Nanoscale Materials & Manufacturing Technologies

Advanced materials with improved and/or novel properties are a prerequisite for most technological innovations and mandatory to meet the increasing demands of a growing global population in areas such as energy, the environment and personal health. The most promising approach for the development of novel materials and manufacturing processes is nanotechnology.

Nanoscale materials and technologies 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 “Nanoscale Materials & Manufacturing Technologies”, Empa pools these essential competences, thereby strengthening its innovative capabilities in the development of new materials and manufacturing technologies.

The physical properties of nanoscale 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 nanoscale materials and devices.

As the leading Swiss R&D institution in the field of nanoscale 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, Resources and Emissions") 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", Empa will establish new advanced in vitro systems to assess the safety of nanomaterials before they reach the market in substantial amounts.