Research centre
Nanostructured Materials

Nanostructured Materials

The special Research Centre for Nanostructured Materials was founded on 1 October 2016 in partnership with TNO and the Brightlands Materials Center and is a part of the Research Centre for Material Sciences. The Research Centre develops and produces nanostructured materials the properties of which are determined by a smart combination of chemical compositions and nanostructures.

These nanostructured materials have a myriad of applications:

  • Nanostructured materials with customized optic and/or electronic properties are used in building envelopes to improve the energy efficiency of buildings.
  • Nanostructured materials used for storing energy, focusing on chemical energy storage.
  • Nanostructured materials used in solar cells (in partnership with the special Research Centre Sustainable Energy in the Built Environment).

What are nanostructured materials?

The Greek word νανος or Latin nanus means ‘dwarf’. One nanometre - abbreviated to nm - equals one billionth (10-9) of a metre. On a more relatable scale, a tennis ball is one hundred million nanometres thick, a human hair is one hundred thousand nanometres thick, while a bacteria has a standard measurement of one thousand nanometres and a virus one hundred nanometres. So, what makes a nanomaterial? According to the scientific definition of a nanomaterial, it's a material that has a measurement between 1 nm and 100 nm in at least one dimension. In practice, and within this Research Centre, this definition is extended to include materials smaller than 1,000 nm, or 1 micrometre.

What makes nanostructured materials so special?
The general rule is that when you reduce the size of a material, you gain more surface area per volume in relation. Imagine a sphere with a radius of 1 metre: the surface area of the sphere is 12.56 m² with a volume of 4.19 m³. Thus, the surface area to volume ratio is 3. For a sphere with a radius of 1 mm this ratio is 3,000 and for a sphere with a radius of 1 nm it's 3 billion. This enormous increase in the surface area to volume ratio strongly determines the properties of nanomaterials and the way in which nanomaterials interact with the material in which they are incorporated. 

In addition, the properties of nanomaterials can also be determined by quantum size effects: these are the special properties that develop by the occlusion of electrons in small one, two or three-dimensional spaces. The Research Centre is focused on the development of nanomaterials with very specific optic properties. Nanomaterials have proven to be excellent for the manipulation of light, as the wavelength of light is similar to the standard size of a nanomaterial. The term manipulation includes the reflecting, passing, scattering, guiding, or changing colour of light. 

A good example can be found in nature in the bright blue wings of the Morpho rhetenor butterfly. Usually, a certain colour is created by dyes or pigments that absorb a portion of the visible light. The portion of the light that is not absorbed is reflected back from the coloured object to your eyes and determines the colour of the object. Traditionally, this is also what happens with blue colours. The beautiful blue garment worn by the Virgin Mary, for example, which is depicted on many Renaissance paintings, is based on the pigment ultramarine. 

Yet, a butterfly wing consists of a polymeric material that is not coloured called chitin. This is a variation on the natural polymeric cellulose, and is made up of the monomer N-Acetylglucosamine. The colour of the butterfly wing is determined only by the nanostructures on the surface - nano ‘Christmas trees’- that selectively reflect blue light. If you were to grind the wings to a powder and break down those structures, the material will lose its colour.

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  • About the lector

    Dr Pascal J.P. Buskens has been the chair of the special Research Centre for Nanostructured Materials since its founding on 1 October 2016. Pascal combines this position with his work as principal scientist for colloids and interfaces at TNO where he has been working since 2011. He also works at RWTH Aachen University as a Privatdozent at the DWI-Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials which is affiliated to the university.

    Between 1998 and 2003 he studied Chemistry at RWTH Aachen University and did his PhD research here at the Institut für Technische und Makromolekulare Chemie from 2003 to 2006, as part of the research group headed by Prof Walter Leitner. His PhD thesis focused on the clarification of the reaction mechanism of aza-Baylis-Hillman reactions, and the development of new methods to enantioselectively perform these reactions. In 2005, Pascal visited the University of Oxford for his PhD research to conduct specific research on the reaction mechanism.

    He started his professional career in 2006 at DSM Functional Coatings (now EBA Advanced Surfaces), where he worked until 2011 on the R&D programme for the development and commercialization of anti-reflective coatings for glass on solar panels.

  • Research

    Het lectoraat werkt aan de volgende deelonderwerpen.

    • Het bestuderen van de relatie tussen de eigenschappen van een geavanceerd materiaal, en diens chemische samenstelling en nanostructuur.
    • Het ontwerpen van geavanceerde nanogestructureerde materialen met eigenschappen die op maat gemaakt zijn voor een specifieke toepassing. Dit wordt mogelijk gemaakt met de kennis verworven in de studie benoemd onder het eerste punt.
    • Het maken van de onder punt 2 ontworpen geavanceerde materialen met specifieke chemische samenstelling en nanostructuur. Voor het realiseren van de juiste nanostructuur zal primair gebruik worden gemaakt van nanodeeltjes. Laboratoriumsynthese en opschaling van nanodeeltjes is dus een belangrijk onderdeel van het bijzonder lectoraat.
    • Het combineren van meerdere functies in één materiaal, en het overstappen van materialen met statische eigenschappen naar materialen die zich kunnen aanpassen aan omgevingsomstandigheden (adaptieve materialen). De natuur kent hier inspirerende voorbeelden zoals het neon tetravisje, dat de blauwe streep op zijn huid kan laten ontkleuren als het donker wordt.

    Pascal Buskens' publications.

  • Cooperation

    The special Research Centre works together with different parties to support nanostructured material research and regional objectives.

    Connecting fundamental and applied research
    The special Research Centre works together with the Brightlands Material CenterTNO, and universities such as RWTH Aachen University for optimal positioning and to support local and national companies in nanostructured material research. This makes it possible to link fundamental academic research at universities to applied research at Zuyd University of Applied Sciences and TNO. For this research, the special Research Centre will focus on the research questions posed by companies and support them in their product and technology development through targeted projects and the input of students and lecturer researchers.

    Regional objectives and transnational partnerships
    The special Research Centre supports the goals and objectives of the Chemistry of Advanced Materials programme of the top sector chemistry. Through its strategic partnership with TNO and the Brightlands Materials Center, it also converges with a number of regional objectives that are defined in Brainport 2020, the Limburg Economic Development agenda, and the Kennis-As Limburg document. The special Research Centre strives for transnational partnerships with universities and knowledge institutes.

Research Centre for Nanostructured Materials
Nieuw Eyckholt 300
NL-6419 DJ Heerlen