difficult to process such as ceramics. In particular, free-form multilayer and multimaterial 3D printing capabilities will represent a step change when employed for developing energy devices, e.g. batteries, solar cells, catalytic reactors or fuel cells.
This research project will be devoted to develop 3D printing of functional ceramics for the fabrication of energy devices. In particular, it will cover materials aspects related to the fabrication of complex multilayer devices based on advanced pure ionic and mixed ionic-electronic conductors. Dedicated multi-material stereolithography and inkjet printers will be employed for the fabrication of such devices. Apart from developing the manufacturing process, these revolutionary printed devices will be functionally characterized in order to evaluate their future commercialization. The fellow will be in charge of carrying out the experimental work related to the printing process, the design of the system, the materials structural characterization and the relevant tests of the final devices. The group will offer full technical and conceptual support for covering this cutting edge project as well as access to multiple facilities required to achieve the final goals. 

-CO2 reuse for chemical energy storage of surplus electricity from renewables (Dr. Albert Tarancón)-

Capturing and reusing CO2 is one of the major challenges of the current society. Among other solutions, using it as a carbon source for fabricating synthetic green fuels mimicking the nature is receiving increasing attention. The combination of captured CO2 with hydrogen produced from the electrolysis of water (using surplus electricity from renewable sources) opens the door to the synthesis of green fuels to neutralize the CO2 balance (eventually generating negative CO2 emissions). Developing efficient water and water/CO2 high temperature electrolysers is therefore crucial for the future CO2 economy.
The research project will be devoted to develop high temperature (co-)electrolysers (SOECs) based on pure ionic and mixed ionic conductors. In particular, the project will cover materials aspects related to the synthesis of complex oxides for the electrodes and electrolyte as well as the fabrication of the complete device. The focus will be on the optimization of the performance of this new family of devices in order to control the output gas composition. This output gas is crucial since it is the precursor for the subsequent catalytic step, which results in the final synthetic fuel, typically methane. The fellow will be in charge of carrying out the experimental work related to the synthesis of oxide materials, the fabrication of the multilayer system, the materials structural characterization and the relevant tests of the final devices. The group will offer full technical and conceptual support for covering this relevant and innovative project as well as access to multiple facilities required to achieve the final goals. 

-Nanoionics for advanced energy devices (Dr. Albert Tarancón)-

Advanced solid state devices are becoming key players in the fields of energy, internet of things or information technologies. The fruitful marriage of micro and nanotechnologies (MNT) allows the miniaturization of such devices based on functional nanomaterials, which radically change their properties at the nanoscale. Nanoionics is a new field of study focused on these new features occurring in pure ionic and mixed ionic/electronic conductors (MIECs) and how they can be implemented to generate novel applications. Based on Nanoionics effects, emerging power sources such as micro solid oxide fuel cells or novel RAM memories based on redox resistive switching are promising candidates to substitute current existing technologies in the next future. The research project will be devoted to explore new Nanoionics concepts and their implementation in relevant solid state devices. In particular, it will cover fundamental aspects of mass transport at surface and interface levels for pure ionic and MIECs. Deposition of thin film layers of this type of materials will be carried out on substrate-free or strained configurations. Integration of these nanostructures in real devices for power generation or energy storage will be carried out by using micro and nanofabrication technologies. Finally, these revolutionary nano-enabled microdevices will be functionally characterized in order to evaluate their future commercialization.
The fellow will be in charge of carrying out the experimental work related to the nanofabrication, structural characterization and testing of the microdevices. The group will offer full technical and conceptual support for covering this cutting edge project as well as access to multiple facilities required to achieve the final goals.

-Thermoelectric nanocomposites using bottom-up assembled nanocrystal building blocks (Prof. Andreu Cabot)-

Thermoelectric devices offer numerous advantages over competing technologies in the fields of temperature control and thermal energy harvesting. Accordingly, a plethora of applications have been proposed for this technology. Beyond temperature sensing, the heat flow generated in a thermoelectric module when an electric potential is applied is used in portable fridges, car seat climate control systems and to actively cool optoelectronic and electronic devices. Besides, the capacity of thermoelectric modules to generate electricity from temperature gradients can be used to power autonomous electronic systems by harvesting energy from ubiquitous temperature gradients, to improve energy efficiency of domestic and industrial processes and vehicles by recovering wasted heat, and to generate electric power in deep-space missions. While proposed applications are countless, what currently limits thermoelectric devices is its cost-effectiveness. To overcome present challenges, at IREC we are developing materials with significantly improved performance through nanostructuration. The very particular group of properties required to achieve high thermoelectric performances can only be achieved when engineering a complex type of material, nanocomposites, with exquisite control over structural and chemical parameters at multiple length scales. Within the appealing field of thermoelectricity, the direct and solid state conversion between thermal energy and electricity, the fellow will work on three main directions:
-Design of nanocomposites with optimized functional properties for thermoelectric energy conversion;
-Produce the designed nanocomposites with precisely controlled parameters through the directed assembly of blends of colloidal nanocrystals having narrow size, shape and composition distributions;
-Characterize the nanocomposite functional properties, particularly charge and heat transport, as a function of their composition and composition distribution.
The developed materials will be successively used to produce thermoelectric devices for highly accurate temperature control or for energy harvesting from ubiquitous temperature gradients.

