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Five-year Strategic Plan

Posted July, 2016
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Executive Summary

The Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) is a DOE Nanoscale Science Research Center located at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), with the dual mission of enabling external Users to carry out advanced nanoscience projects and conducting in-house research to discover, understand, and exploit energy-related nanomaterials, all under one roof. The CFN is envisioned as an open hub for nanoscience research internationally renowned for its science and impact on society, where engaged Users and expert staff utilize the most advanced tools for breakthrough discoveries of novel materials and phenomena at the nanoscale. Crucial to realizing this vision is the CFN’s strong synergy with the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), which has begun operations and will deliver world-leading photon brightness.

The Strategic Plan is designed so that the CFN can serve most effectively a nanoscience community with evolving interests and needs, as well as take advantage of new opportunities for impactful science. At the Plan’s foundation are three broad scientific Themes that guide development of the CFN’s state-of-the-art facilities and reflect the technical expertise of the staff, and thereby determine the CFN’s unique identity.

Theme 1 emphasizes the study of Nanomaterials in Operando Conditions. While the importance of probing materials under operating conditions has long been recognized, interrogating them at the nanoscale to derive atomic-level information on chemical processes has only recently become possible. The CFN has assembled a comprehensive suite of tools to provide such information for materials such as catalysts, photocatalysts, and battery electrodes. In the next five years, the CFN will advance operando capabilities, integrating them with complementary ones being developed at NSLS-II to make BNL the world leader for operando studies of nanomaterials.

CFN Users, independently or in collaboration with the CFN staff, will be able to elucidate catalytic reactions using a combination of in-situ and operando capabilities at high temperature and pressures, in some cases, above atmospheric pressure. Aberration-corrected transmission electron microscopy with high spatial and energy resolution will help them understand reaction pathways and associated changes in energy storage systems. Scanning probe microscopy, infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy and X-ray photoemission spectroscopy will provide details on the elementary steps of reactions relevant to energy transformation through coordinated studies of model catalyst systems. Computational methods will allow Users to link atomistic structures to specific spectroscopic signatures and with catalytic functionality.

The focus of Theme 2 is Nano-architectures for Energy Solutions. Assembling nanostructures into large-area materials while preserving the advantageous properties offered by their internal structure is essential for real-life solutions. The CFN has significant scientific strength and capabilities for constructing nanostructured materials by combining self-assembly (e.g., using block copolymers) with nanofabrication methods to create wide-area energy structures that are difficult to realize by other means.

During the next five years, CFN scientists will devise innovative nanomaterial architectures by combining new synthesis and patterning methods, leveraging unique self-assembly platforms for creating complex nanostructured materials for energy applications. Taking advantage of planned instrumentation and existing capabilities for controlling material dimensions at the nanoscale over macroscopic areas, Users will be able to create multi-component, nanostructured materials architectures. For example, having controlled nanostructures over substantial areas for photocatalysis or photovoltaic applications will uniquely support performance optimization.

The subject of Theme 3 is Self-assembled Nanomaterials by Design, aiming at the discovery of the principles underlying by-design self-organization and the fabrication of functional hybrid organic-inorganic structures via self-assembly. Self-assembly of hybrid structures, although promising for large-scale and in-volume preparation of nanomaterials with targeted functionalities, remains quite challenging because of the complexity of the material constituents and their interactions. The recognized expertise of CFN scientists in self-organization of nanomaterials with soft matter molecules (e.g., DNA and polymers) will be crucial to developing novel approaches for self-assembling arrays and clusters based on molecular recognition, and to devising new ways of probing assembly phenomena in-situ, in real time, and at multiple spatial and temporal scales.

These new methods will allow Users and staff to create nanoparticle arrays with prescribed organization and compositions, dynamically tunable and reconfigurable self-assembled systems that mimic protein folding, and nanoparticle clusters with tailored particles. Advanced characterization will be possible with new methods to probe structure using the nanoscale coherent X-ray beams at NSLS-II and with 3D imaging of nanostructures by cryo and in-liquid electron microscopy. Theory and simulation will be an invaluable complement to the experimental effort, including development of effective self-assembly strategies, assessment of the inherent stability of the resulting morphologies, and mapping the advantages and limitations imposed by kinetics.

An expert staff and an engaged User community working safely and supported by excellent operations, and state-of-the-art facilities, including those located at NSLS-II, are the Pillars for implementing the Strategic Plan. The CFN will strive for higher levels of engagement with Users, especially those from industry, through initiatives that include strategic partnerships with institutional groups, an enhanced online presence, and technical workshops customized to communities with special needs. During the next five years, the CFN will make major upgrades to its distinctive capabilities, invest in new instrumentation, and develop new data-management methods to further enhance User science and in-house research, and maintain its status as a cutting-edge Facility.

Of the highest priority will be the development of the natural synergy between the CFN and NSLS-II, which significantly contributes to the CFN identity, through Partner User Agreements involving CFN-developed and operated endstations at NSLS-II beamlines; joint projects with NSLS-II staff and Users that exploit the complementary properties of X-rays and electrons to image the same catalyst under the same operating conditions and to elucidate the function of electrochemically active interfaces in batteries; and a joint electronic user-proposal system that will make seamless the experience of Users carrying out projects that utilize both CFN and NSLS-II facilities.

Successfully implementing this Strategic Plan is instrumental for building a highly productive community of Users and achieving breakthrough discoveries in nanoscience by expert CFN staff.