Science and Engineering

Nanotechnology and molecular science

Overview

Research

Our researchers work on various aspects of materials synthesis and characterisation.

We are currently exploring the applications of these novel materials in:

  • energy storage
  • nanomedicine
  • photocatalysis
  • environmental remediation
  • molecular switches
  • components for next generation computing.

We also have researchers who analyse the surfaces, chemical composition, physical morphology, electronic and optical properties of materials. They also examine the characteristics of environmental pollutants and their impacts on human health and the environment.

Rankings

Our research has made significant contributions to the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) ratings achieved by QUT in 2015.

We received:

  • 5 (well above world standard) in materials engineering, macromolecular and materials chemistry
  • 4 (above world standard) in mechanical engineering, physical chemistry (including structural chemistry), environmental sciences, environmental science and management, optical physics and other physical sciences.

ERA (Excellence in Research for Australia) evaluates the quality of research undertaken in Australian universities against national and international benchmarks.

Featured research

Our researchers collaborate on projects in specialised research groups and facilities across disciplines and institutions:

People

Discipline leader
Professor Godwin Ayoko
Professors
Professor Christopher Barner-Kowollik
Professor Stephen Blanksby
Professor Steven Bottle
Professor Dmitri Golberg
Professor Lidia Morawska
Professor Nunzio Motta
Professor Ken Ostrikov
Professor Zoran Ristovski
Professor Cheng Yan
Professor Huai Yong Zhu
Emeritus Professor Graeme George
Associate professors
Associate Professor Tim Dargaville
Associate Professor Esa Jaatinen
Associate Professor John McMurtrie
Associate Professor Kathryn Fairfull-Smith
Associate Professor Prashant Sonar
Associate Professor Eric Waclawik
Senior lecturers
Dr James Blinco
Dr Dennis De Pellegrin
Dr Emad Kiriakous
Dr Bill Lott
Dr Wayde Martens
Dr Branka Miljevic
Dr Kathleen Mullen
Dr Ziqi Sun
Dr Tuquabo Tesfamichael
Dr Jingsan Xu
Lecturers
Dr Graham Johnson
Associate lecturers
Dr Nathan Boase
Dr Aurelien Forget
Principal research fellows
Professor Leonie Barner
Senior research fellows
Dr Jennifer MacLeod
Dr Aaron Micallef
Postdoctoral fellows
Dr Laura Delafresnaye
Dr Tim Krappitz
Dr David Marshall
Dr Sarina Sarina
Dr Svetlana Stevanovic
Dr Bryan Tuten
Mr Timothy Van der Laan
Research fellows
Dr John Colwell
Dr Rohan Jayaratne
Dr Berwyck Poad
Dr Mahnaz Shafiei
Dr Phong Thai
Visiting fellows
Dr Mandana Mazaheri
Mr Michael Murphy
Dr Madeline Schultz
Dr Kristy Vernon
Facilities coordinators
Dr Llew Rintoul
Research associates/officers
Mr Konstantin Faershteyn
Dr Joseph Fernando
Dr Katarzyna Futrega
Dr Christiane Lang
Dr Josh Lipton-Duffin
Miss Nitika Mishra Pokhrel
Dr Chao Zhang
Adjunct professors
Adjunct Professor Peter Fredericks
Emeritus Professor Ray Frost
Adjunct Professor Tunga Salthammer
Adjunct associate professors
Adjunct Associate Professor John Bartley

Projects

Category 1 funded research we are currently leading:

Xe-plasma dual beam for advanced future materials

Leaders
Professor Nunzio Motta, Professor Dmitri Golberg, Professor Yuantong Gu, Professor Cheng Yan, Professor Kostya (Ken) Ostrikov and external collaborators.
Dates
2018-2019
Project summary

This ARC Linkage infrastructure, equipment and facilities funded project aims to establish a state of the art Xe-Plasma dual-beam facility providing characterisation and fabrication capabilities to Australia’s research community. The project will use two beams - one Xe, the other electrons - to mill the surface of bulk materials which are subsequently analysed by electron or ion beam techniques to determine atomic-scale microstructure(s) and compositions.

