Lay summary

Ionic liquids (ILs) are similar to molten salts. While ordinary salts melt at elevated temperatures only, ILs are liquid already a room temperature. Since about a decade, ILs are evolving into popular alternative solvents in chemical synthesis, separation processes, and for the development of novel materials. While many of these applications rely on interaction forces between interfaces across ILs, little is known concerning the molecular origin of these forces. The present collaborative project tackles this topic, and proposes to find ways to control and modify such forces systematically. This aim will be achieved by surface functionalization in Dyson’s group (EPFL) and direct measurements of surface forces with the atomic force microscope. These fundamental studies will lead to applications in material sciences, namely nanoparticle stability, lubrication and wetting. Borkovec’s group (University of Geneva) will pursue interaction forces between particles and study the corresponding suspension stability. Spencer’s group (ETHZ) will combine force measurements with tribological and frictional studies and use this knowledge to design novel lubricants. Ralston’s group (Ian Wark Research Institute, Australia) will study forces across fluid-IL-solid interfaces, which are important for the development of novel actuators and sensors. The applications pursued within this project are likely to be of industrial relevance.