IPCMS in Strasbourg, a pioneering scientific institute, explores multidisciplinarity in materials and nanoscience.
The adventure of the IPCMS (Institut de Physique et Chimie des Matériaux de Strasbourg) started 30 years ago. In the 1980s, the laboratory was initiated after thorough discussions on reorganising research in physics and chemistry of condensed matter and materials in Strasbourg.
The first project was submitted in 1983 to the national institutions, focusing on condensed matter physics. However, quickly the strategic importance of materials for innovative technologies lead to broaden the initial proposal by inlcuding chemistry.
Constituting as a frame for a research institute gathering both physicists and chemists, with the aim to design and investigate new materials for their peculiar electronic properties, an interdiscplinary approach was formed. Such an approach was extremely original in the French scientific landscape at that time, as it exhibited a very interdisciplinary organisation of science.
The IPCMS was officially founded in 1987, as a joint laboratory between Centre National de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), University Louis Pasteur (ULP – today the University of Strasbourg, Unistra), and École des hautes études des industries chimiques de Strasbourg (EHICS – today the European School of Chemistry Polymers and Materials of Strasbourg, ECPM).
Exploiting the synergies between physicists and chemists, the scientific project of the institute dealt with organic materials with peculiar properties, inorganic materials for non-linear optics, metal multilayers, oxide powders and ceramics, magnetic materials and metallurgy.
This research benefited at that time from new techniques dedicated to surface characterization, magnetic and optical studies, with a strong support for elaboration and characterization means.
The in-house scientific equipment was completed by new experiments in spectroscopy using synchrotron radiation in national large facilities, especially at Laboratoire pour l’Utilisation du Rayonnement Electromagnétique, Paris-sud (LURE).
The IPCMS was originally organised in five groups. Three of them concerned specific materials: organic and polymer (organic chemistry), metallic (condensed matter physics), and inorganic (solid-state chemistry). The other two were structured by the domain of investigation: non-linear optics and optoelectronics (optical physics), on the one hand, and surfaces and interfaces (physics of surface) on the other.
Initially spread over five sites, the IPCMS moved to its present building in 1994. This grouping had a catalytic effect in fostering ambitious projects common to the different research groups.
In the early 1990s, the first experiments of magnetic dichroism (XMCD) at LURE, the first femtosecond laser impulsions, as well as the innovative synthesis of nanoparticles and molecules with specific properties, signalled the evolution of the laboratory towards today’s important activity in the domain of nanoscience.
A key element in this path was to take advantage of new experimental tools giving access to molecular or atomic spatial resolutions, coupled with ultra-fast time resolved techniques (femtosecond spectroscopy) adapted to investigating the properties of nano-objects.
The IPCMS is today recognised as a national and international excellence center for research and training in materials and nanoscience. It is still structured around five thematics departments:
- Chemistry of inorganic materials
- Organic materials
- Magnetic objects at the nanoscale
- Ultrafast Optics and Nanophotonics
- Surfaces and Interfaces
Several transverse activities shed light on the transdisciplinary character of IPCMS, such as magneto-electric and multiferroic materials, hybrid interfaces for spintronics, biomaterials and materials for health, as well as the expertise in the characterisation of functional materials or nano-devices down to atomic and ultra-short time scales.
The chemistry and physics of multiferroic/magnetoelectric materials
A first major topic concerns the chemistry and physics of multiferroic/magnetoelectric materials, which constitute a research field that benefits from a combined effort of both chemists and physicists.
Chemical approaches explore new intrinsic multiferroic materials encompassing inorganic oxide thin films, hybrid organic-inorganic transition metal hydroxides or oxides based lamellar compounds, and molecular strategies with original metal organic frameworks.
These approaches make use of the vast synthesis possibilities available at IPCMS, our complete structural characterisation tools, and the magnetic properties measurement setups.
The characterisation of multiferroicity in thin films aims at fully elucidating the physics of the observed phenomena in both the static and dynamic regimes. It has recently been employed to investigate the interface coupling in Co/Pb(Zr,Ti)O3 multilayers through laboratory and synchrotron-based measurements.