Anticipated outcomes are advanced materials engineering and new knowledge about ancient and future materials. This is expected to provide significant advances across a variety of fields including material science, engineering and geology and enhance trans-disciplinary collaborations.

A new generation of photoresists for three-dimensional laser lithography

Project leader
Professor Christopher Barner-Kowollik
Dates
2018-2021
Project summary

This project aims at a step-change in photoresist technology by introducing visible-light-induced photochemistry as the basis of next generation direct laser writing (DLW) technology. This willenable functional photoresists that allow precision coding of complex soft matter material properties on the three-dimensional nanoscale.

The outcomes of the project will enable the mild fabrication of three-dimensional structures with unique property control and resolution, benefitting diverse fields ranging from designer (stem) cell niches and lab-on-a-chip applications to photonic wire bonding.

Characterisation of mechanical behaviour of lithiated silicon

Project leader
Professor Cheng Yan
Dates
2018-2020
Project summary

This project aims to develop novel characterisation and numerical techniques, therefore aiming to solve the problem of mechanical failure in silicon based high energy density lithium-ion batteries. This will be achieved through development of novel techniques for in situ microscopy observation, nano-mechanics testing and atomistic modeling. The expected outcomes are effective solutions for development of reliable and efficient battery systems.

This project will provide significant benefits in the development of new power sources and energy storage devices for mobile electronics, electric vehicle and sustainable energy industries.

Secondary aerosol formation from engine exhaust emissions

Project leaders
Professor Zoran Ristovski, Dr Branka Miljevic, Professor Richard Brown, Dr Svetlana Stevanovic.
Dates
2018-2021
Project summary

This project aims to investigate the role of reactive volatile organic compounds from vehicles using alternative fuels in the formation and evolution of secondary organic aerosols (SOA). Expected outcomes include a greatly improved understanding of the mechanisms and precursors of SOA formation. The benefits should provide the knowledge needed to set vehicle emission regulations that can properly control urban air pollution episodes because the mechanisms and precursors of its formation will be better understood.

The project will also provide an experimental framework that will guide policy formulation and provide the science needed for development of strategies to improve air quality and health.

In situ electron microscopy toward new materials and applications

Project leader
Professor Dmitri Golberg
Dates
2017-2022
Project summary

This project will probe fundamental mechanical, electrical, thermal, optical, optoelectronic and photovoltaic properties of diverse nanostructures, targeting novel materials for structural and green energy applications. We will use spatially-resolved, dynamic in situ transmission electron microscopy. These techniques allow for direct measurement of nanomaterial (1D nanotubes and nanowires and 2D graphene-like nanosheets) response to external mechanical, electrical, optical and thermal stimuli . This will enable design of new ultralight and superstrong structural composites and green energy nanomaterials, such as solar cells, touch panels, batteries, supercapacitors, field-effect transistors, light sensors and displays.

Nanoparticle driven templating of microspheres as chromatographic materials

Project leader
Christopher Barner-Kowollik
Dates
2017-2020
Project summary

A novel high-performing class of nano-patterned core-shell particles as chromatographic materials will be pioneered using advanced polymerisation and particle preparation techniques, in combination with degradable nanoparticles design. This will enable the plug-and-play assembly of chromatographic columns. Size-exclusion chromatography (SEC) is one of the most important analytical techniques for polymer chemistry, yet critical advances are required with regard to chromatographic resolution and separation time, which this project addresses. Our team has forged a coherent consortium with world-leading suppliers of SEC - hard and software Polymer Standards Service (PSS) – to introduce a new class of high performance chromatographic phases.

Light-induced chemical modularity: a new frontier in macromolecular design

Project leader
Christopher Barner-Kowollik
Dates
2017-2022
Project summary

This project develops powerful light-driven chemistries for the modular construction of advanced macromolecular materials, introducing light-induced modular chemistry as a precision tool exploiting wavelength, intensity, time, and space as controlling features.

