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The Institute activities concerning surfaces and interfaces: nanofabrication, imaging, and spectroscopy point atoptimizing important functionalities in materials through an atomic scale understanding of the modifications introduced by confinement. The materials are produced in the Institute laboratories and controlled through the combination of high resolution spectroscopies, microscopies and theoretical simulations. The activities are performed also at shared facilities, like synchrotron radiation sources and transmission electron microscopes. An important piece of activity concerns in particular the development of analysis techniques based on electron vortex beams.


Graphene-based materials with tunable electronic, optical, structural, and mechanical propertiesare developed and manipulated in view of the application in different fields. An interesting possibility is given by the use of graphene for hydrogen storage. In this context theInstitute activities have shown that the hydrogen storage capacity of the material can be enhanced by the rippling induced by theinteraction with specific substrates and by the presence ofmetal clusters. Light-weight metal intercalation is also favored by the corrugation. In graphene nanoribbons, extraordinarily versatile semiconducting materials, the optical and electronic behavior of each atomic specieshas been identified, opening the way to promising applications in nanoelectronics and optoelectronics. Moreover, the unique mechanical properties of graphene have been exploited in view of the development ofefficient ultrathin lubricant and antiwear coatings. In this context the mechanisms which induce a lower friction on realistic and extended graphene coatings have been investigated.


Researches concerning the development of defect-free nanowire semiconductor heterostructures focused on the understanding of nanoparticle-nanowire interactions during the metal-assisted growth. The activities, involving high-resolution imaging and modelling, lead to important results towards the achievement of a full control over the morphology and the properties of the systems.


The activities concerning oxide-based systems focused on transparent conducting and reducible oxides, of interest for energy and environmental applications. In transparent conducting oxidesthe optical and electronic modificationsinduced byhighly diluted elementsand by the additional defect species have been identified. In reducible oxides the proximity of metal species, reduced dimensionality and defect distribution have been shown to largely influence thereducibility, a property on which thediverse applications of the materialare based.


Flexible piezoelectric materials enable ultra-high pressure sensitivity and integration in accelerometers and nano-generators. The Institute activities focused on the understanding of the nanoscale interactions responsible for the piezoelectric mechanisms in individual polymeric nanowires and on the realization of more complex light-emitting systems.


Recent important results on the application of large orbital moment electron vortex beams concern the development of innovative methods for the measurement of magnetic fields. The Institute researchers exploited their first observation of the vertical Aharonov-Bohm effect as a new approach to quantify the longitudinal component of magnetic fields. To determine the transverse component, they developed a method which converts the magnetic phase into an amplitude by a unitary transformation of the wave function, achieved through new holographic elements.


Some of the main efforts planned for 2017-2019 are listed below:


     1. Hydrogen Storage in Graphene

     2. Frontiers of thermoelectrics in semiconductor quantum wires

     3. New oxide-based materials.

     4. Plasmonic and magnetic nanoparticles.

     5. Nanotribology at surfaces.

     6. Quantum electron microscopy and characterization.

     7. Materials and strategies for 4D printing.

     8. Fibers and soft-matter nanotechnology for photonics and energy harvesting.

     9. Ultrafast thermodynamics at the nanoscale.

    10. Hybrid interfaces for molecular spintronics.

    11. Atomically-controlled graphene nanostructures and ribbons.

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