The Nanochemistry Department at IIT aims to advance the exploitation of nanostructures, synthesized by chemical approaches, as building blocks for self assembly architectures across multiple length scales, from the molecular level up to the macroscopic world, and to apply the properties of these assemblies in a wide range of technologies, for instance in energy related fields and in biomedicine. Our main concern is to define paths to these architectures involving concepts that are amenable to large scale deposition and parallelization. The scientific skills and directions in the department have solid foundations on the expertise of Liberato Manna in the synthesis and assembly of nanostructures, of Teresa Pellegrino in soft matter, biofunctionalization and medical applications of nanostructures, and of Andrea Falqui in advanced microscopy, and are strictly interwoven with those of the Nanophysics and of the Nanostructures Departments. The main research areas of the Department can be summarized as follows:
Nanoparticles for Novel Self-Assembled Materials
We develop strategies of assembly that are able to create various types of nanoparticle architectures to be studied for collective properties. The advanced fabrication of colloidal nanocrystals with narrow size and shape distributions is the first goal, so that various properties can be tailored in each nanostructure. Applications range from nanoparticle-based lasers to light-harvesting and conversion devices and solar concentrators.
Nanoparticles for Energy
Regarding energy storage, we develop nanocrystal-based electrode materials for Li-ion batteries. We synthesize and test metal sulfides and phosphides and transition metal oxides nanoparticles of different shapes (flakes, rods and disks) as possible anode materials, whereas for cathode materials we are studying lithiated metal ternary (for example LiCoPO4) nanocrystals. We also work on nanocomposite materials for solar cells. Emphasis is on low toxicity and low impact on environment through the investigation of InP and Cu-, Cu-In-based chalcogenides. The same concern is guiding us in the synthesis of IR-active nanocrystals, where the exploitation of plasmonic materials appears to be very exciting. We plan to fabricate plasmon-enhanced photovoltaic cells operating in the NIR, by testing various types of plasmonic nanoparticles, like the recently synthesized NIR-active Cu2-xSe nanocrystals. We are also involved in the preparation of nanocrystal inks for low-cost photovoltaics. In catalysis, we are applying colloidal nanoparticles to the water gas shift reaction and the CO preferential oxidation. Our focus is on hybrid nanoparticles made of a noble or a transition metal (metal alloy) domain connected to a metal oxide domain acting as a nano-support. The long term goal is the preparation of active and stable catalytic systems for both selected processes.
Nanobeads for Cell Tracking and Separation
We fabricate sub-micron size surface-functionalized nanobeads based on clusters of superparamagnetic nanoparticles and fluorescent nanocrystals. Among the many advantages of these beads over more traditional tools, worthy of note is that they are at the same time magnetic and fluorescent and their surface can be functionalized with tailored molecules for specific targeting. Additionally their surface can be engineered to be pH-responsive, for loading/releasing of polycationic/polyanionic molecules. A thermo-responsive or pH-responsive polymeric layer, acting as protecting layer with biodegradable properties, can be associated to the beads. One of our long term goals is to prepare nano-objects capable to isolate, identify and manipulate cancer stem cells in a tissue, in order to target and eliminate them.
Nanobeads for Intelligent Drug Delivery
We develop stimuli-responsive magnetic carriers for controlled release of various agents, such that they can be delivered selectively to the tumour site. We use pH and thermo-sensitive hydrogels, which undergo volume changes and thus can incorporate/release drugs under physical and/or chemical stimuli (i.e. heat or pH). We have already demonstrated the feasibility and the advantages of combining hydrogels with various nanocrystals. Including magnetic nanoparticles within the hydrogels can facilitate the delivery and the detection under a magnetic field to a tumour site and can act as a hyperthermia agent to heat locally the nanostructure and trigger the drug release. Our objective is to have biodegradable hydrogel nanocarriers for combining hyperthermia mediated by nanoparticles with stimuli-responsive drug carriers.