Predoctoral Positions at ICMAB within “la Caixa” Doctoral Fellowships INPhINIT

Predoctoral Positions at ICMAB within “la Caixa” Doctoral Fellowships INPhINIT

News PHD FELLOWS 09 January 2019 3618 hits Anna May Masnou
INPhINIT, ”la Caixa” Doctoral Fellowship Programme is devoted to attracting international Early-Stage Researchers to the top Spanish research centres in the areas of Bio and Health Sciences, Physics, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Two modalities are open, with two deadlines:

  • Doctorate INPhINIT Incoming: Candidates must have resided or carried out their main activity in Spain for less than 12 months in the last 3 yearsDeadline for application: February 6, 2019.
  • Doctorate INPhINIT Retaining: Candidates must have resided or carried out their main activity in Spain more than 12 months in the last 3 yearsDeadline for application: February 27, 2019.

ICMAB-CSIC is one of the “Severo Ochoa” centers selected, and offers in this year's call 20 PhD open positons under the INPhINIT programme in excellent research groups to perform challenging and stimulating PhD projects. Three PhD fellows started their doctoral training at ICMAB in 2017

The doctoral fellowship programme INPhINIT “la Caixa” is devoted to attracting talented Early-Stage Researchers—of any nationality—who wish to pursue doctoral studies in Spanish or Portuguese territory. Sponsored by ”la Caixa” Foundation, it is aimed at supporting the best scientific talent and fostering innovative and high-quality research in Spain and Portugal by recruiting outstanding international students and offering them an attractive and competitive environment for conducting research of excellence.

This programme is divided into two different frames:

  • Doctorate INPhINIT Incoming: 35 PhD fellowships for researchers willing to carry out their PhD project in research centres accredited with the Spanish Seal of Excellence Severo Ochoa, María de Maeztu or Health Institute Carlos III and Portuguese units accredited as “excellent” or “exceptional” according to the evaluation of the Fundação de Ciência e Tecnologia. This frame is addressed exclusively to STEM disciplines: life sciences and health, experimental sciences, physics, chemistry and mathematics.For doing their research in Spanish institutions, candidates must have resided or carried out their main activity in Spain for less than 12 months in the last 3 years while for Portuguese institutions, candidates must have resided in Portugal for less than 12 months in the last 3 years.
  • Doctorate INPhINIT Retaining: 30 PhD fellowships for researchers willing to carry out their PhD project in any research domain and any university or research center in Spain or Portugal.Candidates must have resided or carried out their main activity in the same country, either Spain, or Portugal, more than 12 months in the last 3 years.

The doctoral INPhINIT fellowships offer a highly competitive salary and complementary opportunities for training on transferrable skills (through the collaboration of leading entities such as Vitae and Oxentia), temporary stays in industry, incentives upon completion of the thesis, among other elements that make these fellowships some of the most attractive and complete in Europe.

Download complete information about the programme here.


The Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB) is an internationally renowned research center in Advanced Functional Materials and Nanomaterials that belongs to the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). The Institute has been recently awarded with the Severo Ochoa label of excellence by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competiveness. Our mission is to generate new knowledge in Materials Science through excellent scientific research useful for the society and for the European industry, economy and employment, consolidating our recognition as international reference center on Smart functional materials through five mission-oriented Research Lines associated to three societal grand challenges (Clean Energy, Smart and Sustainable Electronics and Smart Nanomedicine).The Institute is located in a favorable research environment, concentrating one of the largest capabilities in Spain and Southern Europe (UAB Campus near Barcelona). Recently, our facilities have been significally expanded to accommodate 500 m2 of laboratories and offices. 

ICMAB competitiveness can be inferred from the high percentage of our yearly budget raised from competitive funds. A sizable fraction of these funds are secured from our participation in EU projects. Our publications receive at present ~11.200 citations/yr, with ~210 articles published per year. Our leadership position in Catalonia, Spain and Europe is also recognized by the number of active ERC grantees (8), a figure which only a few excellent research centers exhibit in Spain. Our researchers are internationally competitive in several materials science domains, including energy storage & conversion, superconducting materials, multifunctional oxide thin films, theory & simulation, solid state chemistry or multifunctional molecular and supramolecular materials. The training of the future generations of researchers represents also an essential part of the overall mission of ICMAB, with ~15 PhD theses defended per year. We provide trainees with both a solid fundamental background in materials science and a practical mindset to facilitate their adaptation to academic and industrial environments.If you are looking for an opportunity to develop your research career and skills in a multicultural and friendly environment, ICMAB is the place for you.


Open projects

Please see here the 20 PhD open positions offered by ICMAB, and feel free to contact our researchers for more information about the project. They will be happy to answer your questions.