-Ultrafast and ultrahigh resolution 3D printing through electrohydrodynamic material jetting (Prof. Andreu Cabot)-

Over current additive manufacturing (AM) technologies, the EHD material jetting technology has the following advantages: 1) Higher resolution, up to the 50 nm; 2) multi-mode material deposition, i.e. jetting, drop by drop, spraying; 3) relatively simple multi-material printing from multi-needle printheads; 4) possibility of simultaneous multi-material printing at high resolution and therefore of formation of graded materials and smooth material transitions; 5) high material versatility based on the use of inks; 6) potential for ultra-fast high resolution AM thanks to very high jetting speeds (1-100 m/s) and the electrostatic control of the jet positioning. In IREC, we have developed the first worldwide EHDP with an electrostatic control of the jet that allows an ultrafast fabrication of 3D nanostructures through material jetting with a current resolution of 100 nm. The candidate will integrate in the team working in this project, being responsible of the ink formulation and the optimization of the printed material processing or of the automation of the system to complete a real EHDP prototype.
With this project, the fellow will gain fundamental knowledge on fluid EHD, on the formulation or use of functional inks, and the preparation or manipulation of colloidal nanoparticles. The candidate will also acquire experience on the design and development of nanostructured devices and components and on the use of advanced structural, chemical and electronic characterization techniques. To demonstrate the advantages and versatility of the EHDP, we will apply this technology to two truly revolutionary application areas that challenge conventional 3D printing methodologies: Bio-printing of vascularized tissues, and structural electronics including chipless radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags in 3D objects, THz metamaterials and 3D printed circuit boards (PCBs).

-Wide band-gap chalcogenides for novel photovoltaic device concepts (Prof. Alejandro Pérez)-

The research project will be focused in the research and development of wide band gap chalcogenides suitable for the implementation of semitransparent solar cell devices. This implies the need to work with absorber band gaps ≥ 1.5 eV and reducing the thickness of the absorber layers in the range 0. 5 µm – 1 µm. The project will exploit the potential of chalcogenide semiconductors (including Cu(In,Ga,Zn)(S,Se)2 chalcopyrites and  (Cu,Ag)2Zn(Si,Ge,Sn)(S,Se)4 kesterites) to control the bandgap with a wide range of values. In a first stage, the project will focus in the optimization of processes and devices based on the sulfide compounds aiming to absorbers with 1.5 eV bandgap and the processes suitable for optimization of transparent back contacts and buffer layers will be developed. Alloying with Ga,Zn and Ag,Si,Ge will be investigated for further increase of the bandgap, readapting in each case the contact and buffer layers for optimal conduction and valence band structures at the different device interfaces. Additional strategies suitable for decrease of back recombination effects will be also investigated when working with devices with reduced band gap thickness. The final objective is the demonstration of device grade layers and processes for the development of first device prototypes with transparency in the 30-40% range and efficiencies higher than 10%.
The fellow will be incharge of the development of processes suitable for the fabrication of device grade layers and devices combining good efficiency and well controlled level of transparency. This will also imply a relevant activity in the design and development of suitable contact configurations, including back transparent contacts and buffer layers specifically adapted to the wide band gap absorbers, using as starting point the sequential baseline process based in sputtering and reactive annealing already stablished at IREC for the development of kesterite solar cells.

-Designed modular nanobiotechnological tools to detect and interfere with the key signaling pathway of heart fibrosis in vivo (Dr. Eva Pereiro)-

The heart affected by a chronic injury, such as aortic stenosis, develops fibrosis and hypertrophy as defense mechanisms to restore function. These protective mechanisms can cause organ failure in the long term. This pathologic situation occurs in more than 2% of the population over 65 years old becoming a socio-economic problem with no effective medical therapy that ultimately requires aortic valve replacement. The goal of this project will be to design new fluorescent tetratricopeptide repeat units (TPR) by stabilization of fluorescent nanoclusters and combine them with designed TPR modules that will block the fibrotic signaling in myocardial fibrosis, in particular by interacting with Hsp90 protein which is overexpressed and plays a central role in the fibrotic process. By developing a high resolution correlative imaging approach which will combine super resolution visible light fluorescence microscopy and cryo soft X-ray tomography, we will be able to localize unambiguously in 3D the specific TPRs within the cellular structure of fibroblasts down to 30 nm spatial resolution, allowing deciphering their effect on the fibrosis mechanism.
From the protein engineering and biotechnology perspective, the project aims at exploiting the potential of modular repeat protein-based structures to design tailored tools combining different functionalities. For this purpose, the fellow will participate in the design and assembly of a variety of functional structures using simple building blocks with specified properties in the group of Dr. Aitziber López Cortajarena at CIC biomaGUNE in San Sebastián. The coupling of ligand recognition and fluorescent signal in the same functional structure will enable the production of specific sensors for in vitro and in vitro tracking. The fellow will then evaluate the fate and action of these functional structures directly on fibroblasts following a high resolution correlative approach. Visible light super-resolution fluorescence microscopy will allow locating the fluorescence signal of the designed structures in the cells, and cryo soft X-ray tomography at the Mistral beamline will enable locating correlatively these same structures within the whole native 3D cellular ultrastructure.

