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Three postgraduates are starting their PhDs at the ICMAB with La Caixa Doctoral Fellowships, and Dr. Paula Mayorga received a La Caixa Junior Leader grant to join us

Four researchers have been awarded with "la Caixa" grants to support their research. Congratulations to all of them!
15 March 2024

Three postgraduates have been awarded grants by La Caixa in order for them to perform their PhD studies.

Two of them (Giulia Pancotti and Emma Ghiara) have been awarded the La Caixa INPHINIT grant. Giulia Pancotti will work on the project ‘Asymmetric sustainable molecular materials for enhancing electronic charge transport’ under the supervision of Prof. David Amabilino in the SusMoSys group at ICMAB-CSIC. The objective of this project is to advance in sustainable energy solutions by synthesizing new organic semiconductors for solar cells through environmentally friendly processes. They will be incorporating the chiral element into the dye to enable exploration of the favored movement of spin-polarized electrons in chiral materials. Chirality can extend to higher-order molecular architectures, that can lead to more efficient charge transport through regular chiral aggregates, influencing the physical parameters of the solar cell.

For her part, Emma Ghiara will work on the project 'High-Throughput Screening of REBCO Superconductors via Combinatorial Inkjet Printing', supervised by Prof. Teresa Puig in the SUMAN group at ICMAB-CSIC. This group has developed a new process to produce REBCO (RE = Rare Earth,RE_x Ba_2 Cu_3 O_7) superconductors layer in a much faster way compared to the commercial processes, which would allow to have a significant drop in the price market. She will be trying to expand this knowledge by defining a methodology to screen different process parameters (mainly Temperature and Pressure during the growth of the REBCO crystal) and the composition of the precursor layer. In order to accomplish this aim, she will be depositing a precursor solution of the superconductor material with an Inkjet printer which will allow her to have samples that are not homogeneous in composition. She will thus prepare samples that in one corner are 100% YBCO and in the opposite corner are 100% GdBCO, while in the middle have mixed Rare Earth compositions (YxGd(1-x)BCO).

Giulia earned her Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Rome and subsequently obtained her Master's degree in "Photochemistry and Molecular Materials" at the University of Bologna. Throughout her academic journey, she has been consistently fascinated by the intriguing interaction of molecular materials with light and the ability to tune their properties through various stimuli. In her undergraduate studies, focused on DNA nanotechnologies, and during her masters research on dynamic resolution in chiral molecular machines, she discovered that chirality is like the superhero cape in the molecular design world – it brings flair and unexpected twists!

Emma’s background is in chemical engineering, in her master she did a specific curricula in material science but still related to the process engineering master (University of Bologna). She has a quite transversal background since engineering in Italy is really a mix of everything, from math to physics and chemistry. The PhD project reflects the same mixture on different subjects.

Another student, Lluís Casabona, has been awarded the La Caixa INPHINIT RETRAINING grant. This grant is to conduct the project ‘Organic Phototransistors for Radiation Detection’, under the supervision of Prof. Marta Mas in the NANOMOL group. The project will explore organic phototransistors, fabricated from photosensitive organic semiconductors, that are a type of electrical device that converts incident light into electrical signals. The advantages of organic semiconductors over inorganic counterparts are the cost-effective solution processing, compatibility with flexible substrates, and bandgap tunability. There is a growing interest in developing sensors capable of detecting near-infrared (NIR), ultraviolet (UV), and high-energy radiation, including neutrons or X-rays. These sensors find applications in medical, imaging, security, robotics, and various other fields where the intrinsic properties of organic materials are highly desired.

However, the widespread implementation of organic phototransistors faces challenges such as limited stability and low carrier mobility. Addressing these challenges is essential to enable their potential for practical use. Hence, the main objectives of this thesis are to optimize the processing parameters of organic phototransistors to enhance their photoresponse, with the goal of developing advanced health monitoring devices.

Lluís pursued a dual degree in Physics and Chemistry at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) and completed a Master’s in Advanced Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at the same university. He is currently complementing his formation with a Master’s in Quantum Science and Technology at the University of Barcelona (UB) and carrying out a PhD at ICMAB-CSIC with a La Caixa INPhINIT Retaining Fellowship.

On top of that, Dr. Paula Mayorga received a La Caixa Junior Leader grant. Under Prof. Nora Ventosa, she will conduct the project ‘Chiral Photocatalytic Nanozymes for Efficient ROS–mediated Cancer Therapy’. This is an independent research line at ICMAB-CSIC devoted to the development of original photocatalytic nanozymes for cancer treatments in collaboration with the Vall d´Hebron Research Institute (VHIR). CHIRALZYMES entails the challenging and yet undisclosed simultaneous combination of nanozymes and photocatalytic activity concepts with chirality, as a game-changing approach towards high therapeutic efficacy.

Paula Mayorga Burrezo (PMB) obtained a bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Malaga in 2011 where she also completed an MSc (2012) and PhD (2015) in Advanced Chemistry-Materials’ Chemistry. Her scientific journey started from fundamental Science under the guidance of Profs. Juan T. López and Juan Casado, with spectroscopic studies of different molecular structures based on poly–aromaticity or antiaromaticity concepts, among others, to achieve enhanced pi–conjugated systems. In 2017, she joined the Barcelona Materials Science Institute (ICMAB-CSIC) after getting a Juan de la Cierva-Formación fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. During her postdoctoral stay at NANOMOL group, supervised by Prof. Jaume Veciana, she deepened her expertise in the development of organic–based multifunctional platforms involving stable organic radicals for (spin)electronic applications. Importantly, she started several original research lines, still active nowadays, around the combination of chirality with optical properties. In 2019, she was recognized as co-PI in a competitive call under the Severo Ochoa Programme (FUNMAT–FIP–2018) to study the impact of chiral properties on organic radicals for transport phenomena. Then, she moved to Czech Republic where she joined the research group headed by Prof. Martin Pumera as senior postdoc —CEITEC–Brno University of Technology (2020–2021) and Center for Advance Nanorobots from University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague (2021–2023)— and focused her scientific interest on applied inorganic materials. In particular, she contributed to the development of photoactive microrobots with magnetic steering for environmental and biomedical challenges.

Prof. David Amabilino, Director of ICMAB, said: “the Caixa awards are a deserved recognition for the hard work that all the researchers have put in up to now, and the quality of the results they have achieved, together with the personal skills that allowed them to pass the very competitive process. We are extremely grateful to La Caixa for this fantastic scheme, that allows us to do research which attacks tough but extremely attractive challenges in materials science. The awards are also a testament to the quality of the ICMAB, in that we are able to attract the very best scientists to join us. Welcome to them, and best wishes for much success!

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