Rosario Núñez: Towards a new generation of luminescent boron clusters-organic hybrids for optoelectronic applications/PhD Student

In the last decade, the development of boron cluster-based organic p-conjugated systems have attracted huge interest as active materials in (opto)electronic devices, such as organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), organic field effect transistors (OFETs), solar cells, biological sensors and imaging, among others. One of the challenges has been deciphering the role of boron cluster on the optical and photophysical properties of luminescent materials in solution and solid state (some ref. from the group: R. Núñez et al. Chem. Rev. 2016, 116, 14307; J. Mater. Chem. C, 2017, 5, 10211; J. Mater. Chem. C, 2018, DOI: 10.1039/C8TC03741H).

Owing to our interest in elucidating the influence of boron clusters in the photoluminescent properties of their derivatives and in be able to modulate the fluorescence/phosphorescence efficiency of the systems, in the current project we aim to develop a new generation of boron clusters-organic molecular hybrids as fluorophores of high efficiency and stability to improve the material light-emitting performances. Their completed characterization, including crystal structures established by X-ray diffraction analysis will be performed. Experimental studies regarding photoluminescent properties in solution and solid state will be achieved and complemented with theoretical calculations to establish meaningful structure-photophysical properties relationship for the compounds. Regarding the solid state, it is known that well-defined molecules allow for crystalline materials, in which an adequate design of the molecular structure can lead to the specific intermolecular arrangements needed for optoelectronic properties. One of the major challenges is to establish the structure–property relationships of a specific material, and understand how small changes in the molecular structure might impose large changes in solid state properties.The candidate will incorporate in the LMI at ICMAB-CSIC. Group’s staff members: Prof. Francesc Teixidor, Prof. Clara Viñas, Dr. Rosario Núñez and Dr. Jose Giner-Planas. Our group has leading expertise in boron clusters chemistry and molecular materials, which places us in an ideal position to create innovative applications in materials science, medicine or energy. To date 40 doctors have been graduated and 375 articles published in high impact journals.

Riccardo Rurali: Thermal diodes and thermal transistors based on nanoscale semiconductors

The goal of this project is providing a theoretical framework aimed at understanding and controlling the manipulation of heat flux within semiconducting nanowires. The successful candidate will perform numerical simulations in order to devise realistic approaches for the engineering of a thermal diode and a thermal transistor, the fundamental building blocks of phononics.

In electronics information is transferred with charge carriers, whose motion can be easily controlled with external fields. This is not the case of phononics, where phonons —the basic particles that carry heat— have no mass or charge: this is why we live in a world of electronic devices and heat is normally regarded as a source of loss. The goal of this project is reversing this viewpoint and move to a new paradigm where heat can be actively used to transfer energy, thus information, in a controllable way.Nanowires present multiple advantages over bulk materials to achieve heat rectification, mostly due to their reduced dimensionality and to the flexibility given by the chemistry of growth to yield structures that appear to be suited for these applications. This approach allows envisaging a truly zero-power analog of electronics, as in our world heat is indeed ubiquitous and phononics circuits will effectively need no power supply. Additionally, learning how to modulate the heat flow will have also important consequences in conventional electronics —where heat dissipation at the nanoscale is a major issue— or in devising efficient thermoelectric materials —where materials with low thermal conductivities must be engineered.The activity of the group of Theory and Simulation of Materials is equally shared between the development of new algorithms and methods for the calculation of properties of materials and nanostructures and applications in various cutting-edge areas of materials science, particularly semiconducting nanostructures, novel functional oxides, and other reduced dimensionality systems.

Jordi Faraudo/Carmen Ocal: Theoretical modeling of surface mediated fabrication of low-dimensional molecular architectures

The continuous increase in computational power has fueled the development of methodologies that allow the simulation of materials with atomistic resolution from fundamental physics. We use them at ICMAB as a kind of “theoretical microscope” to understand all sorts of properties of organic and inorganic materials from an atomistic perspective, looking at the organization and motion of atoms and molecules. Using advanced methodologies such as ab initio molecular dynamics or reactive force fields molecular dynamics we can now even follow chemical reactions taking place over specific substrates.

