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Annual Report 2022


Welcome to the ICMAB Annual Report 2022!

This annual report is the last one as Director of ICMAB after serving in this position for the last 14 years and so I would like to use this foreword to acknowledge all the direction members which joined forces with myself during this period, as well as all the ICMAB staff members who have deeply contributed to increase the recognition of our institute as an international reference center in the field of functional materials. I also would like to wish the new direction team to have a fruitful continuation of the progress achieved during the first 37 years of ICMAB’s life. In this respect, I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to our first Director, Prof. Carles Miravitlles, who recently passed away.

This annual report corresponds to the third year of our Severo Ochoa Center of Excellence -Smart FUNctional materials for a better FUTURE- (FUNFUTURE) and so, after 7 years of managing this distinction, ICMAB has already a large experience in promoting the activities of a center of scientific excellence.

Our first concern at ICMAB has been to continue our success in high level talent attraction and retention. In this respect, we are very happy to have achieved a new MSCA-COFUND project (DOCFAM+), coordinated by ICMAB, and assuring 26 PhD contracts (9 for ICMAB).


Additional accomplishments into attracting young postdoctoral researchers are described in the report (La Caixa Junior, Ramon y Cajal, Juan de la Cierva, MSCA) as well as in assuring PhD fellowships of different origins. ICMAB has also been designated by CSIC as a research center to accommodate 3 new Tenured Scientists which will joint ICMAB in 2023. The trend to increase internationalization of our staff has continued and now, from the +520 people integrated at ICMAB along the whole year, 37 % were foreigners coming from 41 countries. Also we keep very good gender balance (42 % women).

As it has become a tradition at ICMAB, we have properly honored at the end of the year the three scientists which have retired after a successful career at ICMAB.

We are also very happy that several scientists from ICMAB have been recognized with different awards and distinctions, among them we can mention Prof. Clara Viñas with the Catalan Chemical Prize, Prof. Mª Rosa Palacín with the “M. Catalan – P. Sabatier” Prize of the French Chemical Society and Dr. Leonardo Scarabelli who was awarded with the BBVA Leonardo Grant in “Basic Science”.

The success of the ICMAB in R&D fund raising improved again during 2022. The total budget of ICMAB increased, reaching the highest value ever achieved (18.2 M€) while keeping the value of about 65 % in competitive funding. The international competitiveness continues to be a highlight of ICMAB: ~ 48 % of our project funding comes from EU projects and, particularly, a total of 18 ERC grants have been achieved in the whole ICMAB history (5 of them in 2022, 1 CoG and 4 PoC), one of the highest rates in Spain. We note that this year the grants from Spanish (AEI) and Catalan (Generalitat) origins also increased considerably. Also, it should be highlighted that ICMAB has been part of several new initiatives promoting the integration and synergy within the Bellaterra Campus: METCAM (an advanced TEM platform) and a joint laboratory including synchrotron ancillary equipment in the scope of the CSIC PTI+ platform TRANS-ENER (both at ALBA synchrotron), and, finally, the participation in two NGEU projects (Advanced Materials and Astrophysics and High Energy Physics).

Overall, therefore, ICMAB has restlessly continued to advance in the three grand challenges of our Strategic Plan: clean energy transition, the digital revolution and personalized medicine.

The report includes short summaries of 5-7 highlights for each of the 5 Research Lines included in our Strategic Plan. You will find exciting news about clean energy developments in the areas of photocatalytic photonic crystals for H2 production, a combinatorial study of organic thermoelectric materials, novel electrodes for batteries based on non-conventional ions (Ca, Mg), mesoporous carbon nanospheres for Na-S batteries and studies of an innovative high growth rate to obtain high current superconducting materials based on low cost chemical processes where the combination of synchrotron radiation tools with machine learning facilitates the advancement of this very competitive approach.

The study of a wide spectrum of novel materials and devices for a new generation of electronic devices are outstanding contributions from ICMAB. First, oxide or nitride materials having unique magnetic, superconducting, magnetoelectric or electronic properties are disclosed, including in some cases how they couple to light or strain to tune their properties, in view of generating new spintronic devices or ferroelectric memories.

On the other hand, the progress in developing a platform of low cost and easy to process organic materials based on single molecules or polymers is described. Single molecule junctions or thin film materials are investigated demonstrating its suitability in devices. A new spin-off company (Molecular Gate) was created to exploit thin films for optical anti-counterfeiting of pharmaceutical markers. Also new efficient sensors to be used as x-ray detectors for medical imaging were investigated.

Several unique contributions to the challenge of obtaining suitable materials for nanomedicine are finally highlighted. Different illnesses were targeted, for instance, cancer and infections. Nanovesicles, nanoparticles and hydrogels were the basis of several approaches to beat cancer while organometallic small molecules were analyzed as antibacterial agents. Different approaches to biomaterials engineering have also focused the interest of ICMAB researchers, for instance, highly aligned bacterial nanocellulose or nanovesicles for novel tissue engineering strategies. Finally, several optical or magnetic imaging methodologies have been investigated with the purpose of bioimaging applications.

Overall, ICMAB displays a very healthy record in scientific publications (> 220 in 2022) having a high impact (56 articles in journals with IF>10 and mean IF of 8.9).

Finally, the report includes a summary of the major achievements made at ICMAB in three Strategic Priority Actions: Technology Transfer, Communication and Outreach and Training.

As an indicator of the progress in advancing the impact of our technology transfer activities we should mention that during 2022 a total of 13 Proof-of-Concept projects (ERC, AEI and FUNFUTURE) have been allocated, 6 priority patents have been applied, 1 spin-off company has been created and 19 Non-Disclosure Agreements have been signed. Besides this, we have increased our participation in Catalan, Spanish and European innovation networks and national and international fairs. One of the ICMAB researchers, Dr. Nora Ventosa, has actually been elected as president of the Catalan technology transfer TECNIO Association.

The participation of all the ICMAB personnel in communication and outreach activities has reached outstanding relevance and impact, certainly boosted by the new social needs after two years of restricted activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic and safety measures. One major achievement was the YouMaker project, jointly funded by the FECYT and FUNFUTURE, including the preparation of 10 videos for our YouTube channel and outreach articles for a newspaper. More than 50.000 visitors were achieved demonstrating its success. The list of additional initiatives, such as press releases, other videos, media participation, etc. is overwhelming and has certainly contributed to a continuous increase of the number of followers in our social media (>15,000 in: Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube).

Training activities are an essential part of the duties of ICMAB’s researchers. For that reason, several academic and transversal skills schools, workshops and a periodic seminar program are key activities in the scope of FUNFUTURE. These training activities are part of the mentoring program of our PhD students and also benefit the large number of undergraduate and Master students staying at ICMAB yearly (> 150).

As a sign of how remarkable are the training activities at ICMAB we can mention that during 2022 a total of 33 researchers obtained the PhD degree, this is the highest number ever achieved by our center!

Last, but not least, I would like to acknowledge again the members of our Scientific Advisory Board for their support and their criticisms which have helped us to improve year after year. In 2022 we could celebrate a full meeting in Barcelona with a strong participation of our members and this was the occasion to renew several members, four of them have left us, particularly our Chairman, Prof. Luis Liz Marzán. Again, thanks to all of them for their contributions!

To conclude, we hope that you will enjoy surfing the 2022 ICMAB report.

All the best for the ICMAB future!

Xavier Obradors
Director of ICMAB