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Posted: Jun 27, 2012
Interrogating the world at the nanoscale
(Nanowerk News) Ángel Rubio is the leader of the research group with the highest number of citations in Spain (H-index) among those engaged in Materials Physics and Nanoscience. From his office on the second floor of the Joxe Mari Korta R&D Center at the Ibaeta campus in San Sebastián, Rubio is in charge of the Nano-bio Spectroscopy Group of the UPV/EHU and the vice-president of science for the European Theoretical Spectroscopy Facility (ETSF).
Conscious that this name can be too abstract to the layperson, Rubio defines the work of the group he leads as "to interrogate the world at a nano scale". Under the poetic simplicity of this definition hides scientific work, mainly theoretical, which consists of determining the maximum information obtainable in an experiment with objects that are very small in size, at a nanometric scale, a scale in which the characteristics of the materials change and the quantum effects are demonstrated, providing new features to the materials.
“To be able to observe these materials you must disturb the object observed”, assures Rubio in an educational tone which he seems accustomed to using, and adds that “when the systems are altered they tend to return to their state of equilibrium, and this process provides information”. The Nano-bio Spectroscopy group is dedicated to designing theoretical tools to maximize that information.
The passion that Rubio transmits when he declares that, like people, the nanoparticles of each material has its own characteristics, it translates into daily work to interpret curves and graphs to supply tools to those who will apply them in the technology industry. Among the achievements of the group is a patent in the process of being registered which has served to, by means of ultraviolet light, increase the storage capacity of digital information between 10 and 100 times.
The Nano-bio Spectroscopy group of the UPV/EHU began between 2003 and 2004 with the objective of working on basic research to transmit knowledge to the technological fabric. Today, 25 people work on researching basic nanotechnology theories with a level of excellence which has led the group to establish, jointly with other foreign research groups, the European Theoretical Spectroscopy Facility (ETSF), a European conglomerate of researchers who are dedicated to researching the electronic and optical properties of materials.
Rubio states that his work comes down to attaining theoretical tools so that other agents can apply them. Those agents are the industries of new materials (with electronic, optical, magnetic, superconductor, etc applications) of nano and biotechnology, of telecommunications, which take advantage of the special properties of the materials when they are presented in very small sizes.
Among the group’s specialised areas are very specific fields, from the nanostructures and nanotubes to molecular transportation passing through a subject as specialised as the development of foundations of the theory of functional density dependent on time.
Despite the complexity of these fields of study, Rubio has the ability to explain them with simple examples. “A few years ago one won the Nobel Prize in Physics, research on green florescent proteins, a property which makes them visible in their trajectory within the organism”, he explains. The group works on the prediction and characterisation of the properties of known fluorescent proteins, as well as the design of new ones with specific properties.
Thanks to nano-bio spectroscopy it can be determined what changes must be made to these proteins so that they can acquire fluorescents in other colours, a step forward that can be taken advantage of by the pharmaceutical industry to design medicines that can be monitored with precision and facilitate more exact dosages to improve the lives of patients.
Ángel Rubio’s Nano-bio Spectroscopy Group not only limits itself to “interrogate the world at a nano scale”, because although it has not yet found the solution to all the problems, the objective of its work is in constantly searching and, once in a while, providing a colourful answer.