Scientific Research

The group research focuses on the chemical (elemental and molecular) characterization of functional surfaces and materials. Fundamental and applied research is performed on a wide range of organic functional materials, biological materials and organic devices. The main fields of applications are Molecular Electronics, Functional Polymers, Bio-medical applications and Toxicity in bio-materials.

We also propose possibilities for collaborative research, where we contribute with the in-house instrumentation capabilities and expertise to assist motivated researchers from the above-mentioned fields that need chemical characterization of their materials (see details to apply for a collaborative research).


Current research in brief

Molecular electronics

Metallic and semi-conducting surfaces are functionalized with self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) of various molecules with specific properties. Surfaces with dedicated functionalities are obtained that allow surface potential tuning, enhanced compatibility for further organic integration, lowering of the electronic injection barrier or selective spin transfer. Final functional surface macroscopic properties are assessed and correlated to the microscopic molecular information (see more).

Functional Polymers

Thin functional polymer films fabricated by different routes are developed for main applications in optoelectronics (spin coated films) and bio-sensing (plasma deposited films). The in-depth chemical composition of the films is addressed, as well as the interfaces quality, intermixing, ionic migration, gradient transitions, etc.  These pieces of information are then used to interpret the macroscopic observations and adapt the fabrication processes to achieve enhanced functionalities (see more).

Bio-medical applications

The cross-linking of collagen in tissues, the incorporation of drug nano-carriers in the organs and the mutation of bacteria cell surface are currently under study and span over the three main branches of bio-medical applications: detect/study the evolution of a disease, heal a disease and prevent from a disease, respectively. In all three cases, ToF-SIMS characterization is essential, as chemical interactions and reactions play a crucial role in the macroscopic evolution of the processes involved (see more).

Toxicity in bio-materials

The toxicity of nanoparticles (np) on monocellular organisms is studied. While vital and metabolic functions are tested by several dedicated macroscopic techniques, the internalization level of nanoparticles and by-products are evaluated and quantified by ToF-SIMS (see more).



Technology development Projects

Sub-micrometre-scale 3D Chemical Characterization of Organic and Biological Materials

Novel technologies and measurement methods are developed to improve the quality and robustness of sub-micrometre-scale in-depth and 3D chemical characterization of soft organic and bio-materials. Piezo-motor-driven cryo-microtome modules to be operated inside a ToF-SIMS instrument and capable to perform in-situ consecutive layer-by-layer slicing of soft materials is designed. In parallel, the "standard" sputtering technique is refined. The complementarity of both techniques is evaluated via the study of two target systems: organic light-emitting device and collagen-based materials (see more).

Contact info: Dr. L. Bernard (),  M. Kawecki (                                      

Metro4-3D - Metrology for future 3D-technologies

As follow-up of the 3D NanoChemiscope project (see below), the Empa team here coordinates the development of novel operation modes and functionalities of the combined ToF-SIMS / SFM instrument. Novel data analysis routes are also developed to combine SFM and ToF-SIMS data, in order to achieve 2D and 3D chemical mapping with nanometre-scale lateral resolution (see more).

Contact info: Dr. L. Bernard (), Dr. O. Scholder (

TISBA - Tailored Interface for Structural Bonding of Aluminum (completed 2017)

Ar-cluster as Primary Ion Source in ToF-SIMS (completed 2015)

This CCMX-funded project in collaboration with the German company IONTOF aimed at studying the effect of Ar-cluster sputtering on materials surface roughening via scanning force microscopy (see more).

CCMX annual activity report 2014
Contact info: Dr Laetitia Bernard ()


3D NanoChemiscope (completed 2013)

A combined ToF-SIMS / SFM instrument was jointly developed, built and tested in the framework of an FP7 European commission Program by Empa, the German company ION-TOF (world leader in ToF-SIMS technology) and 6 additional European partners, with the goal to permit 3D materials characterization with direct measurement of the structural, physical and chemical sample properties on a local scale (see more).

Press releases
CQFD interview
Contact info: Dr. Laetitia Bernard ()

ToF-SIMS Lab Publications