A dedicated setup, allowing dielectric and ferroelectric measurements, is at the origin of the first measurement of the polarisation in bulk gallium-ferrite compounds. Multiferroics combining photovoltaic and piezoelectric properties are studied in the form of photostrictive-magnetostrictive structures for the electro-optical spintronics.
Furthermore, expertise of physicists in the field of spintronics has been exploited for the characterisation of multiferroicity and magnetoelectricity through advanced magneto-resistive measurements. In all of this work, theoretical methods are used to corroborate the observed experimental results or to help in the identification of new research directions.
Another example concerns the physical properties of graphene and related two-dimensional materials. Starting from graphene, a vast class of two-dimensional materials (2DM) with outstanding physical properties has recently emerged.
Owing to their great sensitivity to external stimuli and environmental changes, 2DM are today’s systems of choice for fundamental nanophysics, as well as for the design of novel devices.
Within a particularly active and competitive scientific context, the IPCMS teams have made a set of significant contributions to this field. Physicists from different departments pursue the research on the electronic, optical, vibrational, mechanical, optoelectronic, and spintronic properties of 2DM.
For this purpose, they perform a co-ordinated effort on sample fabrication (in a clean room) and make use of electron magneto-transport measurements and optical spectroscopies.
Recent achievements include investigations of the distance dependence of Förster-type energy transfer from single quantum emitters to graphene, studies of graphene’s spin filtering properties, innovative fabrication processes for large-area graphene-based transistors, non-volatile memories and sensors.
In addition, transmission electron microscopy (TEM) with atomic resolution has been used not only to determine the structure but also to modify carbon nanomaterials with almost atomic precision and a technique of solid-state growth of graphene in-situ has been developed.
The integration of an STM (Scanning Tunneling Microscope) tip into the TEM allowed to measure the electrical properties of carbon nanomaterials while they are imaged with high spatial resolution, unravelling very peculiar electron transport properties.
Novel materials for medicine
As a last example of multidisciplinary research with societal concern, at the edge of materials, surface science and physics (IPCMS), biology and medicine (INSERM-Strasbourg and our partner universities in Germany), we present the production of novel biomaterials.
Indeed, nano-medicine is currently changing as new smart technologies are revolutionising therapeutic treatments, in various domains such as preventive medicine or diagnosis, therapy, or implants.
IPCMS researchers proposed an original concept which is based on the grafting of dendritic molecules on the surface of magnetic nanoparticles, thus constructing smart platforms that address biological questions in systemic way.
Such smart platforms allow low-cost rapid detection of clinical biomarkers and enable imaging with highest spatio-temporal resolution. These so-called ‘nano-constructs’ combine both therapeutic and diagnostic functions thus contributing to the promising field of theranostics.
To conclude, the initial spirit of the research in the physics and chemistry of materials at the IPCMS is still alive and thriving. Research topics and instrumental innovation has evolved significantly during the last few decades, fostering the relation to new scientific and societal concerns, with a marked interest in domains at the interfaces, particularly towards biology or quantum technologies.
The IPCMS brings a breadth of recognised skills and activities which prompted the laboratory staff to manage important scientific investments for the future (French ‘progamme d’investissement d’avenir’, PIA).
The so-called EquipEx UNION (Ultrafast Optics, Nanophotonics and Plasmonics, in collaboration with Institut de Science et d’Ingénierie Supramoléculaires in Strasbourg (ISIS) is a world-class setup for exploiting light-matter interactions at the nanoscale and in the femto- to atto-second time resolution.
EquipEx UTEM, that we also host, is the first operating ultrafast electron microscope in France, exhibiting both stroboscopic and one-shot modes to investigate either reversible or irreversible transitions. The latter is again the result of a fruitful sharing of expertise between microscopists and laser physicists in the laboratory.
Training activities are also extremely important for us. The IPCMS co-ordinates the new graduate school, Quantum Nanomaterials and nanoscience (QMAT), launched in 2018 at the University of Strasbourg. Technology transfer is a real concern as well, via collaborative projects with companies or the creation of startups by members of the laboratory.
What was a demanding challenge 30 years ago seems to be today a real success, and the IPCMS will significantly contribute to the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology cultivating an original multidisciplinary approach for many years to come.
Professor Rodolfo Jalabert
IPCMS UMR7504 CNRS-UNISTRA
+33 3 88 10 71 35