What is the Centre for Molecular Materials and Functions at IITM?

The Centre for Molecular Materials and Functions at IIT Madras aim to explore challenges in two types of molecular solids:

  • Metal Clusters: Significant progress has already been made in the study of metal clusters containing precise arrangements of tens to hundreds of atoms. The current challenge posed to the centre is to bridge the gap between individual molecules and bulk materials by creating kilo and megadalton superclusters. Using thermodynamically stable building materials, these clusters are hypothesized to be assembled to form co-crystals with unique magnetic and photoelectric properties. Studying stable clusters in all three phases will provide insight into their phase transitions, with immense potential for identification of commercially valuable materials.
  • Gas Hydrates: With respect to gas hydrates, the main focus would be on utilization of hydrate cages as molecular containers where isolated cryogenic chemistry can occur. A fundamental question that still puzzles the scientific community is the derivation of molecules from simple diatomics to the complex structures that ultimately led to life as we know it. Discovery of clathrate hydrates containing trapped molecules in interstellar space suggest that chemical reactions can occur in water cages. Exploring chemistries within these cages is hypothesized to provide a fresher perspective on molecular evolution.

The program has been divided into two main phases based on the deliverables it aims to achieve:

  • Phase 1 (1-2 years): This research phase includes development of means of synthetic growth of nanoparticle nuclei, 2D and 3D cluster compounds, and molecular materials through microdroplet synthesis. Through computational methods the centre will determine the properties of novel materials and evaluate defect-free properties using electron tomographic reconstruction, APT and XRD. It will also work towards generation of high-flux electrospray to produce cluster ion beams and determine its spectroscopic nature. By the end of this phase, the centre aims to publish 20 research papers and 5 patents.
  • Phase 2 (3-5 years): The centre will strive for the development of techniques like Mega-Dalton Mass Spectrometry to enhance understanding of nanomaterials at a molecular level. Through X-ray diffraction, it would study giant nanoclusters and perform high end structural analysis of linkages in nanocluster-biomolecules. It would also explore exotic properties like electro, phonon transport properties, photoconductivity, magnetism and superconductivity in nano-structures and discuss the plausibility of electroreduction of CO2. At the completion of this phase, the centre targets 80 published papers and 15 patents.

New materials will be utilized in numerous ways by international researcher groups involved with catalysis, CO2 reduction, water splitting and more. Mass spectroscopy will be used to gain insight into elementary reactions and properties of gold, silver, palladium and platinum. Clustering of precious metals on oxidized surfaces is being investigated for use in CO oxidation, solar cell dye and hydrogen fuel cells.