Supramolecular engineering toward smart materials

Molecular materials are uniquely placed to spur a revolution in the next decades, thanks to their ability to accommodate a wide span of functionalities, and the possibility to fine-tune them to suit a variety of technological purposes. However, while these materials already show optimal behaviour either in solution, as single crystals or as microcrystalline powders, their integration into functional devices still poses a scientific challenge, since once incorporated into solid matrices or hybrid devices, they often lose (at least partially) their inherent properties and/or their response efficiency.

Our objective at the Nanostructured Functional Materials research group (NANOSFUN) is to develop new strategies for obtaining molecular (bio)nanostructures with adapted properties and smart responses to external stimuli, which can be incorporated into solid matrices, surfaces or as stable colloidal suspensions, while retaining their initial properties and performance. For this, a wide range of molecular and biological building blocks are used, using Nature a strong source of inspiration. We work with the idea that ultimate control on every length scale and interface is required to reach the intrinsic limits and functions of these (supra)molecular materials, with their future introduction in our everyday life in sight.

From the broad range of areas where molecular materials may have usefully implemented, we have focused on three of them:

  • Nanoscale Functional Polymers for Health and Social Welfare
  • Light Harvesting and Chromogenic nanomaterials for Energy Saving
  • Hybrid devices and 2D materials for Emerging Technologies

In addition to our fundamental research activities, we have established ourselves as a reference group in joint projects with the private sector across two fundamental areas: 1) Micro- / nanoencapsulation of active ingredients and 2) photo- / thermochromism. Nanosfun currently has 50 m2 of lab space devoted exclusively to applied-science research, fully equipped and capable of scale-up work up to 10 L. Our early advances in photochromism have prompted us to pursue market-oriented research in this area set through a dedicated spin-off (Futurechromes SL).