Center for Adopting
Flaws as Features

Imaging, understanding, and harnessing heterogenous chemical dynamics at the nanoscale

Our Vision

There is a critical need for new computational and experimental tools to address extreme chemical heterogeneity, or intrinsically ‘flawed’ molecular systems. Such tools will transform our understanding of structure-dynamics-function relationships in chemical systems that are highly disordered on the nano- to mesoscale, and can provide innovative solutions to challenges in biotechnology, sustainability, clean energy, and quantum information. When the entire system is disordered, such as a rugged electron transfer surface, a randomly decorated surface, or a glassy carbon dot, novel material properties emerge. These collective dynamics are features that can neither be explained by single defects, nor ‘synthesized away’ in the traditional cycle of synthesis – characterization – better synthesis. Mass, charge, and energy transfer in such materials cause unique electrical, optical, mechanical, and magnetic properties that can be harnessed because of, rather than despite, their intrinsic chemical heterogeneity. For example, as a consequence of disorder, correlated and coherent interactions can steer the dynamics to multiple highly localized chemical sites, each of which can undergo distinct excitations and reaction pathways. What we usually think of as rare events at the nanoscale can become commonplace and have an outsized impact on the mesoscale. Such intrinsically ‘flawed’ molecular systems can even execute multiple reactions in sequence on a single nanoparticle or surface. To capture this broad range of impactful behaviors requires new, center-scale strategies to understand and harness chemical heterogeneity for its intrinsic added value as a ‘feature’.

Our Mission

CAFF will develop transformative experimental and computational tools to understand intrinsically disordered systems and apply them to molecular materials that defy conventional approaches. Our team is uniquely suited to apprehend the multi-dimensional parameter space of intrinsically disordered systems at the cutting edge of interpretation and acquisition with spatially and temporally resolved chemical information. CAFF will cultivate new spectroscopic imaging capabilities by integrating computer vision concepts to achieve transformative temporal, spatial, and spectral resolution to confront blind spots in ensemble averaging. We will develop “smart” microscopy strategies where real-time analysis drives data collection to anticipate emergent function. In order to leverage the broad capabilities within CAFF to generate definitive structure-function relationships, we will develop transformational data-driven strategies that integrate datasets from multiple sub-ensemble measurements with state-of-the-art theoretical tools from electronic structure theory, statistical physics, and dynamics.