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Past Research Projects

FIRB "Futuro in ricerca" (2012-2016) as coordinator of the Bologna research unit of a project entitled: “Supramolecularly templated synthesis of homochiral carbon nanotubes for photovoltaic applications” (SUPRACARBON)

Abstract: The use of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) in the development of next generation high performance solar cells is one of the ways to have an efficient sunlight harvesting, and is currently one of the hot topics in the field of organic solar cells. However, the route towards CNT-based materials on material science for nanotechnological applications such as solar energy transducer devices is severely limited by the difficulties of producing structurally controlled CNTs (e.g., diameter, length and helicity to name a few parameters). The structural control would enable to get, for example, all the semiconductor nanotubes with the same gap. The objective of this multidisciplinary project, SUPRACARBON, is to demonstrate the feasibility of organizing and engineering surfaces with defined chiral host and receptor sites, perhaps aligned in a periodic manner, where catalyst clusters can be hosted. Using these catalysts, the nanotubes should grow following the chirality of the receptor sites.

Bilateral significant project Italy – USA (2014-2015, Ministry of Foreign Affairs) as a coordinator of a project entitled: “Dendritic upconverting nanoparticles for optical imaging” in collaboration with Prof. Sergei Vinogradov (Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, UPenn, Philadelphia, US)

Abstract: The present project is based on a novel class of nanomaterials for optical imaging, comprising lanthanide upconverting nanoparticles (UCNPs) and dendrimers. The absorption of two or more photons by UCNPs leads to the emission of light at shorter wavelength than the excitation wavelength. The outstanding property of UCNPs is that this energy upconversion process can be induced by low-power infrared continuous wave light sources, very useful for depth-resolved high-resolution microscopy. Dendrimers are repeatedly branched tree-like macromolecules that exhibit well-defined structures and a high degree of structural complexity. By using suitable synthetic strategies it is possible to prepare dendrimers that contain selected functional units in predetermined sites of their structure, namely core, branches and surface. Combining UCNPs and dendrimers is the key novelty of our project. Modification of UCNP surfaces with hydrophilic dendrimers will make up an efficient and general route to soluble bio-compatible UCNPs. The dendrimers will also provide recognition sites in order to induce selective sensing of specific biological analytes, like Ca2+ and pH.

Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowships (2011-2013) as coordinator of a project entitled “Lanthanide Dendrimer-Polymer Hybrids” (Ln-Dendri-Pols), Fellow: Dr. Evan Guy Moore

Abstract: Organic complexes of lanthanides are enjoying a renaissance due to their increased commercial usage (eg. in lighting/display devices, as MRI contrast agents, as luminescent markers for bioassay). However, considerable challenges remain to overcome the low molar absorbance coefficients of Ln(III) cations and limited luminescent performance of emitters in the Near-Infra Red (NIR). This project will characterise lanthanide chelates with unique topologies provided by dendrimers and 'star-shaped' polymer materials, which allow for the incorporation of multiple sensitizing chromophores and shield the luminescent metal from deactivation by its immediate environment. These compounds will have improved luminescent performance at wavelengths desired for biological assays and biomedical imaging.

PRIN 2010-11 (active in 2013-2015) as member of the Bologna research unit coordinated by Francesco Paolucci: “Hierarchical Photosynthetic Nano-Structures for Carbon-Neutral Renewable Energy (HI-PHUTURE)” (national coordinator Prof. Maurizio Prato)

Abstract: The goal of the HI-PHUTURE consortium is to address the fundamental principles of an integrated H2O oxidation/CO2 reduction cycle, for efficient solar energy storage, and environment remediation. The ultimate target is to drive CO2 photoreduction to liquid fuels such as methanol, methane or light hydrocarbons, as well as to commodity chemicals such as formic acid/formate or synthetic gas (H2/CO mixture), while using H2O as the primary, carbon-free, renewable source of reducing equivalents (electrons, protons, and/or H2).The scientific objectives focus on the design and assembly of innovative photosynthetic nanostructures enabling a series of cascade events and targeting the fundamental and applicative challenges of photocatalysis for small molecule activation: (i) the light-driven oxidation of H2O to extract oxygen, protons and electrons as reducing equivalents; (ii) the active absorption/capturing/concentration of CO2 leading to stabilized/reactive intermediates (iii) the engineering of multi-redox catalysts; (iv) the bottom-up fabrication of reactive surfaces (electrodes and heterogeneous assemblies).

Bilateral significant project Italy – China (2010-2013, Ministry of Foreign Affairs) as a coordinator of a project entitled:“Dendrimers as new materials for enviromentally friendly solar cells” in collaboration with Prof. Yuguo Ma (Peking University, Beijing, China)

Abstract: Dendrimers are monodisperse macromolecules with a nanometric well defined tree-like structure. Their architecture is reminiscent of that of natural light harvesting complexes, and is very attractive for the construction of artificial antennae to collect solar light. Selected functional groups can be placed in predetermined sites of their structure (core, branching points, and periphery). The present project aims at developing solar cells based on the Grätzel design, the so called Dye Sensitized Solar Cell (DSSC). The novelty of the present approach is related to the fact that the molecular photosensitizer adsorbed on TiO2 nanoparticles will be replaced by photoactive dendrimers or multichromophoric systems, so that different types of chromophoric units can be inserted and organized in the dimensions of time, energy, and space. This architecture will improve the matching between the efficiency of solar energy absorption and conversion into electricity.

Vinci Programme (2009-2012) co-supervisor of a PhD student together with Prof. Marc Gingras (University of Marseille, France) on a project entitled: “Molecular dendritic antennae as photosensitizers of solar cells”

Abstract:: Solar cells convert solar energy into electricity. Among the different types, Grätzel cells are based on sensitization of high band-gap semiconductors by dyes able to absorb solar light. To improve their efficiency, it is necessary to increase the fraction of light absorbed and reduce the possibility of recombination photogenerated charges. Dendrimers, monodisperse macromolecules, with well-defined structures can solve both problems. The goal of the present project is to design and synthesize dendrimers able to perform as efficient light-harvesting antennae on the entire solar spectrum. This energy should then be funneled to the dendrimer/semiconductor interface to have charge injection.

PRIN 2008 (active in 2009-2012) as coordinator of the Bologna research unit: “Photoactive Dendrimers as molecular antennae coupled to metallic nanoparticles” (national coordinator Prof. Franco Scandola)

Abstract: The research project is focussed on the conversion of solar energy into chemical energy: to reach this goal, the first step is solar light harvesting. Main goal of the work done by this research unit is indeed the design and characterization of artificial molecular antennae, i.e. multicomponent systems where several chromophores absorb light and funnel the electronic energy toward a single common acceptor. The originality of the present project consists in coupling the tasks of molecular antennae and metal nanoparticle containers by dendrimers. The obtained photoactive dendrimers will be employed in the hydrogen production by water photolysis in the presence, at least in the first stage, of a sacrificial reagent.

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