Within the best CNR tradition, IMEM (legacy of MASPEC with the aggregation of CFSBT) interprets an interdisciplinary vision and a research practice in material science, complementing refined growth synthesis and characterization methods with theoretical modelling and device prototyping aiming at exploring and demonstrating functional properties, applications and technological perspectives.
The Institute envisions a tight interplay between curiosity driven basic and applied science with technological research, addressing and focusing more and more the activity and interactions towards materials, processes and devices for energetics and sensing. This approach is consistent with the affiliation to the SP Department and a strong participation to DMD (4 of the 8 "Commesse").
Major activities deal with investigating and tailoring properties of materials of new generation including:
- Semiconductor quantum dot (QDot) nanostructures, established 15 years ago, now addressing: a) MBE preparation of InAs/InGaAs QDots], b) optical, electrical and structural properties of the structures and c) engineering of light emission properties for nanophotonic applications. Main achievements deal with the QDot strain engineering and barrier enhancing approach, used: i) to engineer band profiles that uses QDot strain and additional barriers for carriers confinement and ii) to redshift the light emission to the 1.6 µm, the best suited spectral band for light-wave communications. New approaches - based on QDot nanostructures - to photovoltaic (PV) conversion of solar energy and to imaging by IR sensors will take full advantage of the expertise developed so far.
- Nanostructures on metal surfaces and in particular the role of steps and defects on chemical properties and electronic excitations (surface acoustic plasmon). The goal is to discover the sites where interesting catalytic processes take place and investigate the perspective of devices based on plasmonic excitations.
- Magnetic and superconducting materials systems and devices. The understanding of basic phenomena concerning ordering mechanisms (charge, orbital, spin) has been achieved on model systems and on double perovskites single crystals synthesized in extreme conditions (HP/HT). The successful implementation of strategies aimed at growing and studying nanostructures and films with optimized morphology, lateral confinement and of exchanged coupled nanocomposite systems has contributed to pave the way to a new-concept perpendicular media L10FePt for high storage density recording. Our ability to control and optimize materials properties has opened viable technological application impacting on energetics including RT magnetic refrigeration (giant magnetocaloric effect) and sensing for energy efficient cars being presently developed in projects with major industries such as STM in european projects (ENIAC-JU). On the superconducting side, an innovative low cost process has been developed for 2° generation tapes based on industrial demands (Edison) and giving rise to 4 patents. Such an achievement was the fruit both of the state of the art understanding and know-how on superconducting material (IMEM leading the SCENET EU projects) and of the inputs coming from high impact fundamental studies involving supersonic beams, surface processes and interface phenomena. A very good example of fruitful cross-fertilization giving rise to technology developments.
- The long lasting, internationally recognized, expertise in growing and finely characterizing a large variety of semiconductors has been extended to novel promising materials and systems including SiC, nanostructures and functionalization processes for sensing devices now being developed for aerospace and bio-medical applications with the direct involvement of agencies and industries (Gavazzi Space, ASI, etc.).
- Relevant expertises in computational solid state physics have been further developed to study semiconductors, nanostructures stability and functionalization, and to achieve a microscopic understanding of solid/liquid interfaces, via first principles methods. Focus is on the theoretical analysis of ground and excited states of complex systems relevant for (bio-)sensing and PV applications.
- Based on the wide and well-established expertises in materials preparation and synthesis, the Institute has promptly entered novel advanced materials areas, including the blossoming fields of oxides nanostructures, molecular and hybrid materials engineered at the different lenghtscale as well as the growth of materials in microgravity (within ESA projects). Well supported by appropriate diagnostic know how and instruments, as well as modelling this has resulted in successful realization of novel prototype materials with great impact for fundamental studies and for advanced applications. The functional properties have also been qualified, by realizing appropriate demonstrators, including gas sensors, high-energy radiation detectors, and photocatalytic activity probes.
The perspective, starting this year, is to extend these studies to energetics and in particular to photovoltaics. From the instrumentation site it is worth mentioning the full operation of the new TEM (JEM 2200 FS - 200 KV with 0.19 nm resolution and analytic capabilities) that has been awarded to the Institute by CARIPARMA Foundation ob a competitive basis.
The ability to develop materials with controlled and tailored functional properties, complemented recently by prototyping of devices, is becoming now a precious key toward innovative technological developments that are being explored with relevant industrial initiatives:
- A first spin-off initiative, close to be formalized, is aimed at the industrialization of low-cost high efficient solar cells based on PED, a technology for CIGS thin films developed and patented in IMEM. Industrial partners to be involved are Salentec, Rial Vacuum and X-Group.
This is an initiative that joins other already supported by financed projects that likely will give rise to industrialization processes as it is the case for the production of X-ray detectors based on CdZnTe and of other components for X-ray instrumentation (processes and devices already covered by our patents).
Within a wide and consistent collaboration with industries some major agreements have been developed:
- the E3CAR (Energy Efficient Electric CAR) European Project (ENIAC-JU) a new european project is taking off this year, involving several electronics and car industries, where IMEM is playing an important role;
- it is suppose to start very soon a project FAR for developing magnetic refrigeration in collaboration with Zanotti Industries Srl;
- new generation sensor devices for gas and VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) is being developed with the participation of RIAL-SKG SpA, VETEC and SOFTEC.
- In the field of photovoltaics it is worth also mentioning the fruitful collaborations with Quantasol (UK) aimed at developing thin films photovoltaics. It is now in full development the activity on thermal photovoltaics financed by the CNR-Regione Lombardia agreement and industries such as Baltur SpA (FE). New projects are now in the startup phase supported by ASI and several industrial partners, in the field of sensing and photovoltaics.
- IMEM is very active within the PRIITT Regional Programs: it is among the major players of the MISTER-PROMINER, ENVIREN and SITEIA Laboratories for developing together with a series of industrial partners, technologies for detector and devices for sensing and energetics.
Two major recent developments confirm the validity of our approach to energetics: the approval of our research activity within the Lombardia Region Project "New technologies and instruments for energy efficiency and the use of renewable sources" and the official admission to financial support of a major (~14 MEUR) project PED4PV, where IMEM is the major research player, within the national program "Industry 2015 - Call on Energetic Efficiency". The success of this proposal, awarded on a very competitive basis, is a fruitful result of the novel strategy that the Institute is moving towards:
- a tight collaboration among researchers within the Institute, bringing into projects complementary backgrounds and know-hows ranging from materials synthesis and modelling, preparation and characterization up to device and instrumentation prototyping and qualification;
- focus on scientific and technological challenges relevant for main social and industrial demands;
- promote interactions with dynamical and receptive industrial players.
The success achieved represent a driving force to further promote this vision and successfully revise/redefine the Institute strategic research lines within the perspectives of the scientific community aiming at giving new answers to the needs of society.