Seed Projects

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Super Seed: Molecular Electrolytes in Confined Environments

Monica Olvera de la Cruz| Material Science & Engineering | Chemistry | Applied Physics
Erik Luijten| Material Science & Engineering | Applied Mathematics | Applied Physics
Jiaxing Huang| Material Science & Engineering
Yonggang Huang| Civil and Environmental Engineering | Material Science & Engineering
Harold Kung| Chemical & Biological Engineering
Samuel Stupp| Material Science & Engineering | Chemistry | Medicine

Molecular electrolytes are critical materials for electrochemical devices and for systems with biomimetic functions. They are finding important applications, since they are simultaneously ionic conductors and electronic insulators. Here we propose to explore new applications of molecular electrolytes and analyze their interactions with membranes in different conformations. In particular, the interactions of electrolytes with membranes offer unique possibilities for materials that can undergo large conformational changes in response to external stimuli, including membrane folding or crumpling transitions induced by variation of solution pH or ionic concentration. These conformational changes in turn can be exploited to induce specific changes in mechanical properties and ion transport. However, the science of such strongly coupled, multi-component and multi-functional ionic fluids is not well understood, particularly in confined spaces such as folded membranes. Important principles that still need to be clarified include the role of inhomogeneous dielectric environments and the behavior of electrical double layers in response to changes in temperature and in concentration of charge carriers, the behavior in regions where there is insufficient space for a fully developed double layer, and the response of the ion flux and the general charge distribution to rapid mechanical deformation.

Seed #1: Normal and superfluid atoms in optical lattices 
John Ketterson | Physics & Astronomy | Applied Physics
Brian Odom | Physics & Astronomy | Applied Physics
Selim Shahriar | Electrical Engineering & Computer Science

The research goal of this seed project is to explore the fundamental science and possible device applications of cold atoms and ions, which are “floating” on (i.e. assembled within or trapped on) a two-dimensional periodic blue-shifted “optical sea.” Such systems can be viewed as an exciting new class of condensed matter systems. The lattices themselves will be generated by counter-propagating, and hence standing, evanescent plasmon-polariton waves at the free surface of a silver film. This film is deposited at the base of a pyramidal prism that is, in turn, excited by pairs of laser beams lying in orthogonal planes in the so-called Kretcshmann geometry. This work builds on experience gained through earlier participation in plasmonics-based efforts within NU-MRSEC.

Project Highlight:

Seed #2 : “Nanoionic” crystals: rationalizing electrostatic self-assembly at the nanoscale (Completed)

Bartosz Grzybowski | Chemical and biological engineering
Monica Olvera de la Cruz | Material Science & Engineering | Chemistry | Applied Physics

Materials composed of metal nanoparticles (NPs) functionalized/stabilized with self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) of charged ligands combine the electronic conductivity and optical addressability of the NP metal cores with ionic effects in and around the coating SAMs. This combination underlies such fascinating phenomena as photocurrent modulation and inverse photoconductance as well as a range of optical effects with uses in sensing and amplified detection. One of the most exciting avenues of research in this area is the self-assembly of charged NPs into ion-like superstructures. Interestingly, these “nanoionic” particles behave in ways very distinct from molecular ions. Understanding these “nanoionic” effects in quantitative details is the key objective of this Seed project. This collaboration offers a compelling synergy between experiment and theory and will ultimately lead to the development of algorithms and experimental protocols for the rational self-assembly of charged nanobuilding blocks into desired structures.

Project Highlights:

Seed #3: 
 Atomic-scale Imaging of Orgnanic/Inorganic Heterostructures: from Single Molecules to Devices (Completed)

Derk Joester | Material Science & Engineering

Controlling nano-scale organic-inorganic interfaces is integral to properties and performance from biomaterials to emerging organic electronics. Quantitative imaging at atomic length scales is, however, highly challenging on account of the chemical complexity and hybrid nature of such interfaces. We have pioneered atom probe tomography (APT) for the imaging of biomineral nano-composites. We propose to leverage our experience in sample preparation, APT operation, and spectral interpretation to establish the scope of APT for the characterization of interfaces in emergent organic/inorganic hybrid materials from single nanoparticles to devices.

Project Highlights:

Seed #4: 
Theory and Computation: from Optical Lattices to Conductance in the Nanoscale (Completed)

Tamar Seideman | Chemistry | Physics | Applied Physics

Complementary to the experimental efforts underway in Seed #1, the research goal of this seed project consists of numerical research by exploring the near-field plasmonic response of a periodic array of nanorods, designed to resonate with the frequency of the blue-detuned laser field at different distances from the surface-supported nanorod array. Other particle shapes (e.g., pyramides) that can be designed to resonate at the desired frequency will be explored if necessary. A mathematical algorithm to numerically design plasmonic arrays will be introduced that will produce optical standing waves with a set of predetermined properties and could serve for different applications. The quantum dynamics of the cold species subject to the combination of gravity and the optical array will also be explored.

