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Tommaso Auletta (promotion date: 27 May 2003)

New tools for nanotechnology: from single molecular chemistry to surface patterning.

Promotion date: 27 May 2003

Tommaso Auletta

I am in an organic chemistry group involved in nanotechnology, exploiting the so-called bottom‑up approach, alternative and complementary to the top‑down one currently employed in nanofabrication. The exchange of knowledge with physicists and engineers within our research institute, the MESA+, was one of the most stimulating aspects.

In our group we designed molecular building blocks employed to create nanosize structures and we characterised them. I have been working on monomolecular thin films on gold surfaces using them as platforms to perform single molecular chemistry.

Could you tell us something about your research?
I am in an organic chemistry group involved in nanotechnology, exploiting the so-called bottom‑up approach, alternative and complementary to the top‑down one currently employed in nanofabrication. The exchange of knowledge with physicists and engineers within our research institute, the MESA+, was one of the most stimulating aspects.
In our group we designed molecular building blocks employed to create nanosize structures and we characterised them. I have been working on monomolecular thin films on gold surfaces using them as platforms to perform single molecular chemistry. We also created what we call a molecular printboard, capable of selectively recognise and bind guest molecules.
On the surface we have been able to transfer the guest molecules on pre-established areas achieving surface patterning with molecular tools. My research was exclusively surface related.

Did you do extra courses when you first came here?
To really get into things I did AIO courses on supramolecular chemistry at the universities of Groningen, Nijmegen, Eindhoven and Twente over a period of 8 months in my first year, and one in Ameland on spectroscopic techniques. I also went to various conferences but these were not really AIO aimed. Within these networks you get to know other AIOs and they are the people you keep meeting over the years.

Is there a practical application for your research?
The molecular tools we developed for surface patterning represent a completely new approach; we wanted to see whether it worked or not. Working with molecules opens a variety of possibilities ranging from the analytical, to environmental, to nanoelectronic fields. These things go a few steps further from were we are now, but the fact that we can prove that the principle works, and works as we expected, is important enough.

Is the outcome of your research what you expected?
If a few things go the right way it is more than I expected. I had a few acknowledgements that I am very happy about.

Did you work in close collaboration with others?
Yes, within my own group of course with and other groups in MESA+. Here at MESA+ you have available everything you may need and by now I got I spoiled. This multidiscipline aspect is one of the things I liked the best in my research and the fact that I had lots of freedom in my project. I knew were my goal was, but I was free on how to get there. Of course I had continuous feedback from my supervisors. At the beginning it was a bit frightening to be thrown into the deep, but luckily I could swim. This is also a very valuable learning experience.

Did you have international contacts, did you go to conferences?
Yes, I was in the US, France, Switzerland, Germany. At the beginning I had poster presentations (summary of the research on a poster) but later I had the chance to present my work with oral contributions. I would have gone to Singapore if SARS hadn’t come up.

What did you find difficult?
Since I am from Italy, it is expected of me to say the weather. But I did not mind it much. When you are working you don’t notice it. I have enjoyed the past four years personally and I have certainly grown professionally.

What are your plans for the future?
I am looking for a post-doc. I have a couple of contacts for it. I would like to continue in the field of surface science. I think that it should be possible. If you combine the word “nano” and the word “bio”, than that is where resources are for the next few years. I could find groups in this research field all over the world. However, Italy is academically not an option; there have been many cuts to funding lately. I am going further north I think, Sweden. Also for personal reasons: my girlfriend is Swedish.