Lab name: Center for Advanced Functional Nanorobots

Group leader:Martin Pumera

Location: University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague

Further information: or Twitter @PumeraGroup

Professor Martin Pumera, University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague.
Professor Martin Pumera, University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague.

Nanotechnology holds great promise but, to date, most developed technologies have been essentially static. What if nanodevices could move into a new paradigm where autonomous devices can gather energy and information from their surroundings, navigate through their environment and actively seek out specific cells or chemical species? The development of such independent, mobile, and intelligent nanorobots is the aim of a new research center at the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague in the Czech Republic under the leadership of Martin Pumera.

After receiving his B.Sc., M.Sc., and Ph.D. from Charles University in Prague, Pumera undertook post-doctoral research at New Mexico State University. Following positions as a senior researcher at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain and the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) in Japan he joined Nanyang University in Singapore. Pumera has now returned to his native Czech Republic to establish and develop the Center for Advanced Functional Nanorobots.

Martin Pumera talked to Materials Today about his current research and future plans.

How long has your group been running?

I founded my group in 2006 when I got my first independent tenure-track position at NIMS in Japan. I started by myself with an empty lab until I recruited one post-doc and an exchange student. Now I have 15 post-docs so it is quite a different dynamic!

How many staff currently makes up your group?

The Center for Advanced Functional Nanorobots, which I established and lead, is made up of three professors with their respective groups. My group currently has 15 post-docs, a technician, and around seven students.

What are the major themes of research in your group?

I have always had broad interests in several topics. At the moment, we are focusing on electrochemistry and electrocatalysis of layered materials, 3D printing, toxicity of nanomaterials and drug delivery, and, of course, autonomous nanorobots. The underlying common ground between topics is the linking of structure with properties. I like to combine topics and, in general, I am interested in finding out how nature works.

How and why did you come to work in these areas?

All of us have an academic history during which we pick up know-how and tools, which defines what we can actually do well – and makes us each different. Since my Masters, I have been worked in electrochemistry, analytical electrophoresis, biosensing, microfluidics, and materials research labs.

What facilities and equipment does the lab have?

Within the Center, we have all we need for our research. Starting with high-end scanning electron microscopy/energy-dispersive X-ray microscopy (SEM/EDX), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), atomic force (AFM) and scanning tunneling (STM) microscopy, a Raman microscope, and a battery of high-end microscopes, we also have atomic layer deposition (ALD) equipment, a huge vacuum surface characterization cluster, ultracentrifuge, and electrochemical equipment. 

Do you have a favorite piece of kit or equipment?

I love transmission electron microscopy (TEM). I set it up myself at NIMS. I could see individual atoms – it is a little wonder that here are real atoms and not just a concept on the blackboard!

What do you think has been your most influential work to date?

I believe our work on impurities showing that many effects in 2D materials assigned to the ‘exceptional properties of 2D materials’ are in fact caused by the impurities present in them is the most influential.

What is the key to running a successful group?

It is vital to stay relevant to the important topics in the science. As the head of a group, you need to give people clear direction but without micromanaging them and giving them space to develop and grow as independent researchers. It is important to be results-oriented and have a clear vision and culture, which people can follow.

How do you plan to develop your group in the future?

Research-wise we have materials other people will not have in the next two years. So I want it to stay this way.

Organization-wise I very much enjoy working with PhD students, and seeing their development, so I plan to expand the Center (which was established quite recently) with more PhD students.

Key publications

  1. H. Wang, M. Pumera. Micro/Nanomachines and Living Biosystems: From Simple Interactions to Microcyborgs. Adv. Funct. Mater. (2018), 1705421.
  2. H. Wang, M. G. Potroz, J. A. Jackman, B. Khezri, T. Maric, N.-J. Cho, M. Pumera. Bioinspired Spiky Micromotors Based on Sporopollenin Exine Capsules. Adv. Funct. Mater. (2017), 1702338
  3. R. Gusmão, Z. Sofer, M. Pumera. Black Phosphorus Rediscovered: From Bulk Material to Monolayers. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 56 (2017) 8052
  4. X. Chia, A. Y. S. Eng, A. Ambrosi, S. M. Tan, M. Pumera. Electrochemistry of Nanostructured Layered Transition-Metal Dichalcogenides. Chem. Rev. 115 (2015) 11941
  5. H. Wang, M. Pumera. Fabrication of Micro/Nanoscale Motors. Chem. Rev. 115 (2015) 8704. 
  6. C. H. A. Wong, Z. Sofer, M. Kubešová, J. Kucera, S. Matejková, M. Pumera. Synthetic routes contaminate graphene materials with a whole spectrum of unanticipated metallic elements. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 111 (2014) 13774
  7. A. Ambrosi, C. K. Chua, B. Khezri, Z. Sofer, R. D. Webster, M. Pumera. Chemically reduced graphene contains inherent metallic impurities present in parent natural and synthetic graphite. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 109 (2012) 12899