The outcome is a versatile light-based precision macromolecular synthetic technology platform. It will enable critical advances in soft matter material design and synthesis, ranging from selectivity control of chemical reactions, information-coded and biomimetic light-responsive macromolecules to advanced functional photoresists for 3D laser lithography. It will also advance materials that self-report structural transformations by light or are reprogrammable in their properties by photonic fields.

Soft materials containing hierarchy via 3D sacrificial micro-moulding

Project leader
Associate Professor Tim Dargaville
Dates
2016-2020
Project summary

The project seeks to develop sophisticated new polymeric materials and devices not possible using current manufacturing techniques. The project will focus on the development of a 3D moulding process for generating soft materials containing precise channels decorated with defined molecules. Intended outcomes include a fundamental understanding of the 3D moulding process, new polymers and advanced tools for bioengineers for future applications such as tissue transplants, cell guides for treating spinal cord injuries, soft robotics, and microfluidic devices to study cancer metastasis.

Establishing advanced networks for air quality sensing and analyses

Project leader
Professor Lidia Morawska
Dates
2016-2019
Project summary

This project aims to develop innovative, cost-effective, high-resolution air quality networks. Recent developments in sensor technologies improve the ability to harvest atmospheric data. This project will develop, validate and implement methods for high sensitivity atmospheric sensing and apply cutting-edge statistical and analytic techniques to the data sets, unprecedented in scope and resolution. Outcomes include an open access database to quantify and visualise intra-urban air pollution and human exposure and develop air quality maps and smoke pollution management tools.

Plasma-enabled processes of high-quality graphen films in touch screen devices

Project leader
Professor Kostya Ostrikov
Dates
2016-2019
Project summary

The project aims to develop novel plasma-enabled processes for low-cost, energy-efficient, and scalable growth of high-quality graphene films for applications in touch screen, solar cell and other devices. It aims to discover non-equilibrium plasma-surface interactions enabling nucleation and growth of graphene films with large and low-defect domains on metal catalysts at low temperatures, and then develop energy-efficient, environment-friendly, and scalable fabrication and device transfer processes. These processes are designed to retain high quality of graphene films upon scale-up and will be compatible with the existing and emerging applications in touch screens and other devices.The expected outcomes include fundamental understanding and novel practical approaches to control synthesis and device integration of two-dimensional atomically-thin materials.

Reducing carbon dioxide to useful products using solar energy

Project leader
Dr Jingsan Xu
Dates
2016-2019
Project summary

The project aims to develop novel photocatalysts for reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) to useful products using solar energy. Carbon dioxide (CO2) photoreduction is attracting growing attention because of its potential to mitigate CO2 emissions and convert the captured CO2 to chemical commodities. The project also plans to identify the photocatalytic mechanisms of the catalysts by investigating the reaction systems, such as the interface morphology, structure coherence and energy alignment of the component phases and reactant. Innovative technologies in the field of sunlight-driven photocatalysis have the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A new strategy to enhance the performance of metal catalysts with sunlight

Project leader
Professor Huai Yong Zhu
Dates
2015-2019
Project summary

This project aims to develop photocatalysis of supported metal nanoparticles to drive various chemical synthesis reactions at moderate temperatures using sunlight. The nanostructures of plasmonic metals (gold, silver and copper) are used as light absorbers to concentrate the energy of incident light and generate intense electromagnetic field, which are utilised to promote the catalytic reactions on transition metals in the photocatalysts. The mechanisms of these new photocatalytic processes will be defined.

Successful completion of this project will result in new strategies for catalytic chemical synthesis and valuable knowledge within the areas of catalysis, conversion of solar energy to chemical energy, and nanomaterials.