 We propose to use these cutting-edge simulation methodologies in a combined theoretical-experimental research work to design new low-dimensional molecular architectures by polymerization over inorganic substrates. The well-defined bottom-up creation of such polymeric systems out of small individual units (oligomers) has attracted enormous interest in fields such as sensing and molecular electronics. In particular, recently a field denominated as “on-surface synthesis” has emerged as the most innovative experimental strategy capable of overcoming challenges encountered in traditional solution-based chemistry.   The motivation for the project is the current difficulties in preparing the desired tailored hierarchical structures in solution and the fact neither the polymers not many relevant oligomers can be sublimated. To overcome these difficulties, we propose to follow a novel approach in which selected inorganic surfaces are employed for confining polymerization, exploiting surface reactivity and intermolecular interactions. The use of computational methods, combined with structural and chemical information at submolecular level provided by experimental scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) data, will be employed. The final goal is the rational design of the appropriate hierarchical growth for the desired molecular structures.

Marta Mas-Torrent/Núria Crivillers: Synthesis and processing of a novel generation of electro- and magnetically-active organic materials

The project will mainly consist in the design and synthesis of novel organic stable radicals for their implementation as active components in molecular electronic devices. Organic radicals have awakened much interest for its wide applicability such as magnetic materials, imaging agents, catalyst, electrochemical active materials, among others. For this, the aim of the project is to develop novel redox and magnetically-active materials based on organic radicals to be applied in the field of electrochemical energy storage, sensors and/or organic memories. The candidate will be involved in the organic synthesis, material processing, using solution-based techniques, and the spectroscopic characterization of the new compounds as well as the materials properties.

 The department is actively involved in implementing nanotechnology and sustainable and economically efficient technologies for preparing advanced functional molecular materials. The candidate will join a group that is actively focused on the development of novel Molecular Electronic Materials and Devices. Particularly, our areas of interest include synthesis of novel functional molecules, surface self-assembly, molecular switches, organic field-effect transistors, charge and spin transport and organic-based (bio)-sensors among others. The group counts with all the required equipment and installations for a successful project development. 

Anna Palau: Study of novel tuneable strongly correlated oxides for neuromorphic computing

Computers can process a large amount of data with high precision and speed. However, compared to the brain, they still cannot approach a comparable performance considering cognitive functions such as perception, recognition and memory. Neuromorphic computing devices, based on new material concepts and systems, may dramatically outperform conventional digital base technology. Creating the architectural design for brain inspired computing, with the ability to learn and adapt, requires an integrative and interdisciplinary research at different levels.   Starting to find materials and engineering breakthroughs to build devices with desired functionalities, create a programming framework with learning skills, and develop applications with brain-like capabilities. Thus, as a first step, major effort is required in nanoscale device designs using improved functional materials. In this project we propose a research for the development of fully optimized multi-functional devices, based on metallic perovskite oxides, able to implement all the basic brain-inspired functions used in a neuromorphic computer (neurons and synapsis). The main objective is to demonstrate the capability to implement biological functionality of both heterosynaptic plasticity and basic spiking neuron processes, in flexible and robust devices based on the modulation of a metallic-insulator phase transition.

 The project will be conducted at the SUMAN group.   The research approach of the group is based on very vast scientific and technological interests which try to combine the generation of new knowledge in several fields (physics, materials, chemistry, nanotechnology) with the development of processes and materials generating industrial outputs based on superconducting materials and nanostructured functional oxides. A distinctive characteristic of the group is to keep a wise balance among fundamental properties and applied issues, including device development, in collaboration with engineering groups.

Juan Sebastian Reparaz/Mª Isabel Alonso: Real time imaging of heat propagation at the nanoscale in quasi-2D hybrid systems

Nanoscale heat transport has emerged in the last 10 years as a field of increasing interest towards efficient energy regeneration.  Thermoelectricity is perhaps one of the fields that has captured largest attention from the science and technology perspectives due to its possible applications to renewable energies. However, our understanding of heat transport at the nanoscale is still in development, e.g., few is known on the wave nature of heat.

In this proposal we aim to pave the way towards efficient heat manipulation. We will study heat propagation in ultraslow motion in quasi 2-dimensional (2D) hybrid systems based on suspended silicon nanomembranes and polymer thin films. We aim to investigate the development of heat waves (second sound) as well as the influence of inorganic/organic thermal boundary resistance in the resulting thermal distribution. For this purpose we will develop a full novel approach based on optical interferometry and frequency- and time-domain thermoreflectance. The samples will be imaged through this technique with high spatial resolution (about 200 nm), high temporal resolution (about 30 ps), and high temperature resolution (about 100 μK), and through reconstruction of the data we will produce a live video of the evolution of a single heat pulse. All experiments will be carried out in a pump-and-probe configuration and as a function of temperature between 5K and 600 K. The obtained thermal videos will not only be a fully new experimental development, but will be the key to understand heat propagation in these quasi 2D systems. The samples will be fabricated by combining molecular beam epitaxy for the inorganic candidate, and combined with doctor Blade and spin casting to deposit diverse polymer candidates. We expect that the successful output of this project will have impact on establishing the wave-like thermal propagation regime, as well  as establishing a new optical technique to study nanoscale heat transport.

