IU Researchers Receive NSF Grant for Discovery of Fluorescent Materials – Inside INdiana Business

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3D printed SMILES materials containing fluorescent dyes emit a luminescent glow under ultraviolet light. (photo courtesy of James Brosher/Indiana University)

The National Science Foundation has awarded a trio of researchers from Indiana University Bloomington $1.8 million to advance research into a unique invention. Researchers have discovered the brightest known fluorescent solid materials in the world, which the university says could be used to advance technologies such as solar panels, semiconductor lasers and medical imaging devices.

The materials are known as small molecule ion isolation networks, or SMILES. IU says they have an “unprecedented brightness” that doesn’t fade or change color during the production process.

“SMILES are fundamental material – totally new material,” said researcher Amar Flood. “There has never been anything like it, so this grant will help us better understand their properties, as well as how they could be used to improve existing technologies or advance new ones.”

Flood and his partners, Krishnan Raghavachari and Sudhakar Pamidighantam received the funding, which comes from NSF’s Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer Our Future, or DMREF, program.

IU says the funding will support additional research using experimental chemistry, computational chemistry and data science.

The results should also benefit Halophore, an Indianapolis-based company led by IU researcher Chris Benson. The company was founded in 2020 to explore business applications of SMILES.

“SMILES is really unique, not only in scientific terms, but also because these materials are a ‘platform’ technology,” Benson said. “Most material discoveries have narrow commercial potential. In contrast, SMILES has a remarkable combination of functionality and unparalleled versatility – and there’s a whole lot more territory to explore. I think the most exciting part of this grant is that we are going to learn a lot in a very short time. These discoveries will augment technology and open up new opportunities that we hadn’t even considered.

According to the university, SMILES has the ability to transform brightly colored liquid materials into a stable crystalline solid, which could benefit solar panels and 3D display technology, which currently use liquid components.

“Every time you use a liquid in a system, you increase the chance of degradation or mechanical failure and decrease energy efficiency,” Flood said. “In terms of usability, going from a liquid to a solid state dramatically increases a material’s durability, longevity, and efficiency.”

The researchers aim to create an open source database of crystal engineering rules for assembling dyes of different shapes, charges and other chemical properties.

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