Max Planck-CNRS Research Initiative on Nanoscale Water

New strategic research initiative to perform fundamental research on water

A new strategic research initiative to perform fundamental research on water between the Max Planck Society and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) has been approved and funded for an initial 3 years, with the possibility of extension or expansion after that. Both Max Planck and CNRS are among the world's leading research institutions. 

The importance of water across many disciplines of science and engineering cannot be overstated. Water shapes our blue planet, is a unique solvent in chemistry, the ‘elixir of life’ in biology, a key corrosion agent in engineering, and a complex fluid with a multitude of anomalies in its phase behavior in physics. Despite its importance, understanding water in its various forms and systems still remains challenging due to experimental and theoretical limitations. Specifically, we currently lack a fundamental understanding of molecular-level interactions of water at the nanoscale, where confinement, quantum effects, and non-equilibrium phenomena rule the behavior. However, recent  experimental and theoretical progress is about to change this situation dramatically, and will lead to many breakthroughs in our understanding of water, with potentially spectacular technological implications. By bringing together a critical mass of researchers with complementary skill sets, we aim for fundamental scientific insights into water at key length- and time-scales. This can lead to a much deeper understanding of water, and potentially world-changing novel technologies. In the solid-state domains of nanoelectronics, spintronics, new technologies emerged from basic science revolution: with the research proposed here, we aim for a similar scientific revolution for liquid water.

 The Max Planck - CNRS strategic Initiative for Nanoscale Water Research will be led by Mischa Bonn, director at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz and Lydéric Bocquet, CNRS research director, assigned to the Physics Laboratory of the ENS. These two teams with very complementary skills will provide a first anchor for strong collaborations to quickly initiate new research work on water. Combining the CNRS expertise in nanofluidics with the advanced molecular characterization capabilities of Max Planck will enable rapid breakthroughs. Crudely speaking, the synergy is enabled by combining the unique skills on the French side to confine water and characterize its nanorheology, and by those under German side to characterize at the molecular level water in such structures, also under flow conditions. The respective scientific environments at the CNRS (Water initiative) and  Max Planck (MaxWater Initiative) will provide further crucial support and input for the science in this ambitious project.


Two key areas of research:

  • Water-nanomaterial interactions. The advent of new nanomaterials, such as nanotubes and 2D materials made of different materials, has boosted the exploration of nanoscale water at well-controlled, though unique interfaces. This opens the possibility of the measurement of water properties down to unprecedented scales, which do serve as fundamental inputs for theory, simulations, as well as for future applications, notably in terms of water desalination and separation.
  • Fluidic oddities at the smallest scales. The behaviour of water at the nanoscales departs in many aspects from continuum expectations, and most behaviours still lack a proper explanation. These include fast flows, as well as fast ion transport in nanopores, the emergence of strong quantum effects in the transport, even at room temperature. Other examples are the occurrence of ‘electrically dead water’ or strong ionic correlations observed in the smallest nanopores and channels. This highlights the strong impact of the electronic properties of the confining material on the water response, which needs further investigation. These results will be key for understanding the behaviour of water near membranes, e.g., for water desalination and purification. 


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