Ana Lopez-Periago/Concepción Domingo: Porous graphene oxide composite sponges for biomedical applications

The aim of this project is the preparation of structurally modified or functionalized graphene oxide (GO) sponges for biomedical applications such as MRI imaging, drug delivery or as theranostic device.

In particular, the project work will consist on the design, preparation and characterization of composite foams obtaines by their functionalization of their surface, or by the structural modifications of the carbon network, using sustainable supercritical CO2 Technology. The GO porous structures will be  modified by adding new functions, features, capabilities and  properties to the material throughout the surface addition of Metal Organic Frameworks, magnetite, gadolinium derivatives and bioactive molecules. The final goal is the use of these materials obtained with green technology, in the area of ​​biomaterials exploring applications, such as the use of scaffolding, controlled release of drugs and imaging. The group of Supercritical Fluids and Functional Materials (SFFM), involves experts on the use of supercritical fluid technology applied to functional nanomaterials processing, preparation of sustained drug delivery systems, preparation of graphene oxide aerogels (patented process in the SFFM group), surface functionalization, modification and/or synthesis of porous supports, and reactive precipitation of hybrid metal-organic compounds in scCO2. The group is composed by a team leader (Domingo, h28), one senior postdoc (Lopez-Periago, h19), a support engineer specialist (Fraile, h14) and two PhD students (N. Portolés and A. Borrás). Our expertise in the field of green technologies (more than 100 sci articles and an edited book) is applied to the preparation and characterization of porous nanostructured materials (from polymers to metal-organic compounds) with applications in gas storage and biomaterials. Since our research is widely multidisciplinary, we regularly collaborate with specialists in organometallic chemistry, drug release and synchrotron experts.

Jaume Veciana/Imma Ratera: Organic Radical-based Nanoparticles (ONPs) with Novel Multiferroic Characteristics as New Therapeutic Agents

The project proposes a new strategy towards all-organic multiferroic based on organic radicals combined with charge-transfer salts. The soft nature of the crystals once processed as nanoparticles (NPs) will be exploited in a very innovative approach as therapeutic agents for ion channel disorders as a proof-of-concept of its potential use in nanomedicine. Magnetism and ferroelectricity are essential to current technologies, and the quest for multiferroic materials, where the two phenomena are intimately coupled, represents a challenging task for fundamental research with an enormous technological potential in information technology. Thanks to the biocompatible nature of all-organic multiferroics, in a second step, we propose to the candidate a novel objective exploiting their great potential in biomedicine.

Despite the superior structural and functional versatility of organic materials, current research efforts are mainly devoted to inorganic materials, such as perovskite oxides (ABO3), whose physics is fairly well understood but whose intrinsic limitations are starting to emerge. This project proposes an ambitious and new strategy towards all-organic multiferroic materials combined with the typical characteristics of molecular materials, including softness, low cost, biocompatibility, tunability, easy processing and wider structural versatility as their modular architectures can be easily modified by chemical synthesis and crystal engineering.Nanomol group has a wide expertise and recognized excellence in the synthesis, modeling, processing and study of molecular, supramolecular and polymeric multifunctional materials with chemical, electronic, optical, and biomedical properties. The group also belongs to CIBER-BBN (www.ciber-bbn.es) a virtual network of research centers devoted to bioengineering, biomaterials and nanomedicine. During the last years, the research group has hosted 40 Doctoral Thesis and more than 19 Postdocs, from than 10 different foreigner countries.

Felip Sandiumenge, Xavier Torrelles: Optimizing catalytic efficiency through ferroelectric polarization

Sunlight induced photocatalytic water splitting is receiving nowadays a lot of interest as a clean energy production technology. However, the efficiency of one of the most promising catalysts, TiO2, is largely reduced by fast recombination velocities of the electron-hole pairs produced during illumination. In this context, ferroelectric (FE) films (in this work BaTiO3 and BiFeO3) , with spontaneous polarization perpendicular to the film, exhibiting an open-circuit photovoltage under illumination, can drive charge carriers to opposite surfaces (bulk photovoltaic effect). The FE-field can thus be used in TiO2/FE heterostructures to create spatially separated sites for the reduction and oxidation water reactions yielding  H2 and O2, respectively. In this way, the recombination of the photogenerated carriers can be reduced, thus enhancing the photocatalytic efficiency.

