Individual pieces of a jigsaw puzzle joined together as if moved by magic - that is what material researchers of Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) imagine when they apply molecules to surfaces to produce materials for new technologies such as organic solar cells. To date, researchers knew very little about how large molecules attach themselves to surfaces and how they can be arranged. This is why the FAU research group funCOS has decided to investigate this borderland where molecules and surfaces meet. The German Research Foundation (DFG) recently approved the continuation of the research group's work until 2020 and will provide 3.5 million euros to fund it.
Understanding how molecules are arranged on surfaces is hugely important for many technologies such as, for example, the production of organic solar cells. Problems can occur if these particles are arranged incorrectly or unevenly. funCOS or 'Functional Molecular Structures on Complex Oxide Surfaces' intends to better manage molecular arrangements of the kind that can be used to capture sunlight or produce inexpensive electronic devices, to name but two examples.
The DFG research group, in which a total of 14 teams are participating, is headed by Prof. Dr. Jörg Libuda, Chair of Physical Chemistry II. Researchers and theorists from the fields of chemistry, physics and materials science are collaborating in order to solve the puzzle of molecular arrangement. And to achieve this, they need to investigate the behaviour of molecules on different surfaces and compile the research results to create a catalogue of models. Ultimately, the goal is to teach molecules where to go.
During the first research period from 2014 to 2017, the researchers worked mainly on developing a fundamental understanding of hybrid boundary surfaces with the help of simple model systems. The second funding period will be used to bridge the gap between this theoretical basis and practical conditions using real materials. This research will focus on aspects such as complex nanostructures and their interaction with realistic material environments, such as reactive gases and liquids.