The Materials Physics (IMOMAF) research group focuses on developing innovative solutions to successfully bridge the gap between fundamental research and industrially compatible materials systems and processes. This is done in a wide range of fields, from nano and quantum physics to electronics, advanced sensing, and healthcare materials. Cooperation with industrial partners plays a crucial role in the IMOMAF research group.
The research group includes various subgroups with specific and complementary expertise, which work closely together and operate within the spearhead domains of Hasselt University's Institute for Materials Research (IMO). Moreover, the IMOMAF research group is affiliated with the IMEC associated laboratory "IMOMEC". The main activities are focused on:
- Wide bandgap materials
- Quantum technologies
- Organic opto-electronics
- Nano-scaled materials
- Energy materials & interfaces
- Healthcare materials & sensing
- Analytical & microscopical services
The research group regularly acts as a partner in various European, Flemish, national and international research programmes and networks and has a long tradition of joint research and service provision with industry and research centres.
The expertise groups within IMOMAF are:
Wide Band Gap Materials (WBGM): Prof. dr. Ken Haenen and dr. Paulius Pobedinskas.
WBGM group encompasses a wide range of wide band gap semiconductors topics, mostly focusing on chemical vapor deposition (CVD) diamond, but also other materials such as h-BN, ZnO, and AlN. For this, the group has access to seven different CVD reactors and three physical vapor deposition machines. The CVD reactors are used in order to grow n- and p-type diamond films from single crystal to polycrystalline, including low temperature (300 ⁰C) and large area (30 x 30 cm2) deposition. In addition, diamond films with novel color centers based on Eu, Ge, etc. are broadly investigated. The research topics include but are not limited to the influence of substrate orientation on growth and dopant incorporation mechanism, their thermionic emission and electronic transport properties, fabrication and characterization of diamond‑based high‑power electronics, diamond membranes, and the formation of heterostructures of BN/diamond, and diamond/AlGaN/GaN.
Quantum Photonics (QPhot): Prof. dr. Milos Nesladek.
The Quantum Photonics group deals with optical and photoelectric techniques for measurements of quantum degrees of freedom, and using the developed platforms in the quantum technology field. The key specialisation of the group is photo-electric spectroscopy and using the photo-electric techniques for coherent quantum state readout. The group has developed photocurrent detected magnetic resonance (PDMR) technique applied to NV electron spin state measurements and realised electrical readout of single NV qubit at room temperatures.
Another focus of the group are luminescent nanoparticles specifically, fluorescent nanodiamond (FND) with NV colour centres, that have important perspective for nanoscale imaging for biology and medicine. By functionalizing the fluorescent nanodiamond with biomolecules, intracellular sensors for detection and imaging of biochemical processes, ongoing in the cellular machinery, are being developed.
Organic Opto-Electronics (OOE): Prof. dr. ir. Koen Vandewal.
Research activities of this interdisciplinary group aim to understand fundamental opto-electronic processes in organic and hybrid organic-inorganic semiconductors for novel opto-electronic devices. More specific scopes of the group are:
- The study of fundamental structure-property relations (electro-optical properties, morphology, …) of novel organic based and hybrid organic-inorganic semiconducting materials using advanced electro-optical characterization techniques, guiding the synthesis of new materials with improved performance.
- The preparation and characterization of next generation (printable) photonic prototype devices (solar cells, LEDs, transistors, (bio)-sensors, photo-detectors, …) based on low-cost emerging semiconducting materials. These activities benefit from collaboration with the EMAP research group.
- The study of fundamental photon-to-photon, photon-to-electron and electron-to-photon energy conversion mechanisms in novel material systems incorporated in novel device concepts.
The studied organic and hybrid semiconductor materials include polymers, small molecules, and metal halide perovskites designed by the MATCHEM research group.
Nano Structure Physics (NSP): Prof. dr. Hans-Gerd Boyen.
The Nanostructure Physics group is focusing its research on fundamental topics in nanoscience and nanotechnology with a strong emphasis towards new materials and applications. The main goal of our work is to improve the current understanding of all physical and chemical properties of advanced nano-scaled materials (nanoparticles, nanowires, ultrathin films, muli-layers) including their electronic & atomic (molecular) structure, charge transport, optical and thermodynamic properties, chemical reactivity, etc. Current activities concentrate on thin film photovoltaics with special emphasis on perovskite-based solar cells thereby establishing, beside material-related bulk properties, the impact of surface and interface-related phenomena on the performance of such devices, all studied exploiting a variety of electron spectroscopic techniques.
