Prestigious grant EXPRO will enable researchers to tune properties of molecules via 2D materials

Pavel Hobza and Radek Zbořil, physical chemists from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of CAS and the Regional Centre of Advanced Technologies and Materials, together with their team are aiming to find new ways to control properties of metal-containing molecules through 2D materials while solving the grant EXPRO funded by the Czech Science Foundation (GAČR). The novel approaches will be then tested in real applications. They have been granted 53.3 million Czech crowns for the next five years.

The grant called Control of electronic properties of metal-containing molecules through their noncovalent interactions with solvents, ligands and 2D nanosystems follows the long-term research carried out by the two scientists at their home institutions. The investigation aims to prove that properties of molecules can be controlled by 2D materials.

“The goal of the project is to explore the 2D chemistry of graphene in order to control electronic states and properties of molecules. We assume that graphene or perhaps its derivatives could be a suitable substrate that can impact on electronic, magnetic, or optical properties of molecules via covalent and non-covalent interactions,” said the RCPTM Director and one of the grant investigators Radek Zbořil.

The researchers need to create a communication pathway between the molecule and the 2D surface. They will deploy chemical bonds that will emerge between the two components of the system. “We have opted for covalent chemistry as it is becoming evident that the interaction between the molecule and the substrate can grow stronger, which could enhance the synergy. We will attempt to employ non-covalent bonds as well. The choice of the 2D material will determine the approach we should adopt,” explained Pavel Hobza, the most cited Czech scientist, widely recognized for the discovery of improper hydrogen bonds. Planar molecules based on phthalocyanines with an iron atom in the centre will be crucial for the research. These molecules, structurally related to haemoglobin, will become the researchers’ principal focus.

The main goal of the project is to prove the hypothesis proposing that molecule properties can be affected by 2D chemistry. The next step will be to confirm the research findings in real applications. Such hybrid systems of 2D materials with a bound molecule will open the doors for applications in molecular electronics, biomedicine, electrocatalysis, or novel technologies for energy storage.

EXPRO grants aim at supporting research teams led by prominent, world-renowned scientists or young researchers with great potential for excellence. The investigation of the grants should contribute to enhancing the quality of Czech science. The grant has been provided on the condition that the key researcher will apply for an ERC grant—European Research Council. 36 applicants succeeded in this grant competition for excellent basic research projects.