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Five-year Strategic Plan

Posted March, 2019
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Executive Summary

The Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) is a Nanoscale Science Research Center operated for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) 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 nanoscience research to support the energy, economic, and national security of the United States. Deep strategic partnerships are crucial to CFN mission success, including the strong synergy with 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. Three nanoscience Themes form the foundation of the Plan. They guide development of new, state-of-the-art facilities, reflect the technical expertise of the staff, and determine a unique CFN identity.

The subject of Theme One is Nanomaterial Synthesis by Assembly, which has an ultimate goal of realizing a design strategy for synthesis of materials with targeted functionally by assembly of nanoscale components into precise architectures. CFN research on self-assembly focuses on devising new strategies for interaction- and process-controlled assembly of components, discovery of the governing principles underlying self-assembly, and understanding assembly pathways using advanced ex-situ and in-situ characterization and computational methods. 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.

Efforts are focused on developing nanomaterial synthesis-by-assembly methods and realizing functional material designs from polymer, nanoparticle, biomolecule-based, and 2D material components. Automation of the synthesis-by-assembly process will provide parallelism and reproducibility, facilitate assembly of increasingly complex architectures, provide control of assembly pathways, and allow incorporation of real-time feedback during processing. Advanced characterization and new methods to probe structure include nanoscale coherent X-ray beams at NSLS-II and 3D imaging of nanostructures by cryo- and in-liquid electron microscopy. Theory and simulation complement the experimental effort, including developing effective self-assembly strategies, assessing of the inherent stability of resulting morphologies, and mapping the advantages and limitations imposed by kinetics.

The focus of Theme Two is Accelerated Nanomaterial Discovery. While historically the discovery and development of new materials has followed an iterative process of synthesis, measurement, and modeling, suitable integration of advanced characterization, robotics, and machine-learning provides an opportunity for radically accelerating the material design process. The CFN has a demonstrated record of discovering nanomaterials by applying new materials synthesis strategies, advanced characterization, and machine-learning. Integrating these efforts will enable autonomous platforms for iteratively exploring materials parameter spaces, which have potential to revolutionize materials science by uncovering fundamental links between synthetic pathways, material structure, and functional properties.

During the next five years, CFN scientists will conduct research and develop instruments toward accelerating the materials discovery loop. Realizing this vision requires advancing and automating all aspects of the discovery process, including: implementing combinatorial libraries and real time synthesis platforms; improving multi-modal characterization and analysis of complex datasets; and using machine-learning to drive experiments.

Theme Three emphasizes the study of Nanomaterials in Operando Conditions. Interrogating materials at the nanoscale to derive atomic-level information on physicochemical processes under operating conditions remains a forefront and evolving nanoscience research field. The CFN continues to augment its comprehensive suite of instruments for operando studies of nanomaterials such as catalysts, photocatalysts, and battery electrodes. In the next five years, the CFN will increasingly integrate its operando capabilities together and with complementary ones being developed at NSLS-II to strengthen BNL leadership in multimodal operando nanomaterial studies.

CFN users, working independently or collaborating with CFN staff, use combinations of in-situ and operando capabilities at high temperatures and variable pressures to understand catalytic reaction mechanisms. Aberration-corrected transmission electron microscopy with high spatial and energy resolution illuminates reaction pathways and structural changes in energy storage systems. Scanned-probe microscopy, infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy, and X-ray photoemission spectroscopy provide details on the elementary reaction steps through coordinated studies of model catalyst systems. Computational methods link atomistic structures to specific spectroscopic signatures and with catalytic functionality.

The foundational Pillars for implementing this Strategic Plan are: an expert staff, an engaged user community, and a portfolio of strategic research partners — all working safely and supported by excellent operations and a portfolio of state-of-the-art nanoscience facilities. The CFN will strive for higher levels of user engagement, through strategic partnerships with larger initiatives with synergistic goals, technical workshops customized to communities with specialized needs, and by more visibly promoting user science accomplishments. During the next five years, the CFN will invest in new instrumentation and make major upgrades to its distinctive capabilities, and also develop new data-analytics and data-management methods to maintain its status as a cutting-edge Facility.

A high priority is continuing to enhance the partnership between CFN and NSLS-II, through investing further in four partner X-ray nanoscience instruments; working together to identify and capitalize on opportunities to create unique, new capabilities; and 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.