The main objective of this proposal is the analysis of the influence of the FE-polarization on the enhancement of the photo-catalytic efficiency. To this end, special interest will be paid the domain configuration of the FE substrate, and to catalyst/FE interfacial effects, such as formation of screening charges, structural distortions and defect chemistry. These effects will be mainly assessed by state of the art Transmission Electron Microscopy imaging and spectroscopic techniques, and synchrotron Photo-Electron Emission Microscopy.ICMAB-CSIC is a prestigious research institute promoting multidisciplinary research in materials science and nanoscience. The Crystallography of Magnetic and Electronic Oxides and the Advanced Characterization and Nanostructured Materials groups at ICMAB, will provide the platform and expertise for the execution of this project. 

Esther Barrena: On-surface synthesis of functional 2D molecular layers

Conjugated organic molecules offer a myriad of potential applications thank to their large range of tunable properties for nonlinear optics, light harvesting, energy conversion, sensing, charge transport... etc. The bottom-up construction of covalently bound molecular architectures with a well-defined two-dimensional (2D) arrangement is crucial to design robust novel materials for sensing and molecular electronics applications. Because polymers cannot be sublimed, preparing suitable 2D organic layers remains a challenge. During the past years, on-surface synthesis has gained
increasing research attention as a versatile bottom-up strategy to obtain new designed architectures by covalent bonding between molecular building blocks deposited on a surface [1].

We propose a double approach based on two innovative techniques to build and study organic systems of interest for sensing and molecular electronics: deposition of molecular precursors from liquid in UHV conditions and on-surface induced chemistry to obtain hierarchical growth following sequential thermal activation. This work focuses on the experimental design and study of the electronic and structural properties of molecular architectures formed at metal surfaces by assembly and covalent bonding of building blocks. Heterogeneous networks consisting of two
types of two types of building blocks will be also explored. The synthesis of the two dimensional structures will be followed by characterization using sensitive surface science techniques.

[1] On-Surface Synthesis of Carbon Nanostructures, Q.Sun et al, Adv. Mater. 2018, 30, 1705630

Enikö György: Novel laser-based methods for fabrication of nanocarbon-based energy storage devices

Major research efforts are dedicated to the design and development of high performance supercapacitors and cost-effective systems for the storage of renewable electricity. Our proposal is focused on the fabrication of high performance hybrid electrodes composed of inexpensive and abundant raw materials, metal oxide nanostructures and carbon-based nanomaterials, carbon nanotubes (CNTs), graphene nanowalls (GNWs), and reduced graphene oxide (rGO). We use in our experiments for the synthesis of the hybrid electrodes innovative laser techniques, direct laser irradiation-DLI and Matrix Assisted Pulsed Laser Evaporation-MAPLE. The structural, compositional and functional properties of the electrodes, as well as the performance of supercapacitors based on them, will be investigated. This research is pioneering in the international research scenario. Non-conventional laser-induced chemical transformations allows for the synthesis of high quality materials with structural properties not achievable by standard methods.

The Laser Processing Research group (LPR) of the Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona has extensive experience in laser processing and immobilization of nanoentities consisting of biomolecules, quantum dots, nanoparticles and carbon-based nanomaterials as carbon nanotubes and rGO-based composites. LPR team has achieved the simultaneous transfer, chemical transformation and tailoring of the functional properties of these nanoentities by DLI and MAPLE techniques. Of particular interest is the obtained reduction and simultaneous nitrogen-doping of GO-based composites. 

José Vidal Gancedo: New approach to a glucose sensor based on radical dendrimers

We are a research group with wide expertise and recognized excellence in the synthesis of organic radicals and their characterization by techniques such as Electron Paramagnetic Resonance, EPR. We have also experience in the synthesis and use of radical dendrimers in different biomedical applications. Our proposal is to enable a new technology for minimally-invasive continuous high accuracy readings of specific glucose concentrations in tissue and blood.  It will be based on novel smart materials and new electron spin resonance technology.  In the present research we will focus on monitoring blood glucose levels as a proof of concept.

Objective: Design and synthesis of a paramagnetic molecular probe for binding glucose molecules: Our new concept is based on a novel molecule that can selectively bind with high affinity to glucose, can be placed in the bloodstream in a compact manner, and can be read from the outside to reveal its status, i.e., bound or unbound.  Here we created a truly novel and unique mechanism for this purpose, namely reading the status of the molecule (bound or unbound) based on its electron spin resonance (ESR) signal.  ESR is a spectroscopic technique that can identify specific paramagnetic molecules and also provide information regarding their motional freedom and their molecular environment.  The advantage of using ESR as detection principle is that it employs much longer electromagnetic waves than those used, for example, in optical spectroscopy, which is the leading modality used for addressing the reading problem.  Such waves can easily penetrate the skin and the bloodstream and can provide high accuracy spectroscopic data without any other interfering signals.NANOMOL is a research group with wide expertise and recognized excellence in the synthesis, processing and study of molecular and polymeric materials with chemical, electronic, magnetic and biomedical properties. We continuously generate new knowledge in our basic and applied research projects regarding the micro and nano structuring of molecular materials. As a group, we are actively involved in implementing nanotechnology and sustainable and economically efficient technologies for preparing advanced functional molecular materials. We are members of the Biomedical Research Networking Centre in Bioengineering, Biomaterials and Nanomedicine (CIBER‐BBN).

