The Center for Biomolecular Nanotechnologies of IIT@UniLe is a large scale facility for bio-molecular and organic materials and nanoscale biomolecular interactions. The activity of the Center is quite transdisciplinary: sharing a common basic knowledge on molecular and biomolecular compounds it paves the way to state of the art research in the field of functional and responsive nanocomposite materials, nanotoxicity, organic materials for low cost energy sources, and advanced materials modeling.
Environment, Health and Safety - EHS
The research activities of the EHS platform aim at the development of an array of nanotechnology assays to recognize potential biosafety and environmental-unfriendly risks connected to nanotechnology products. The platform has a strong multidisciplinary character, as the understanding of material properties at nanoscale entails different aspects of their interactions with living organisms and the environment. EHS group focuses on the synthesis and characterization of a wide variety of metrologically assessed nanomaterials and on the study of the molecular mechanisms underlying their toxicity in living systems. The final aim is the assessment of suitable guidelines for the definition of novel concepts and standard methods of nanosafety for humans. In particular, EHS aims to identify the responses of biological systems upon interaction with nanoscale materials (i.e., nanoparticles, nanostructured substrates, etc.), analyzing the possible role of size, shape, composition, surface characteristics, and in-situ stability of the nanomaterials. Using both cell lines and simple animal models, the investigation of the interaction mechanisms is performed through the combination of several analytical techniques, nanotoxicogenomics, nanoproteomics, and advanced imaging tools.
The Robotics group develops MEMS nanotechnologies for the realization of humanoid hyper-sensors (hearing, touch, smell and taste) and actuators and their interconnection with neural networks. Micro and nanosystems are fabricated by exploiting micromechanics, electronic and photonic approaches, smart materials, advanced 2D and 3D architectures. MEMS with efficiency of biological systems will be used for prosthetics, energy harvesting, consumer electronics, diagnostics, and prognostics.
Among the running activities:
- Neurotechnologies for wireless and wired implantable systems and probes for sensing neuronal activity based on biocompatible high-mobility transistors, optoelectronic probes, nanostructured sensors, electric-field sensitive colloidal nanoparticles and nanocomposites.
- Realization of artificial hair cells (AHC), by exploiting MEMS for intelligent autonomous systems (robots, vehicles), sensing-impaired prosthetics, mechano- and chemo- receptors.
- Soft piezoelectric/magnetic MEMS exploiting flexible/stretchable materials for tactile robotic sensors and displays for visually impaired persons and neurorehabilitation, MEMS energy harvesters from motion, vibrations and fluid flow.
The Smart Materials platform deals with the development of new composite materials, pointing towards a synergistic performance of the different materials combined together. The team studies different potential techniques to merge together distinct materials with well studied and established properties in order to fabricate novel materials that can preserve the properties of the individual components and that exhibit characteristics that would not be possible otherwise. Such composite materials can be incorporated in most of the present technologies, including transport, bioengineering and medical instrumentation, civil engineering, fashion, packaging, fire-retardant electrical enclosures, security, and sport.
The platform focuses on composites with plastics as basic component, i.e. polymeric materials that exhibit inherently excellent processability, good mechanical properties, are lightweight and low cost. Plastic materials are then combined with a variety of nanofillers, including inorganic nanoparticles of various shape (i.e. nanodots, nanorods, branched nanostructures, etc.) and composition, or molecules responsive to external stimuli (i.e. photochromic, thermochromic, electrochromic etc.).
The Computational team develops new theoretical and computational methods for the electronic structure of complex nanosystems using a three-level multiscale scheme based on the Frozen Density Embedding (FDE) approach: i) the central, energy relevant part is described using correlated wavefunction or hybrid Density Functional Theory (DFT) methods; ii) a surrounding region is depicted by semi-local DFT methods, and new non-empirical exchange-correlation functionals are developed; iii) the remaining part of the system (and/or the environment) is studied by novel electrostatic embedding approaches, based on the fast-multipole-method and/or finite difference approaches. These methods are applied to model hybrid nanosystems and interfaces, in particular organic molecules physi- and chemi-sorbed on noble metals, TiO2 or ZnO, for applications in hybrid optoelectronics and photovoltaics. The optical properties of metal nanoparticles and semiconductor nanocrystals with realistic sizes are also modeled using the Discrete Dipole Approximation (DDA) and the Envelop-Function-Approximation (EFA).
Ongoing activities of the Energy platform are focusing on the development of:
- Innovative organic and hybrid materials and devices for the third generation photovoltaics. The challenge facing the photovoltaic industry is cost effectiveness through much lower embodied energy. Plastic electronics and solution-processable inorganic semiconductors can revolutionize this industry due to their relatively easy and low cost processability. The efficiency of solar cells fabricated from these "cheap" materials is approaching competitive values, showing better performance for excitonic solar cells with reference to amorphous silicon in typical Northern European conditions.
- Advanced photonic structures for the next generation of low power consumption all optical logics. The study of all-optical devices for signal processing is increasingly getting a huge interest due to the limit reached by electronic components in terms of heat dissipation capacity and energy consumption. Moreover, the fast data rate and wide bandwidth of photonic signals see the need for all optical processing that do not require hybrid electronic/optical conversion elements. In this context, the use of polaritons show the advantage of having very strong non-linearities while keeping losses at minimum and maintaining all the properties of photonic signals.