Institute of structure of matter (ISM)

Research activities

Following ordinance n.143 of the CNR (20/12/2013) the headquarter and Tito Scalo section of the Institute of Inorganic Methodologies and Plasmas (IMIP) merged with the Institute of Structure of Matter (ISM) , which now has its headquarter in the Research Area of Tor Vergata and three sections in the Research Areas of Montelibretti and Tito Scalo (PZ) and in the Area Science Park (Ts). At this point in time and waiting for the new Rules of organization and operation of the CNR, the pre-existing structure was not changed. Therefore currently ISM is organized in the following research groups
o Dynamics of atomic and molecular processes
o Laser Matter Interaction
o X-ray Photonics
o Functionalized surfaces, interfaces, molecular recognition and catalysis
o Magnetic, electronic and functional properties of atomic size aggregates
o Computational modeling of structural, electronic and magnetic properties of molecular complexes and defects in semiconductor and hybrid organic-inorganic systems
o Nano-structured hybrid materials
o Nano-structured magnetic materials
o Hybrid materials for molecular photovoltaic processes
o Carbon based materials and devices and heterogeneous catalysis for energy and environment
o Near-filed scanning probe microscopy of nanostructured systems and biological materials
o Technologies and innovative systems for training and technological support to public bodies and private companies

The activities of the various research groups can be gathered into five main areas
Low density and low dimensional systems and "quantum control"
The research activities of this area are concentrated on the study of the spectroscopy and dynamics of isolated systems, low-dimensional systems, surfaces and interfaces.
The study of the dynamics of elementary processes in atoms, molecules, clusters and multiply charged ions aims at providing information on the electronic structure, reactivity and chemical and physical behavior of 'benchmark' systems used in various areas of basic and applied research (biology, astrophysics, environment) and for the modeling of atmospheric chemistry, and astro-biology. To the purpose a combination of electronic, ionic, and optical spectroscopies and laboratory sources, including tunable nanosecond laser sources, as well as national and international facilities for synchrotron and FEL radiations are used. These experimental studies are supported by the theoretical and computational studies of the energetics of the relevant elementary chemical processes. These processes include fragmentation of metastable ions, charge transfer, reactivity of excited electronic and ionic states and ultra-fast photo-induced non-equilibrium processes.
The analysis of molecular properties is also extended to the study of the asymmetry (chirality) of molecules, supramolecular systems on surfaces and liquid crystals. Materials obtained by the formation of molecular systems in two dimensions have found various applications in the field of electronic devices and in sensors. These devices are constructed by the self-assembly of chiral molecules and polymerization on the surfaces. Other aspects intrinsically connected to the reduced dimensionality are examined using experimental and theoretical methods of nanostructures, functionalized surfaces and thin films. These include the investigation of the magnetic and electronic properties of low-dimensional systems and those structured on the atomic scale, such as atoms and organometallic molecules on surfaces, clusters, and magnetic nano-grids and nanowires produced by epitaxy and self-organization processes. Aspects of the quantum character also emerge under conditions of electronic confinement in ultrathin films and, first and foremost, in the properties of 2-D materials, such as graphene and silicene.
Nanostructured materials
In the field of hybrid materials the aim is to develop new methods of synthesis and characterisation of the physical and chemical properties of nanoparticles, thiolated nanoclusters, nanoparticles of iron oxide, and nanocomposites consisting of graphene. Alongside this activity there is the study of the structural, thermodynamic and dynamic properties of room temperature liquid salts (RTLS) and their binary mixtures with other (macro-) molecular compounds.
The principal goals in the field of magnetic materials include the use of physical and chemical methods to prepare nanostructured materials in the form of thin films, multilayers and nanoparticles, the study of their structural and microstructural properties, and the study of their magnetic properties in relation to their use in magnetic storage media, sensors, and permanent magnets. Particular interest is given to the study of the magnetic anisotropy and the analysis of the microscopic mechanisms that determine the relationship between the magnetic behavior, the electronic configuration and the atomic geometry.
These experimental actions are complemented by theoretical activities that can be grouped under the more general heading "Materials Modeling". In particular, the design of the properties of materials is based on the study of the defect engineering in the case of inorganic materials and on the organic molecule- inorganic material interaction in the case of hybrid systems using ab-initio theoretical methods to develop and optimize multi-functional materials. The investigation of the processes, which influence the electronic and/or magnetic properties materials and the interactions of organic or inorganic molecules with an inorganic substrate (including two-dimensional substrates), is employed for the development of materials and devices for applications in the area of renewable energy.

