Nanostructures can be engineered like molecules are synthesized by chemists. The interest of the Nanostructures & Optics Laboratory (NOL) of the Department of Chemical Sciences is to engineer nanostructures with new properties and with particular attention to their linear and non linear optical properties.

The dimension of nanostructures, larger than those of molecules but smaller than those of bulk materials, determines properties which derive from quantum confinement as in the case of carbon nanotubes, graphene nanoribbons and quantum dots, or from local electromagnetic effects like in the case of metallic plasmonic nanostructures, or from magnetic structures like in the case of superparamagnetic nanoparticles. Furthermore, these nanostructures can be carriers of other functionalities which can be engineered on the surface or within the nanostructures themselves with a dedicated chemistry for definite bonding or with a supramolecular approach which exploits interactions with smaller intensities.

It is interesting to remember that nanostructures (10-100 nm) are usually one or two order of magnitude smaller than cells (about 10 μm) and are, therefore, objects which can strongly interact with them, opening new perspectives in nano-biomedicine. But, clearly, these new systems, due to their new properties, open interesting perspectives also in fields like for example conversion of energy and catalysis.

The Nanostructures and Optics Laboratory has developed a new physical approach for the synthesis of nanoparticles with which nanostructures can be obtained: Laser Ablation Synthesis in Solution, namely the ablation of bulk materials under a pure solvent or a solution. This physical approach allows to obtain, using a green approach, naked nanoparticles which are easily functionalized. Nanoparticles can be obtained also out of a thermodynamic equilibrium giving the possibility of synthesizing new material phases.

Nanoparticles which are under study are: plasmonic, magnetic and magnetic/plasmonic nanoparticles. Other nanoparticles are also produced to explore new phases.

With plasmonic and magnetic/plasmonic nanostructures the laboratory is developing nanostructures for SERS (Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering) applications in particular for detection and imaging of biological analytes in vitroex vivo and in vivo.

These nanostructures are then functionalized with targeting units like Antibodies or their active parts or with other molecules which show the ability of recognizing a target unit like an Antigen or other molecules. The nanostructures are used for applications in nano-biomedicine, for example for targeting and detecting tumour associated Antigens, or in the Cultural Heritage or Environmental field for identification of analytes in art works.

The Nanostructures & Optics Laboratory is also involved in using and in understanding on the basis of models, the properties of carbon nanostructures like functionalized carbon nanotubes and graphene nanostructures.

In the last few years the Nanostructures & Optics Laboratory started to approach also the photovoltaic field, using its consolidated knowledge on laser ablation in solution to produce nanocrystals for application in perovskite solar cells.

The engineering of nanostructures is an open field with enormous perspectives and much work is needed for developing the abilities of controlling the assembling of many units and obtaining new systems for new interesting applications.