People in the Spotlight – Dr Maria Luz Martinez Ricci

My academic journey probably cannot be described as being straightforward. I studied Physics within the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires, and then continued my PhD research within the same Institution. My research topic involved a fascinating, fully theoretical and numerical study of photonic crystals, together with so-called metamaterials with negative refractive indices, under the direction of Dr Ricardo Depine. Following my PhD, my academic life took an unexpected twist when I started my postdoctoral studies in sol-gel chemistry under the very enthusiastic guidance of Professor Galo Soler Illia. At this point, I found a really fascinating world within sol-gel science, which allowed me to start a research line focused on the optical characterization and modelling of nanostructures. Nowadays, I am a researcher on this topic within UBA’s Institute of Physical Chemistry of Materials, Environment and Energy (INQUIMAE), in close collaboration with Professor Sara Aldabe Bilmes.

Together with colleagues and students, I have developed models that are capable of determining the characteristics of metal or semiconductor nanoparticles hosted inside the pores of sol-gel synthesized thin films, using optical methods, which involve non-destructive, cheap and in-situ procedures. We have also worked on the synthesis of sol-gel 1D photonic crystals that, in strategic combination with metallic nanoparticles and good predictive models, facilitate the design of plasmonic-photonic systems that enhance the electromagnetic field in order to obtain an optimized platform for optical detection by a dual frequency-space localization of the electromagnetic field. The combination of mild-green chemistry approaches such as sol-gel processing with optical models also allowed the design of new optical structures for the sensing and removal of hazardous cations.

I believe that while Physics and Chemistry are sometimes treated as two different worlds, in my experience the overlap is great and beautiful and there is a lot to do in this direction. This is one of the aims I have also been working on (and I will continue doing so) and where I believe teaching has significant relevance. In this sense, I assign time and effort to bring Physics students nearer to Chemistry and Materials Science and of course I always include sol-gel science in my teaching. At the same time, through my participation in schools such as the Latin American Sol-Gel School (which I co-organise together with Sara Aldabe Bilmes, Galo Soler Ilia and Paula Angelomé) or the NanoAndes School, I try to show how the Physics behind many characterization techniques is so useful for understanding the problem that is being studied. And I do not only demonstrate different aspects of science to science-students, but also to the community in general since I always participate in activities for secondary school students and I have even explained some interesting aspects of photonic crystals on television!