Materials and devices for applications in renewable energy
The search for new sources of renewable energy is one of the most current global challenges for the sustainable development of industrialized and emerging countries. In this context, the activity of ISM is carried out in various forms.
In the field of organic photovoltaics (OPV) the research activity is focused on the study and use of macrocycles based on porphyrins and phthalocyanines, polymeric materials with fullerenes and plasmonic nanostructures, metal-oligothiophene nanocomposites, all materials with strong redox reactivity, relevant capacity of photo-induced electron transfer and interesting semiconductor properties. The research activity includes the synthesis of materials, characterization of their electronic structure, morphology and structure and their use both in the dye sensitized solar cells and in organic hetero-junction solar cells. The use of non-conventional X-rays techniques involving energy dispersion, capable of in-situ and temporally resolved studies allows the physical and chemical processes to be followed and the mechanisms of aging related to the properties of bulk, surface, and interface to be investigated. In addition to the fundamental aspects of these studies of materials, the goal is the production of useful information for new strategies in the production of photovoltaic cells. In parallel studies are being carried out on new classes of compounds such as Perovskites and hybrid organic-inorganic compounds with the general formula ABX3 where A is an organic cation, B a divalent metal ion and X a halogen. Moreover, theoretical studies on the hybrid organic-inorganic systems and molecular systems drive the choice of molecules and direct the synthesis towards products with a suitable location of the frontier orbitals.
In this sector ISM is also involved in the use of innovative carbon based materials for the construction of thermionic-effect devices to be exploited in solar concentrators, the production and characterization of wide-band-gap semiconductor superstructures (carbides, nitrides ) by means of PVD methods for the construction of photovoltaic devices and advanced detectors with high sensitivity and the development of converters for the recovery of energy from radioactive sources (specially selected wastes) for the production of nanobatteries with a lifetime of years.
The research in the field of renewable energy is complemented by research activities in the field of environmental monitoring which involves mainly physical-chemistry expertise and aims to the development of materials and systems for heterogeneous catalysis for the production of biomass and elimination of VOCs. In particular, development of new catalysts for the production of fuels from biomass and waste through gasification via catalysis and mixed heterogeneous/enzymatic catalysis; elimination of tar in the pyrolysis of biomass; energy and/or monomer recovery from plastics; and absorption of CO2 by ZIF.

Research activity and applications in the biosciences
In this area research activities include the characterization of elementary processes related to, for example, radiation damage, the study of macroscopic systems such as complex cell systems exposed to environmental stresses, the preparation and characterization of materials for biomedical applications and the development of new diagnostic techniques.
An activity is based on the interaction of radiation with the components of nucleic acids and with drugs used as radiation sensitizers in radiotherapy. It has the objective of identifying the dynamics of the damage at the molecular level and, in the case of radiation sensitizers, of optimizing their design at the molecular level to increasethe radiation sensitizing effect.
The study of biosystems, and consequences of environmental stress and interactions with nanostructured systems, is organized at different hierarchical levels ranging from the evaluation of effects on subcellular scale to the cellular responses at the tissue level. Different experimental approaches, each with its own specific activities, are undertaken in the institute. The results are then integrated into a general framework.
In the materials sector the activity is aimed at developing bioactive nanostructured coatings of innovative composition, such as functionalized hydroxyapatite and glass-ceramic (RKKP) systems for applications on metals in biomedical implants in orthopedics and dentistry and for surgical probes and scalpels.
The skills in the field of optical scanning microscopies are used for the development of medical diagnostics and, in particular, for the early detection of certain types of tumors.
Furthermore, together with other institutes of the CNR (IFN, IMM, ISC, IDASC) a coordination network of researchers interested in the use of micro and nano-technologies applied to biology and medicine, called Tech4Bio (www. has been created. Within the context of this network a conference, attended by about 200 researchers, entitled "Biophysics @ Rome" has been organised (a second edition will be held in 2015), as well as many seminars with national and international guests. The network is the ideal tool to promote collaborations both of an intra- and extra-network nature.
Development of instrumentation and methodologies
The development of instrumentation is strongly connected with the presence of the ISM staff at large research infrastructures. The activity consists of the implementation and management of entire beamlines and experimental stations at the synchrotron light source Elettra, the development of experimental stations for photoemission, mass spectrometry and SNOM microscopy at FEL sources (Nashville, Fermi in Trieste, Alice Daresbury), and collaboration in the characterization and production of FEL radiation at Fermi and SPARC (Frascati). New developments include the set-up of laboratories for ultrafast spectroscopy at the headquarters in Rome and in the Tito Scalo branch, and the participation in the development of the Italian-Slovenian CITIUS laboratory (Nova Gorica). In the institute laboratories instrumental development involve the implementation of spatially resolved X-ray diffraction techniques for the study of the morphological / structural properties of materials, and optical vis-NIR microscopy techniques with nanometer resolution to study the optical and morphological properties of metallic materials and the evaluation of the cellular response to environmental stimuli, the development of dosimeters for X-ray and neutron and charged particles detectors in monocrystalline diamond, and the development of sources of molecular beams of systems of increasing complexity.
New spectroscopic (including time resolved) methods for the study of the interaction between radiation and matter, the preparation of nanostructured materials by chemical synthesis techniques and physical technologies, surface polymerization in ultra-high vacuum, the characterization of the parameters for the laser ablation in different environments and with different laser sources are also the subjects of continuous research within the institute.
Other activities include the development of optical methods (LIBS and Raman spectroscopy) and magnetometric methods in the field of cultural heritage as well as the design and implementation of advanced systems for information management. The latter involves testing applications in various areas ranging from training and dissemination to technology transfer, and the supply of IT services for advanced applications to the scientific community and public bodies.