Nitroxide-containing scaffolds for controlling biofilm-related infections

Project leader
Dr Kathryn Fairfull-Smith
Dates
2015-2018
Project summary

Bacterial biofilms are a major problem in healthcare systems around the world as they cause persistent and chronic infections, including those associated with medical implants and cystic fibrosis. This project aims to develop new chemical approaches to deliver nitroxides at surface interfaces and in microparticles to facilitate long term control over biofilm growth.

It is expected that these functionalised scaffolds will represent a breakthrough in the field and will have a profound impact by reducing infection rates associated with medical devices and improving airway clearance in cystic fibrosis patients.

Characterisation of mechanical behaviour of TiO2 nanotube thin films

Project leader
Associate Professor Cheng Yan
Dates
2015-2017
Project summary

Vertically aligned titanium oxide (TiO2) nanotube arrays have demonstrated remarkable properties for application in dyesensitised solar cell, photocatalysis, self-cleaning coating, purification of pollutants and orthopaedic implants. More excitingly, their architecture and dimensions can be precisely controlled using anodisation of titanium (Ti), creating considerable scientific interest and practical importance.

This project aims to develop novel techniques for determining the mechanical behaviour of TiO2 nanotube arrays and its dependence on crystal structure and geometrical parameters. The outcomes are expected to provide solutions to development of robust TiO2 and other nanotube arrays for broad applications in sustainable energy and tissue engineering.

Great Barrier Reef as a significant source of climatically relevant aerosol particles

Project leader
Professor Zoran Ristovski
Dates
2015-2017
Project summary

Every cloud drop is formed from a microscopic aerosol particle, known as a cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). In unpolluted environments the CCN particles originate from biogenic sources. Determining the magnitude and driving factors of biogenic aerosol production in different ecosystems is crucial to the development and improvement of climate models.

This project aims to determine the mechanisms of new particle production from one of the biggest ecosystems in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef. It is expected that the project will establish whether marine aerosol along the Queensland coast is coral-derived and show that this aerosol can affect the CCN concentration and therefore cloud formation and the hydrological cycle.

Revolutionising protection against air pollution

Project leader
Professor Lidia Morawska
Dates
2015-2017
Project summary

This interdisciplinary project aims to develop a personalised air pollution exposure monitoring system, leveraging the ubiquitousness and advancements in mobile phone technology and state of the art miniaturisation of monitoring sensors, data transmission and analysis. Airborne pollution is one of the top contemporary risks faced by humans; however, at present individuals have no way to recognise that they are at risk or need to protect themselves.

It is expected that the outcome will empower individuals to control and minimise their own exposures. This is expected to lead to significant national socioeconomic benefits and bring global advancement in acquiring and utilising environmental information.

Fighting slime with free radicals - new surface coatings for biofilm remediation

Project leader
Dr Kathryn Fairfull-Smith
Dates
2014-2018
Project summary

Bacterial biofilms are a major problem in a number of environmental, industrial and medical applications. They cause significant risks to human health and present an enormous economic burden to society. This project aims to develop smart polymeric coatings that will discourage bacterial attachment and ensure greater long term control over biofilm growth.

These coatings represent a breakthrough in the field and will have a profound impact in many areas, including reducing infections related to medical implants and improving the efficiency of marine engineering systems.

Permanent concentration gradients captured in molecular and framework co-crystals

Project leader
Associate Professor John McMurtrie
Dates
2014-2018
Project summary

This project aims to design, synthesise and characterise molecular and framework co-crystals in which the molecular components are arranged in permanent concentration gradients. Synthetic crystals of this type are unprecedented. The concentration gradient has significant implications for the physical properties of the crystals (for example, optical, magnetic and electronic) as these must also vary in concert with the changing local molecular composition.

These co- crystals promise unique magnetic and optical properties that will influence design of new smart solid-state materials with potential for use in future high-technology applications.

Dyes and pigments as building blocks for novel high performance organic semiconductors

Project leader
Associate Professor Prashant Sonar
Dates
2013-2017
Project summary

Natural dyes and pigments are well known for their bright colours, photochemical and thermal stability, and cheap cost. Recently, the necessity of high performing materials in the organic electronics has stimulated a renaissance of these historical molecules and their subsequent derivatives into new families of p-conjugated building blocks used to construct new donor-acceptor semiconductors.