Energy Materials and Interfaces (EMINT): Prof. dr. Frank Uwe Renner.
Energy materials, their functioning, operation, and their degradation are in the core of reaching a sustainable society. The EMINT group aims to gain mechanistic insight into related reactions of materials and interfaces. Research focuses on electrochemical interfaces, in particular related to active materials and electrodes of Li-Ion Batteries (LIB) or solar cells, but also on electrodeposition and wet corrosion including alloying and dealloying processes.
Chemical and electrochemical reactions naturally take place on the molecular or atomic scale. High-resolution techniques are therefore ultimately important to gain deeper understanding. Next to common laboratory-based techniques and surface science approaches, also more advanced structural and spectroscopic methods such as Atom Probe Tomography (APT) or Hard X-ray Photoelectron-Spectroscopy (HAXPES) are employed. The group furthermore utilizes Synchrotron Light for example for in-situ X-ray diffraction at electrochemical interfaces.
Nanobiophysics & Soft Matter Interfaces (NSI): Prof. dr. Anitha Ethirajan.
The NSI group focuses on the fundamental and applied aspects of various Soft Matter interfaces with special emphasis on nanomedicine and biosensors.
- The research activities include development and characterization of various functional structures with interesting properties aimed towards biosensors and nanomedicine (bioimaging, drug delivery, contrast agents and theranostics). The group addresses fundamental and applied research questions employing concepts in biophysical chemistry and engineering.
- The group has expertise on the development of functionalized nanoparticles that are sensitive to single or multiple stimuli (exogenous such as light, temperature and endogenous triggers such as pH, enzymes, ROS, GSH etc.,). Responsive nanocarriers designed to sense the local environment offer an elegant route to sense the complex biological microenvironments and allow for detection and targeted therapy at the same time.
- The research interests include also the study of structure-property relations of soft matter mixtures in confined geometry in the nanoscale with emphasis on the interfaces between the blend materials (e.g. active layer of a solar cell or polymer-drug/active ingredient).
- The interdisciplinary group has expertise in bottom-up (self-assembly, colloidal techniques) and top-down approaches, various surface engineering routes, molecularly imprinted polymers, electronic read-out techniques for sensing, and employs state-of-the art characterization tools to address the above-mentioned fields.
Within the nanomedicine research domain, the following topics are addressed:
- Nanoparticles/nanocapsules based therapies in the field of cancer, central nervous system, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine
- Hybrid nanoparticles containing lipid structures
- Nano-bio interfaces focusing on nanoparticle-cell interactions
- Theranostics agents based on nanoparticles
- Conjugated polymer-based nanoparticles for bioimaging
- Contrast agents for multi imaging modalities and therapy (microbubbles)
Within the biosensors research domain, the following topics are addressed:
- Molecularly imprinted poymers (MIP) based sensors for the detection of target molecules relevant to food, health, and environmental safety
- Intracellular sensors
Analytical & Microscopical Services (AMS): Prof. dr. Jan D'Haen and Prof. dr. Ward De Ceuninck
The AMS expertise group is active in the field of analytical and microscopical analyses (including reliability aspects) upon materials systems as well as upon a wide variety of microelectronic components. The group is specialized in the development of high resolution in-situ measurement techniques. In the first place, the group acts as a supporting unit to other imo-imomec groups and also to EnergyVille. Regular activities involve analytical & electrical characterization of experimental materials systems and/or experimental sensor devices. Internal projects have a clear focus on the development of electronic interfaces to biosensors and the development of reliability equipment for solar cells and modules. Besides the internal activities, the AMS group also participates with other research partners in a wide variety of research programs on a national & international level (in e.g. the framework of EnergyVille). Together with MATCHEM the group also acts as a major service centre towards industry by putting its specific knowledge and its state-of-the-art equipment at disposal of industry. From laser optics to biomedical devices, from raw materials to solar panels or high-speed processors, the imo-imomec services can help industrial development of new processes and materials, transfer those processes to production, qualify new production tools, solve production problems, and much more.