Nanostructured materials and devices exploit physical phenomena and properties that cannot be derived by simply scaling down the associated macroscopic structures – so “nano” is more than just another step of miniaturization. Tackling nanoscale phenomena in the context of materials science and development means pushing the physical and technological limits. Rationalizing and explaining these effects will yield results and insights, which are essential for the successful development of nanomaterials and -technologies.
Critical factors for success are scientific excellence in physics and chemistry, necessary to understand and master events occurring on a molecular and atomic level, combined with engineering “magic” required to create the desired materials using appropriate manufacturing techniques. In its Research Focus Area “Nanostructured Materials”, Empa pools these essential competences, thereby strengthening its innovative capabilities in the development of new materials and technologies.
The physical properties of nanostructured materials and coatings are based on complex and subtle interactions of their nanoscale components, in particular at their interfaces. There are limits to the extent, to which experimental methods can be used for investigating and developing such materials. Therefore, computational material science, including modelling, simulation and materials design algorithms, is becoming a mandatory tool for the development and testing of nanostructured materials and devices. This new field of research, in which Empa has been working extensively for a number of years, is of strategic relevance and will thus be further developed in future.
As the leading Swiss R&D institution in the field of nanostructured materials, its interfaces and coatings Empa will drive the application-oriented exploitation of nanoscale effects in collaborative projects. We can call upon our broad spectrum of interdisciplinary know how in this scientific field, which lies at the crossroads of physics, chemistry and biology. For example, we are aiming at innovative solutions for problems in sustainable energy technologies from thin film photovoltaics to thermoelectric conversion and even synthetic fuels (see Research Focus Area "Energy") and are working together with the ICT industry on novel materials and concepts like self-assembled graphene structures built out of precursor molecules.
Moreover, Empa is engaged not only in the development of new nanoscale materials but also in research concerning possible risks for human health and the environment. In its Research Focus Area "Health and Performance", Empa will establish new advanced in vitro systems to assess the safety of nanomaterials before they reach the market in substantial amounts.