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Welcome to the ICMAB Annual Report 2021!

This annual report marks the midterm stage of our Severo Ochoa Center of Excellence “Smart FUNctional materials for a better FUTURE” (FUNFUTURE) and so, after 6 years of managing such a recognition, it marks the maturity of ICMAB in promoting activities under the scheme of scientific excellence.

This year also marks the global fighting to return to a renovated social organization after the COVID 19 pandemia. We have certainly advanced to a new status-quo where interpersonnel relationships have been deeply modified and the hybrid format for our meetings and day-to-day work has become a standard of our life.


During 2021 we have continued our effort to foster the attraction and retention of new talent. We are particularly happy of having attracted new permanent scientific staff to lead research groups: CSIC Prof. David Amabilino and ICREA Prof. Kasper Mouth-Poulsen who will reinforce the position of ICMAB in the field of “Sustainable molecular systems”. We have also reinforced our scientific staff with 4 new Tenured Scientists, 3 promotions to Research Scientist and 2 new Ramón y Cajal positions.

On the other hand, we have been able to properly honor the scientific leaders who have recently retired after a fructiferous career at ICMAB.

Overall, the number of staff scientists and support personnel have been stabilized after the strong growth registered in previous years while the training activities of young scientists continue to be a priority of ICMAB, for instance, we have generated 21 new PhDs during 2021. It is also worth to remark that several ICMABers have been received appealing awards and distinctions. We should mention the Catalan Chemical Society Prize to Jaume Veciana, a special issue of Journal of Materials Chemistry C as Festschrift in the honour of Jaume Veciana and Cun Rovira, Mª Rosa Palacín with an award of the International Battery Association and Can Onur Avci for the IUPAP Young Scientist Prize in Magnetism.

A similar trend is seen concerning our success in R&D fund attraction. For instance, the total budget of ICMAB remains stable as compared to 2020, with a 65 % of our budget being competitive funding, and we keep our leadership position in international grant attraction: first CSIC Institute in H2020 program fund attraction and a total of 12 ERC grants attracted up to now by ICMAB scientists.

The scientific activity of ICMAB is mainly devoted to study functional materials. These are ubiquitous in our modern society and they are key elements to face several of our most relevant grand challenges: clean energy transition, the digital revolution and the personalized medicine.

In the selected highlights of 2021 the ICMAB researchers show how they face unsolved scientific problems boosted by the functionality and nanostructure of the materials. From understanding why a metallic oxide can be transparent or how the atomic structure switches a metal – insulator transition to the discovery of the band structure effects controlling the optimization of superconducting properties. Also we have contributed to disentangle the understanding of the electronic properties of organic semiconductors or the influence of spin states (spintronics) in the transport properties of molecular materials, as well as the complex coupling among magnetic structure and the ferroelectric polarization in oxides.

But functional materials are technology enablers and so ICMABers have outstanding competences to develop competitive methodologies to prepare materials and devices with high performance following low cost approaches. High throughput and data analysis is used to select the best organic solar cells or the optimal ink jet printing solutions to create thick superconducting films. Unique photonic crystals are shown to be efficient photocatalysts to generate hydrogen or how graphene nanowalls become competitive electrodes for supercapacitors. Novel electronic devices are devised based on ferroelectric oxides for memories, organic molecular systems are integrated in field effect transistors and tunnel junctions using low cost and large area approaches.

Bacterial nanocellulose is shown to be an adequate material to promote ocular surface regeneration, nanoliposomes are used as carriers of enzymes for Fabry disease treatment or as delivers of microRNAs for the treatment of tumors and graphene oxide – boron cluster nanocomposites are shown to be useful as radiolabeled in-vivo bioimaging elements.

A continuous effort is made to transfer our research developments to the industry and this is evidenced by our achievements in filing patents related to electrodes for Ca batteries, sensors to detect water pollutants or liposomes for enzyme delivery. Other very useful transfer initiatives have been conducted through proof of concept projects or lab-to-market mentoring programs for superconductors, supercapacitors and cell culture materials. We are also proud that Nanomol Department has been renewed for the third time as a member of the Tecnio association of Generalitat de Catalunya.

We are very happy that our scientific publications are continuing to generate scientific and technological impact. During 2021 we have published 218 articles increasing the number of outstanding publications, as quantified by the IF of the journals (38 articles with IF>10 and mean IF of 7.72). As an outstanding indicator we should mention that we have already crossed the barrier of 200.000 in the total number of citations which signals ICMAB as a well-established worldwide center of reference.

The activities devoted to communication and outreach have become critical issues to promote after the restricted mobility imposed by the pandemia. The global generalization of the hybrid format has deeply modified our activities in this area and this has allowed to continue the ICMAB trend of a steady growth in this area. As a consequence of the huge effort made to promote our visibility we are happy to exhibit outstanding global growth numbers in our social media followers (> 12.000 in Linkedin, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube) with > 1.000 web site users per month, the number of issued videos (39) with > 17.000 views and 13 press releases with a high impact in newspapers, radios and TVs and 12 videos for TVs or tech transfer networks. These activities have been recognized with awards such as “Matheroes: supermaterials of the future” and the project “Las científicas cuentan”.

It is also worth of mention the contribution of ICMAB scientists to several volumes of the CSIC white papers defining the strategic areas for 2030. Our main contributions were made in the areas: Safe, clean and efficient energy; Biomedicine and health; Digital and complex information and Understanding the basic components of the universe. Overall, we are very happy that our activities are more and more reaching the social impact that science deserves.

Looking to the future of ICMAB, we are very happy to be part of the new initiative “Alba Science, Technology and Innovation Park” (ASTIP) intending to create a powerful research hub around the ALBA synchrotron park. ASTIP will be an interdisciplinary hub for complex materials and biological systems which will blend a unique combination of characterization and imaging tools, big data, material growth and device fabrication facilities. ICMAB will specially be involved in the research center Complex Materials and Technologies Center (COMTEC) together with other institutes of the Bellaterra area (ICN2, IFAE).

To conclude, we are sure that you will enjoy surfing the 2021 ICMAB report. Don’t forget as well to join our social media and visit often our web site to keep in touch with us.

Xavier Obradors
Director of ICMAB