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Reporting period: 2018-03-01 to 2020-02-29

NANOTRANS consortium comprised academic and private partners spanning seven EU countries. The ITN program created a collaborative research platform for training young nanoscientists with scientific profiles and a range of skills who will deal with the fundamental and technological challenges of the future. NANOTRANS provided a rigorous, balanced, and timely supra-disciplinary training program delivered by Europe’s (and world’s) leading scientists in the field. We provided a unique opportunity to move between industry and academia, which is crucial to foster inter-sectorial exchange of individuals and ideas.
The scientific objective of the proposal was to acquire fundamental understanding of complex fluid flow in nano-confinement and to design novel materials and applications for sustainable growth. This is one of the core problems of technological development whose key demands are downscaling the applications and controlling the non-equilibrium dynamics (e.g. design of “smart” nanomaterials, nanofluidics, “lab on a chip” devices, energy production and storage, drug delivery…). The non-equilibrium physics at the nanoscale is different from its macroscopic counterpart in many ways: gradients are larger, confinement plays a dominant role, and the thermal fluctuations are stronger, which fundamentally alters the thermodynamic behaviour. In strongly confined fluids at the molecular level, flow properties deviate from continuum hydrodynamics predictions due to the granularity of the fluid components. At larger scales, the fluid flow is coupled to colloidal interactions and to thermodynamic gradients via processes such as electrokinetics, thermophoresis, diffusiophoresis. Multidisciplinary and inter-sectorial approaches are crucial in order to improve our understanding of key physical processes and their role in biology or nanotechnology. Our research program targeted exactly this goal and delivered several fundamental and applied breakthroughs.
The consortium recruited 16 Early Stage Researchers (ESR) who have been trained at the nodes. The NANOTRANS network attracted a group of excellent young researchers. All ESRs participated in the network training program and performed research activities at their nodes. The NANOTRANS network organized specialized training sessions where ESRs were familiarized with advanced topics, which are not usually available within standard PhD curricula, and in a number of soft skills including writing, presentation, ethics, European funding opportunities...

The NANOTRANS research was organized in three scientific workpackages (WP), each containing individual research projects. WP1 was focused on understanding the physics of flow in nanofluidic setups. The progress made on understanding water transport through single nanotubes suggests a potential for realization of advanced nanouidic functionalities via design of BN-C heterostructures. Work on translocation of colloids and polymers through channels also delivered promising results relevant for designing applications such as fast yet accurate DNA-sequencing. Finally, experiments on flow of ionic liquids between graphene sheets performed within the network proved to be a key to understanding lubrication and the design of energy storage applications.

WP2 focused on theory and computer simulations with the goal of better understanding the fundamental principles of phoretic transport at the nanoscale. The work performed within NANOTRANS WP2 ranges from atomistic ab-initio simulations of water at the interfaces, to dynamics of electrolytes and ionic correlations, electrokinetic and electroacoustic effects. A decisive breakthrough has been achieved on understanding phoretic transport of proteins, which is a crucial step to design better techniques for macromolecular (e.g. protein) characterization.
WP3 comprised projects on macromolecules in thermodybnamic gradients. Fundamental new results were delivered on modelling of phoretic effects, active fluids in confinement, flow of fluid mixtures, transport of semiflexible and ring polymers, as well as designing particle-based gels for industrial applications.
More than 74 original scientific publications were published in peer-reviewed international journals, 44 of these publications are co-authored by NANOTRANS ESRs. Since the projects have been concluded recently, it is expected that even more will be published in the near future. NANOTRANS members also received several prestigious awards, such as Boltzmann Medal, Elected Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), ERC grants, Silver CNRS medal, Harrison-Meldola Memorial Prize, Phllip Leverhulme Prize, Nernst-Haber-Bodenstein Prize, and many more. Apart from the research-related achievements, NANOTRANS network has proved to be a fertile ground for generating new ways to look at scientific concepts and this has led to dissemination of ideas to general public on many levels and diverse platforms. The curiosity, synergy and vivacity of the ESR group was both an ‘ideas factory’ and an ‘engine room’ and for this dissemination, and much of the success arose from bottom-up creativity of the ESRs. Their regular meetings at the NANOTRANS workshops was essential for this success; the ESRs gelled into a strong network, supported each other, and provided complementary skills that resulted in the fabulous outcomes.
The impact of NANOTRANS has been broad. The main goal was to train young researchers who would work across sectors and might become future leaders in the emerging and rapidly growing fields of nanoscience and nanotechnology. We have trained a group of 16 very talented and motivated ESRs whose future careers promise to have an impact on core challenges of modern society: energy production and storage, novel disease treatment strategies and sustainable development. We have created an advanced doctoral training program that could easily be adopted by European higher education institutions in the future. Finally, through the network activities, we have established long-term collaborations that will continue to structure the EU research environment and bridge the gap between academic and industrial research well after the project has finished.
The excellent high-impact publication record will have a lasting impact on the scientific community, and it will enable faster development of new technologies based on nanoscale physics. To examples where transfer of knowledge was particularly successful, are companies Sweetch Energy and Fluidic Analytics that were both associated to NANOTRANS. Currently, there is a request of transfer of IP from UCAM to one of these companies. Finally, our outreach program created links to the society and contributed to the very necessary knowledge transfer from R&D to the general public.