Nieves Casañ Pastor: Multiredox nanoclusters and nanoparticles as mediators for enhanced oxygen redox reactions in metal-air batteries

One of the main goals for the group is the development of energy storage devices based on innovative electrochemistries. The current focus is on Li, Zn and Al based metal-air batteries, with activities targeting the reversible metal electrodeposition and the control of oxygen redox reactions through the composition of electrolytes and the design of electrodes and cells.

Prof. Nieves Casañ –Pastor has a long term experience in electrochemistry of oxides and oxide clusters, and electrodeposition. Part of that expertise includes synthesis and doping of oxide clusters and induction of new mixed valence systems that act as redox reversible systems and have applicability in electrodes and energy storage systems and catalysis. She also has experience in the development of nanostructured hybrids, among which IrOx-CNT and IrOx-graphene are the last materials developed for bioelectrodes of very large charge capacity and low impedance, and in new phases obtained by solid state transformations induced by electrochemical methods like AgCu oxides and graphene formation by exfoliation. She has been IP of STREP European projects, National Grants and Marato TV3 Grants, and has raised up to 3M Euros as main researcher. At present her work receives an average of 28 citations, and statistics show an i10 of 58 (H 31).Dr. Dino Tonti is a chemist with over 20 years of experience in nanomaterials and electrochemistry. He has worked on surface science and optical techniques, colloidal nanoparticles, carbons and battery materials. His current main interest is the development of functional 3D architectures for energy-related applications, and is involved in metal-air batteries with three lines of research: 1) development of electrode materials with controlled porosity and surface properties; 2) development of electrolyte formulations by using different classes of additives; 3) studying the electrochemical processes by synchrotron and other advanced techniques.

Teresa Puig: Manipulating vortex physics in high temperature superconducting tapes

The project aims at achieving low cost / high throughput / high performance High Temperature Superconducting (HTS) tapes using an unprecedented approach based on a novel transient liquid assisted growth (TLAG) process, being part of an European ERC Advanced Grant. This process is able to increase a factor 100 the growth rate of standard growth processes with scalable and low cost methodologies using chemical solution deposition and rapid thermal annealing furnaces. An integrated platform with additive manufacturing ink jet printing and combinatorial chemistry approaches is used. Superconductivity is a macroscopic quantum phenomenon that enables some materials to carry large currents without dissipation below a certain critical temperature and magnetic field. Since HTS materials were discovered 30 years ago, many potential applications emerged driven by the moderate cost of liquid nitrogen cooling requirements. Nowadays, the international community is able to fabricate HTS tapes addressing large scale applications in the energy sector, transportation and large magnets (magnetic resonance, fusion, particle accelerators). The main challenge is that the cost/performance ratio is still too high, so new technologies have to be developed to decrease this ratio. The breakthrough of this PhD project is to explore ultrahigh tapes performances by evaluating nanocomposite layers where nanoparticles are incorporated in the superconducting matrix to pin vortices at high magnetic fields, while at the same time the local strain distribution is properly manipulated to further enhance the performances. Finally, the electronic state will be tuned to maximize the condensation energy by tuning carrier density with oxygen doping. The samples will be prepared in the group using the low cost methodologies mentioned above. The superconducting vortex pinning mechanism will be correlated with the microstructure studies carried out by high resolution transmission electron microscopy.

Gervasi Herranz: Learning from neuromorphic vision systems using time causality of optical stimuli

Over the recent years, we have investigated the properties of quantum wells (QWs) at the LaAlO3/SrTiO3 interface, including 2D superconductivity, Rashba spin-orbit fields and lattice vibrational modes [1-3]. More recently we uncovered persistent photoconductance (PPC), whereby the system changes its conductance in a plastic way, retaining memory from its past history, as in the case of memristors, but using light instead of electric pulses. Our most astounding discovery (yet unpublished [4]) is that light pulses can be used to replicate spike timing-dependent plasticity (STDP). STDP was proposed to emulate time causality of electro-chemical signals in biological neurons: pre-synaptic neurons spiking after post-synaptic neurons are “anti-causal” and learning is weakened; pre-synaptic neurons spiking before post-synaptic neurons are causal, reinforcing learning. STDP enables unsupervised learning, without need of labelling training data.