-Functional food investigation by synchrotron emission and absorption spectroscopy (Dr. Laura Simonelli)-

The elaboration of functional foods through soil enrichment in edible plants has been proposed as a solution for specific elements deficiency and related health impact in several countries. An example is the application of Selenium-containing fertilizers. In this case, the inorganic selenium species present in the substrate are transformed through the plant metabolism to proteins that are needed in human diets because essential micronutrients and active site of some vital enzymatic processes. In contrast, the selenium inorganic forms are toxic, and depending on the conditions of the substrate during the cultivation, these species are uptaken and transformed to a different extend in the plant, and some accumulation can be found in the plants organs, especially in grains. When the element exposure is increased, toxicity effects could be observed on the enriched plants resulting to a variety of plant stress that correspond to a reduction in the growth, lowering the yield, which can imply big economic losses for agriculture as well as a threat to the environment. The development of antistressor products  has been an increasing field of research in the last years. Such products can help also to a variety of plant stress, e.g, dryness or excessive water intake, insects and fungi hazards.
The fellow will study the effects of soil enrichment both in presence and absence of antistressor products on wheat plants by means of X-ray absorption (XAS) and X-ray emission (XES) spectroscopies. He/she will investigate the evolution of related chemical species through the soil-plant-food cycle. The candidate will start the investigation from Selenium-containing fertilizers in presence and absence of a particular antristressor containing a complex mixture of heteropolyoxometalates, including mainly Molybdenum, Vanadium and Tungsten in the forms of Keggin and Wells–Dawson polyoxoanions. Plants growing and their characterization with standard laboratories techniques (e.g, HPLC-ICPMS), as well as XAS and XES synchrotron experiments, will be conducted throughout the duration of the project. The fellow will be co-supervised by Dr. Roberto Boada and Prof. Manuel Valiente from the UAB (Barcelona), and Dr. Laura Simonelli from CLÆSS beamline at ALBA (Barcelona).

-Synchrotron powder diffraction on operando batteries at non-ambient temperature conditions (Dr. Francois Fauth)-

Research on new electrode materials for rechargeable battery is actually prospecting towards Ca and/or Mg as (de-)intercalation element involved in the electrochemical process. The synthesis of these new materials is performed at high-temperatures rendering delicate the precise structure determination by synchrotron experiments on Operando batteries. The main goal of this research project is to develop a technical solution for applying synchrotron characterization techniques (powder diffraction, absorption spectroscopy) on Operando batteries within temperature range -20° C to 100° C. Material synthesis and characterization, as well as synchrotron experiments, will be conducted on relevant electrode materials throughout the duration of the project.
The fellow will join the BL04-MSPD beamline group (2 scientists + 2 PostDocs) headed by Dr Francois Fauth. BL04-MSPD is already specialized in conducting powder diffraction experiments on Operando batteries and is attracting research groups from all Europe. The fellow will hence benefit of the expertise already developed in the energy-related material field and might be asked to collaborate with key selected ALBA users. The project will be done in collaboration with Dr. Rosa Palacin and Dr. Alexandre Ponrouch from nearby institute ICMAB. Synthesis and selected characterizations will be performed at ICMAB. 

-Investigation and development of new packaging solutions for high power devices (Dr. Xavier Jordà)-

Power electronics converters are key elements in the generation, distribution and rational use of the electric energy. From the AC/AC converter of a wind turbine to the DC/AC inverter in a high-speed train, the power semiconductor devices implemented in the converters are managing the electric power flow. In all cases, these fragile semiconductor chips require very specific and advanced packaging solutions able to mechanically protect the device, to dissipate the residual heat generated under operation, and to withstand very high current and voltage values. Nowadays, the development of wide band-gap (WBG) semiconductors (such as SiC, GaN and Diamond) provides outstanding power devices with high-speed switching, high-temperature capability and high-voltage and current ratings. These performances are usually limited by the package (the “interface” between the die and the electronic circuit) and not by the device itself. For this reason, new assembly techniques, materials, topologies, etc. are of main interest for reaching the maximum operation performances provided by WBG semiconductors.
In this framework we propose a research project aimed at providing original and advanced packaging solutions solving the main problems limiting the performances of WBG high power devices. This work is intrinsically interdisciplinary, and the fellow will be involved in the use and characterization of new materials (metal matrix composites, ceramics, Ag nano-particles, etc.), thermo-mechanical simulations, assembly techniques (soldering, sintering, metal plating, etc.), ageing and reliability analysis, failure analysis, thermal characterization, etc.


If you are an eligible candidate interested in applying to one of the 22 early-stage researcher positions available at DOC-FAM, please visit the online application system.
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