The aim of this project is to explore various novel dyes, pigments and their derivatives for constructing outstanding materials for future organic electronics.

Holistic evaluation of diesel exhaust filters and related measuring instrumentation

Project leader
Professor Zoran Ristovski
Project summary
The proposed project will determine how well current and new type diesel exhaust filters deal with ultra-fine (sub 100 nanometre sized) particles which are currently not measured in many mining related DPM studies. At the same time it will assess the applicability of possible measurement instruments to the testing of filters and equipment in working conditions at a mine site.

Student topics

Are you looking to further your career by pursuing study at a higher and more detailed level? We are currently looking for students to research a number of topics within a range of broad themes.

There are topics relevant to students who would like to pursue:

  • PhD study
  • Research masters
  • Research project (part of masters by coursework or undergraduate project unit).

Nanotechnology (including materials engineering)

Our discipline supports a range of projects covering the chemistry, physics and mechanical engineering aspects of materials, encompassing all materials scales. A snapshot of our research activity includes:

Nanomaterials

  • carbon nanotubes
  • conductive polymers
  • graphene
  • inorganic materials
  • layered, porous and mesoporous materials
  • perovskites
  • semiconductors.

Modelling and characterisation

  • nanocomposites
  • plasmonics
  • nonlinear optics.

Advanced analysis techniques

  • electron microscopy
  • optical physics, including single-particle spectroscopy
  • Surface science (SPM, XPS)
  • tribology.

Research applications include catalysis, gas sensing, nonlinear optics, photocatalysis, plasmonics, nanomechanics, solar energy materials and solar cells.

Find a supervisor in this research theme:

Molecular Science

Researchers in our discipline conduct research across many fields of molecular science, including:

  • free-radical chemistry
  • molecular crystals
  • polymer chemistry
  • organic electronics
  • synthetic metals
  • supramolecular chemistry
  • traditional organic chemistry
  • natural product synthesis.

Areas of research strength include nitroxide free radical chemistry in materials science, as antioxidants, as surface modifying agents and probes to assess damage in polymers and living tissues.

Find a supervisor in this research theme:

Air quality and health, new detection methods and environmental remediation

Our discipline hosts the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health (ILAQH), which offers opportunities for research in the complex, interdisciplinary field of air quality and its impact on human health, with a specific focus on ultrafine and nanoparticles.

Current topics include:

  • application of mobile phone technologies for health risk assessments
  • airborne infection spread
  • effect of environmental ions and charged particles on human health
  • diesel exhaust emissions
  • analysis of personal exposure to ultrafine particles
  • effect of biofuels on urban air quality
  • source apportionment of air pollutants.

Our research extends to protein, cholesterol and lipid analysis, and also clinical diagnosis and forensic analysis, including the use of nanomaterials and nanostructured surfaces for the selective and rapid detection of toxins, doping agents, illicit substances, energetic materials, environmental pollutants, bio-active molecules and pathogens.

The development and application of new detection methods involve techniques such as:

  • Raman spectroscopy
  • surface enhanced Raman scattering
  • electrochemistry
  • chromatography
  • mass spectrometry
  • atomic spectroscopy
  • nuclear magnetic resonance and magnetic resonance imaging.

Environmental remediation using nanomaterials, composite materials and modified natural clay minerals is being actively investigated by our researchers. This involves the development of natural materials-based nanocomposite materials, organoclay materials and optimization for water contaminants remediation.

Find a supervisor in this research theme:

Partnerships

Some of our industry and community partners include:

National

Australian tertiary institutions

Our researchers collaborate with staff from many Australian universities, especially:

Research institutes

Hospitals

International

Europe

Asia and Oceania

Contact

School of Chemistry, Physics and Mechanical Engineering

  • Level 7, O Block, Room 703
    Gardens Point