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IOP Science

Professor Lipton-Duffin and Professor MacLeod, Queensland University of Technology, Australia

Professor Jennifer MacLeod

Professor Josh Lipton-Duffin and Professor Jennifer MacLeod (pictured) from Queensland University of Technology are studying molecular reactions on solid surfaces in an effort to synthesize new and useful materials. Read their article: Innovations in nanosynthesis: emerging techniques for precision, scalability, and spatial control in reactions of organic molecules on solid surfaces

This was published open access in Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter, under the transformative agreement with the Council of Australian University Libraries.

Congratulations on your latest paper! Could you tell us about your surface science-based approach to synthesizing new organic materials and why it is so different?

Jennifer: Our approach focuses on understanding how molecules and atoms behave on surfaces and whether we can control this behavior to produce useful new materials. We treat molecules like building blocks that can be used to create one- and two-dimensional structures with interesting chemical, electronic or structural properties.

Josh: A lot of industrial-scale processes, say, for example, the fabrication of various materials, are arrived at through exhaustive trial and error, but the fundamental process (or what happens at the atomic scale) remains a bit of a mystery. This is because studying real-world processes is quite complicated; physicists must deal with multiple atoms and molecules in multiple configurations to do so, and that’s very challenging. But that’s what we’re doing. We study these processes atom by atom and molecule by molecule.

What motivated you to look at molecular reactions on solid surfaces, and materials synthesis in particular?

Josh: I am a bit of a gearhead, and I love taking things apart and putting them back together. So, my motivation was both bottom-up and top-down. On the one hand, putting together new materials from molecular building blocks is a very small version of my childhood obsession with Lego blocks. On the other hand, we get to use, tinker with, and build some pretty awesome instrumentation, which not only looks impressive but also keeps us on the cutting edge of a lot of technologies.

Jennifer: I’ve got quite a few reasons. The first is that I’ve always found images of atoms to be amazing and beautiful, and getting to “see” atoms on a daily basis never fails to be a thrill. The second is that we get to create and understand tiny little things that have never existed before, which is also awesome. The third is that the work is so varied and continually challenging, it never gets boring! One day can be spent with a wrench in hand, taking apart a vacuum chamber or building instruments, and the next can be spent doing calculations to understand the thermodynamic properties of candidate structures.

How do you suppose your research will improve people’s lives in the long run?

Josh: In terms of ‘practical’ things, we are low on the technology readiness scale. But I very much hope that our work can support future development of technologies by bright minds who are good at that sort of thing.

Jennifer: Yes. Right now, this work is fundamental. But in the larger picture, the materials we synthesize might have certain properties required for their use in next-generation technologies and might make a difference to future-focused challenges around energy, information, and sustainability. These materials can exhibit exciting quantum properties that unlock a whole lot of interesting applications. And that holds immense potential.

Your paper, which is open access, was published through a transformative agreement that the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) has with IOP Publishing. How would you describe the publication process?

Josh: Pretty seamless! I think it should be the norm across the industry. Honestly, it is far simpler than processes from other publishing houses.

Jennifer: I would use the word “painless”. It was quick and easy.

Do you believe there are advantages to publishing open access, or through a transformative agreement, like this one?

Jennifer: Yes! The biggest one being that it makes our work accessible to everyone interested in reading it, with almost no effort from our side. It also makes meeting the obligations of our funding agreements and institutional policies around open access easy.

Josh: I strongly believe in accessibility—removing barriers for potential readers of science. We get better outcomes when more people can access what we do. Open access should be the default for publicly funded work.

Do you have any words of advice for other authors interested in publishing open access?

Jennifer: They should definitely look into it. It’s been great from my perspective and could be the right fit for others as well.

Josh: I’d agree. Go for it! This is a great way to have individual authors’ work reach more eyes without having to worry about post-hoc costs after all of the research and writing have finished.