Nanoscale Materials Science

The laboratory for Nanoscale Materials Science addresses scientific and technological questions arising from the study of interfaces and surfaces, and the technological problems associated with them.

Our activities focus on three core areas; science and engineering of coatings, surfaces and interfaces, magnetic thin film systems and devices, atomic and molecular nanosystems, and advanced scanning probe microscopy. Combining the results and insight from this work is the basis for designing new, more efficient, and more sustainable products and processes. Each of these competencies relies on the state of the art analytical tools and expertise available in nanoscale materials science and in other laboratories in the Empa.

Thin films and coatings are used to design the properties of surfaces. We carry out research and development on plasma-based deposition techniques such as magnetron sputtering to tune the mechanical, chemical and biological properties of surfaces to achieve targeted functionalities.

Complex physical and chemical processes affect the behavior of interfaces during wear. We study the tribological properties of materials and ways to modify them, from macro- and mesoscopic friction down to dissipative processes at the nanoscale.

Sputter deposition is used to fabricate magnetic thin film systems and multilayers with advanced magnetic properties for devices. Structural, chemical and magnetic characterization techniques including quantitative Magnetic Force Microscopy are used to correlate structural and magnetic information at the nanoscale.

Advanced scanning probe microscopy techniques, relying on state of the art and custom made microscopes, provide detailed access to the chemistry and physics at the nanoscale.  Prominent examples range from self-assembly of chiral compounds to the dynamics of molecular transitions on surfaces, and local magnetic properties.

Analysis of thin films and surfaces by XPS and XRD and state of the art ToF-SIMS provides structural and  chemical information of materials which is indispensable in the study of nanoscale surface characteristics, particularly in the field of biology. Various Scanning Probe Microscopy techniques are available to measure local properties such as topography, hardness, elastic moduli, adhesion, friction, piezo-response, Kelvin potential, magnetic fields, and electronic states with up to atomic resolution.

The Empa Laboratory for Nanoscale Materials Science offers a wide range of services, including technology assessments of our leading scientific experts, coating services, surface and interface analytics, and design and construction of scanning probe microscopy related technologies, including nanopositioning.