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Theme II – Manipulating nanoscale interactions

The goal of this theme is to study the mechanical forces and the electromagnetic interactions between nanoscale constituents at length scales that vary from the atomic to the sub-micron.

A central motif here is to study and control the forces, the electromagnetic interactions, and the energy dissipation between nanoscale constituents at interaction lengths that vary from the atomic scale (~0.1 nm) to distant (~100 nm). These interactions can be collective and dissipative, making it challenging to predict and control them. This is the case in a large variety of nanoscale systems, such as the nonlinear response of nano-electromechanical systems (NEMS) and metasurfaces (10–100 nm), the fundamentals of friction at the nanoscale (1-100 nm), the molecular dynamics of materials (1–10 nm), and the synthesis of heterogeneous materials (0.1–100 nm).

This common motif ties together the major planned research thrusts at CNM belonging to this theme:

Computational Molecular Dynamics is informed by artificial intelligence techniques and feeds into all three of our science research themes by providing broad materials discovery and materials design guidance. Here, CNM’s goal has been to apply machine learning and data science approaches in concert with first-principles physics and/or experimental data to develop a suite of significantly more accurate (compared to what is available today), yet computationally efficient approaches for simulating the interaction between atoms for molecular dynamics calculations.

Science of Tribology and Superlubricity at the Nanoscale focuses on the fundamental understanding of the atomistic-scale dynamical processes at surface interfaces that are crucial for the design of functional lubricants. CNM’s unique research and direction harnesses zero- and two-dimensional nanomaterials and carries out discovery science in solid-state lubricants for superlubricity (the state of zero friction) under realistic conditions. We explore the materials phase space to identify two-dimensional materials that in combination with nanoparticles that can lead to superlubricity, with the aim to develop an overall materials genome that may enhance lubricant design.

Science of Metasurface Engineering harnesses collective interactions at the ~10 nm length scale to study and create metasurface and NEMS-based miniaturized optical systems. All bodies are surrounded by fluctuating electromagnetic fields due to thermal and quantum fluctuations of the charge and current density at the surface of the bodies. Immediately outside the bodies, this electromagnetic field exists partly in the form of propagating electromagnetic waves and partly in the form of evanescent waves that decay exponentially with distance away from the body’s surface. In this research theme, we intend to implement reliable methods to probe, control, and manipulate nanostructures by controlling these near-field forces.

Synthesis of Nanomaterials Across Scales represents a broad, traditional area of strength for CNM and influences research in all three of our scientific themes. Here, where we have made significant progress over the past decade in the control of zero-, one-, and two-dimensional materials synthesis using a variety of colloidal and solution chemistry, biochemical, and vacuum deposition methods. Examples include the incorporation of plasmonic nanostructures for metasurface engineered flat lenses, the synthesis of hybrid nanomaterials as solid lubricants for superlubricity applications, and the planned synthesis of single-photon emitting quantum materials.