BNL Home

Five-year Strategic Plan

Posted April, 2018
Photo of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials

Executive Summary

The Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) is a Nanoscale Science Research Center operated for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and located at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL).  As a national scientific user facility, the CFN offers users a supported research experience with top-caliber scientists and access to state-of-the-art instrumentation.  The CFN mission is advancing nanoscience to impact society, by being an essential resource for the worldwide scientific community and by carrying out transformative basic research that produces the nanomaterial breakthroughs in support of the energy, economic, and national security of the United States.  Crucial to realizing this vision is having strong synergy between the CFN and the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), also located at BNL.

The CFN Five-year Strategic Plan is implemented to most effectively serve a nanoscience community with evolving interests and needs, providing flexibility and nimbleness for taking advantage of new opportunities for impactful science. At the Plan’s foundation are three nanoscience Themes that guide development of new, state-of-the-art facilities, reflect the technical expertise of the staff, and determine a unique CFN 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 continues to invest in creating a comprehensive suite of tools for operando studies of materials such as catalysts, photocatalysts, and battery electrodes. In the next five years, the CFN will advance its 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, can use combinations of in-situ and operando capabilities at high temperatures and variable pressures, to elucidate catalytic reaction mechanisms. Aberration-corrected transmission electron microscopy with high spatial and energy resolution illuminates reaction pathways and associated changes in energy storage systems. Scanned-probe microscopy, infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy and X-ray photoemission spectroscopy provide details on the elementary steps of reactions relevant to energy transformation through coordinated studies of model catalyst systems. Computational methods allow users to link atomistic structures to specific spectroscopic signatures and with catalytic functionality.

The focus of Theme 2 is Nano-architectures. Assembling nanostructures into wide-area materials while preserving the advantageous properties offered by their internal structure is essential for real-life solutions. The CFN has significant scientific expertise 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. Taking advantage of instrumentation for controlling material dimensions at the nanoscale over macroscopic areas, users can create multi-component, nanostructured material 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, targeting discovery of the principles underlying by-design self-organization and 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 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) is crucial for developing novel approaches for self-assembling arrays and clusters based on molecular recognition, and for 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 and new methods to probe structure include 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 is 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, an engaged user community, and a portfolio of state-of-the-art facilities including those operated in partnership with NSLS-II — working safely and supported by excellent operations, are the Pillars for implementing the Strategic Plan. The CFN will strive for higher levels of user engagement, especially users from industry, through strategic partnerships with larger initiatives, 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 maintain its status as a cutting-edge Facility.

A high priority will be continuing to deepen the partnership between the CFN and NSLS-II, by further investing in the four existing instruments developed and operated in partnership; working together to identify and capitalize on opportunities to develop and operate unique new X-ray nanoscience instruments; advancing joint projects with NSLS-II staff and users that exploit the complementary properties of X-rays and electrons to collect multimodal information on the same samples; and developing a user-proposal system that seamlessly integrates the user experience of carrying out projects utilizing both CFN and NSLS-II facilities.