Project Highlight:

Seed #5: 
Harnessing Diamagnetic Anisotropy for the Synthesis of Rare-Earth Free Magnets (Completed)

Danna Freedman | Chemistry

With the decreasing supply of rare-earth metals and the increasing incorporation of strong magnets into renewable energy technologies, replacing rare-earth magnets has become a priority. Eliminating rareearth metals from magnets requires introducing a novel source of magnetic anisotropy. This seed project investigates the synthesis of new magnets that derive their anisotropy from diamagnetic sources, focusing on heavy main group elements such as bismuth. Although the approach of imparting anisotropy to paramagnetic metals from diamagnetic ions is well developed in the context of molecular magnets, thus far, it has not been applied to solid-state systems. The new magnets we synthesize will use earth abundant metals for cheaper renewable energy technologies, with applications in wind turbines and electric cars.

Project Highlight:

Seed #6: 
Investigation of Plasmonic Properties of Multilayer Graphene Nanostructures for Enhanced Infrared Absorption

Koray Aydin | Electrical Engineering & Computer Science

Graphene has emerged as one of the leading materials in condensed matter physics due to its superior electrical, optical, magnetic, thermal, and mechanical properties. In particular, graphene possesses unique optical and plasmonic properties that could enable the next generation of photonic and optoelectronic devices. In this Seed program, our goal is to investigate the plasmonic prooperties of graphene-based nano/micro-structures (NMs) with a specific aim to enhance, control, and manipulate light-matter interactions in graphene. In particular, we will study strongly coupled graphene-insulator-graphene nanostructure arrays with enhanced optical absorption properties at infrared wavelengths.

Project Highlight

Seed #7: Mechanical and Electrochemical Properties of Piezoelectric Monolayer Flakes

Oluwaseyi Balogun | Mechanical Engineering

The objective of the proposed work is to gain fundamental understanding needed to enhance the sensitivity of carbon nanotube (CNT) and graphene based nanomechanical resonators in fluid environments, for room temperature sensing of gas and biomolecules. Specifically this project will: (a) develop a modeling framework to understand the coupling of oscillating fluid flow and energy dissipation in CNT and graphene resonators, and (b) explore a pulsed photothermal technique for ultrafast actuation and a plasmonic near-field optical microscopy technique for detection of mechanical vibrations in these resonators, with nanoscale spatial resolution and picosecond time resolution.

Seed #8: 
Charge Transport along and across Grain Boundaries of Mixed Ionic-Electronic Conductors

Sossina Haile | Material Science & Engineering | Applied Physics

In many ionic conductors, transport across and along internal interfaces dominates the overall properties. Such boundaries may alternatively serve as high conductivity pathways or high impedance roadblocks to charge transport. In this project, we propose to examine transport properties of individual grain boundaries. The crystallographic relationship between the grains forming the interface will be established by transmission electron microscopy and the transport properties measured by a.c. impedance spectroscopy. Multiple approaches will be pursued for creating the target electrochemical cells.

Seed #9: 
Two-dimensional Photon-matter Hybrids for Inducing Topological Order in Materials

Nathaniel Stern | Physics & Astronomy | Applied Physics

The goal for the proposed seed program is to realize two-dimensional (2D) photon-matter hybrid devices that exhibit “topologically protected” edge states arising from chiral optical interactions in 2D monolayer semiconducting materials. Achieving this will extend the concept of topological phenomena to an entirely new class of materials, deepening fundamental understanding of how novel local crystal symmetries manifest in long-range distributed properties mediated by light and lending new insights for designing functional quantum materials. The long-term objective of the proposed research is to exploit the intrinsic symmetries of novel optically-active materials to create and to probe emergent quantum properties in hybrid light-matter systems.

Seed #10: 
Anion Order Axioms in Layered Oxyfluorides

James Rondinelli | Material Science & Engineering

Transition metal oxyfluorides are a promising class of functional electronic and optical materials as they are able to combine advantageous properties and processabilities of both oxides and fluorides. Additional ‘design’ variables emerge in such heteroanionic materials, i.e., compounds comprised of anionic groups with more than one anion, as they support a more complex structure and interaction space from which new phenomena and superior properties may exist. The goal of this project is to understand the interactions that lead to both local (anionic group) and long range (crystal) anion order in layered oxyfluorides with the Sr2M3+O3F (M=Sc, Mn, Fe, Co, and Ni) stoichiometry. The compounds in this family exhibit the n=1 Ruddlesden-Popper structure; however, the coordination of the anionic groups and degree of O and F order on the anion sublattice sensitively depends on the transition metal (M) cation. These changes in atomic structure manifest macroscopically in different long-range magnetic orders. Remarkably, there remains no consensus over the microscopic principles governing when anion order will exist in this compound for a given transition metal.