Our discovery is particularly relevant, as it extends the STDP concept beyond electrical stimuli to the realm optical stimuli, opening up whole new perspectives on neuromorphic engineering and in artificial vision. More specifically, our project aims at generating neuronal spikes in our physical system –e.g., using, among other approaches, RC differentiators, where R and C are defined in the QWs–. The candidate will be trained in Python-based algorithms that will help to understand how artificial networks can be designed to learn from visual inputs, with the ultimate objective of building a first design that may learn from simple visual patterns. The student will be supervised by Dr. Gervasi Herranz, whose activity can be reached through the Researcher ID: G-2770-2014[1] Pesquera et al., Physical Review Letters 2014. [2] Herranz et al., Nature Communications 2015. [3] Gazquez et al., Physical Review Letters 2017. [4] Y. Chen et al., submitted. 

José Luis García Muñoz: Exploring novel coupling mechanisms for functional improper multiferroics

Frustration, or the inability to satisfy all interactions, leads to new fascinating phenomena and properties (quantum magnets, spin liquids, chiral spin orders, magnetoresistance, etc.). The discovery of new classes of frustrated materials in which the charge, orbital, magnetic or elastic orders and the (ferro-)electric properties are strongly coupled (improper multiferroics) is generating a flurry of activity in the fundamental and applied fields. The list of potential applications is still incomplete: spintronic devices, multi-state memory units with reduced energy consumption, smart sensors, switches, etc. New physical mechanisms generating coupling between coexisting internal orders will be explored and investigated in materials in different forms (from polycrystals to single crystals and thin films). Their understanding will help to foster them in order to obtain coupled improper multiferroics for room temperature operation.

The activities of the CMEOS group at the ICMAB center on strongly correlated materials of interest in Condensed Matter research and for Information Technologies. Our group has long-standing expertise and international recognition on advanced structural, magnetic and electronic characterization using neutron and synchrotron techniques. We combine experimental and theoretical crystallographic approaches to tackle the structure-properties relationships. The research will involve material fabrication and advanced characterization using state-of-the-art techniques. Selected 3d and 4d magnetic oxides with topological, magnetic or electronic frustration and spin-orbit coupling will be investigated as the richness of possible magnetoelectric mechanisms greatly exceeds our expectations. A key component of the project will be neutron and X-ray scattering experiments at international facilities to uncover magnetic, charge and structural correlations and confront theory.

Imma Ratera/Judith Guasch: Dynamic supramolecular bio-interfaces and hydrogels as biomimetic materials for cancer immunotherapies

Despite the enormous efforts in cancer research, we are still far from efficient medicines in many cases. Encouragingly, several remissions of terminal leukemia patients with genetically modified autologous T cells using an adoptive T cell therapy have been recently described. This therapy consists of the isolation of T cells, their ex vivo activation and expansion, and the subsequent autologous administration. Nevertheless, the ability to expand T cells in high quantities with a determined phenotype and at a reasonable cost remains a limiting factor for the translation of immunotherapies to clinics because of the long and expensive in-lab treatments required. This project intends to alleviate such limitations with the development of biomimetic lymph nodes using dynamic biofuncional surfaces (2D) and supramolecular hydrogels (3D).

We expect that these hydrogels with tunable chemical and mechanical properties will enhance T cell proliferation rates while controlling the cellular phenotypes ex-vivo. As preliminary step we will also use 2D models consisting of electroactive molecular self-assembly monolayers (SAMs) as dynamic, model substrates to mimic the spatial and temporal cues of natural microenviroments and study the cell-material interface in a simplified system.Nanomol has a wide expertise and recognized excellence in the synthesis, modeling, processing and study of molecular, supramolecular and polymeric multifunctional materials with chemical, electronic, optical, and biomedical properties. The group also belongs to CIBER-BBN a virtual network of research centers devoted to bioengineering, biomaterials and nanomedicine. Some of the laboratories of Nanomol form part of NANBIOSIS. This project will be part of the Max Planck Partner Group that we have in collaboration with the Max Planck for Medical Research in Germany. During the last years, the Nanomol group has hosted 40 Doctoral Thesis and more than 19 Postdocs, from more than 10 different foreigner countries.

Arántzazu González-Campo: Development of organic frameworks based on curcuminoids and boronic acids for biomedical applications

Nanomaterials that can be applied for therapeutic functions together with imaging or sensing properties have attracted interest of scientists from various research areas. With this objective, this project is focused on the preparation of organic frameworks from the combination of two biocompatible building blocks: curcuminoids (CCMoids) and boronic acids (BAs). CCMoids are the results of the modification of curcumin structure, which is a natural hydrophobic polyphenolic diketone with many therapeutic properties including anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory and anticancer activity. This modification, which includes the introduction of new groups such as ferrocene or anthracene, together with the possibility to coordinate metals have used to obtain new multifunctional materials. On the other hand, BAs have emerged as alternative of lectins due to their specific sugar-binding capability. This ability to interact with carbohydrates has allowed their application as chemo/biosensors or for cell adhesion studies. Therefore, the objectives proposed in this project are: the design and preparation of new bi-functional organic building blocks based on CCMoids and BAs, the study of the final properties of the systems including their interaction with carbohydrates and their immobilization on surfaces. The results will provide new bifunctional CCMoids/BAs-based organic frameworks with fluorescent/redox properties able to further react with carbohydrates for chemical/biological sensing or delivery. The research group has experience on the synthesis and preparation of functional surfaces immobilizing, curcuminoids, boronic acids and proteins. The group combines the synthesis of molecules with the development of devices for chemical/biological sensors and transistors

Josep Fontcuberta: Challenging a Nobel’s prediction. Data storage with antiferromagnetic materials

Ferromagnetic magnetic materials are extensively used in technology. A characteristic feature of them is that they have a net magnetization that can be detected and modified by external means and can be mapped by external probes. Therefore, ferromagnetic materials are responsive and visible. In contrast, antiferromagnetic materials, although also constituted by magnetic atoms, have a net zero magnetization and thus they cannot easily be controlled and are invisible to an external inspector. Probably for these reasons, antiferromagnetic materials have been largely ignored. Indeed, in the 1970 Nobel Prize Lecture for his discoveries on Magnetism, L. Néel stated: “Antiferromagnetic materials do not seem to have any application”.
Now, a new life is being received by antiferromagnets. Indeed, in spite that having zero magnetization, it has been shown that they can be used to store and retrieve magnetic information. Still, writing information in them is far from simple as either large magnetic fields or complex temperature cycling are required to change their magnetic state.
On the other hand, during the last few years it has been shown that the intimate coupling between charge and spin, can be broken and pure spin currents can be generated in some materials, with the additional benefit that spin do not suffer the energy costly Joule effect.
As a result of spin currents, spins can be accumulated at sample edges and the resulting magnetization can exert a magnetic torque in neighboring magnetic layers and eventually induce the switching of its magnetization direction. Indeed, it has been recently shown that this mechanism lead to efficient switching of magnetization, and thus magnetic information writing is more energy efficient.
Here again, antiferromagnetics may find a new opportunity. Spin currents can be transmitted in antiferromagnets and nothing precludes that their magnetic state can be modified (information written) by a spin current.
We know how to measure spin currents and expertise growing antiferromagnetic films. Therefore, we are in an excellent position to explore spin currents in antiferromagnets with the view on new concepts of more energy efficient and robust memory devices for data storage. This is the ultimate goal of this project.
The candidate will be integrated into MULFOX Laboratory described below

Mariona Coll: All-oxide photovoltaics by cost-efficient chemical routes

Solar photovoltaics (PV) is a key technology for the global energy transition; solar power could provide 15% of Europe’s electricity by 2030. Despite commercial Silicon PV modules have been remarkably successful they present some concerns to meet the energy demands: efficiency, life and performance with time. An all-oxide PV approach is very attractive due to the chemical, mechanical and thermal stability, nontoxicity and abundance of many metal oxides that allow preparation by cost-effective and scalable techniques. The use of ferroelectric perovskite oxides (FEPO) as a stable photoactive layer has opened up a ground-breaking new arena of research. They present an alternative mechanism for solar energy conversion that could surpass the fundamental efficiency limits of conventional semiconductors. Unfortunately, most FEPO are wide-band gap materials (use only 8-20% of the solar spectrum) and present poor charge transport properties. The main goal of this project is to develop an all-oxide device based on FEPO with improved light absorption and carrier extraction using abundant and lead-free materials by low cost and scalable chemical methodologies. This project will build on recent results where it has been observed that cobalt substitution in ferroelectric BiFeO3 allows band gap tunability and remarkable improvement in photocurrent. In order to unlock the full potential of the BiFe1-xCoxO3 (BFCO) system and gain new insight on its PV mechanism, improved and simplified innovative architectures based on compositional tuning of BFCO and interface engineering will be developed. The project will be carried out at ICMAB (Barcelona) in the SUMAN group having wide experience on the preparation and characterization of functional complex oxide thin films and nanostructures by chemical methodologies with the aim to understand the composition-nanostructure-property relationship for energy-related applications.

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