People in the Spotlight – Dr Mariana Sofia Peixoto Fernandes

I was born in Bragança, a small town located in the northeast of Portugal, close to the Spanish border. I have always lived surrounded by books. The book that made the greatest impression on me as a teenager was the biography of Madame Curie. When I finished high school, I decided to study chemistry and I moved to the University of Coimbra (the oldest University in Portugal) where I received a first degree in Chemistry and a Master degree also in Chemistry. During the preparation of my Master thesis, the foci of my research were photochemistry and surfactants. In the same period, I had a marvellous Erasmus experience at Lund University (Sweden), undertaking measurements at the Department of Physical Chemistry I. This internship helped me realize that I wanted to pursue a research career.

In 2005, I applied for a research grant, within the framework of a research project, at the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD), in Vila Real, under the supervision of Professor Verónica de Zea Bermudez. The main goal of this project was the preparation and characterisation of lanthanide complexes for the preparation of photoluminescent materials. The underlying idea was the incorporation of optimised complexes into organic-inorganic hybrid hosts prepared by the sol -gel method. This was my very first contact with this versatile chemical process.

In 2007, I started my PhD in Chemical and Biological Sciences entitled “Organic-Inorganic Hybrids Prepared Through Sol-Gel and/or Self Assembly” as part of a joint collaboration between UTAD and École Nationale Supérieure de Chimie de Montpellier (France), under the supervision of Professor Verónica de Zea Bermudez, Dr Michel Wong Chi Man and Dr Xavier Cattoën. Once again, I had a great experience in working abroad. Out of all the syntheses performed during this time, my favourite one is that which allowed me to produce, through a combination of sol-gel chemistry and self-directed assembly, the mono-alkyl-urethanesils, noted as m-Ut(Cy)ac (where m indicates the presence of a single alkyl chain, Ut corresponds to the urethane linkage, y is the number of carbons in the starting alcohol compound and ac stands for acid catalysis). I must emphasize that during my PhD, I had the privilege of doing an internship at Waseda University in Tokyo (Japan), under the supervision of Professor Kazuyuki Kuroda.

M. Fernandes et al, “Photoluminescent lamellar bilayer mono-alkyl-urethanesils”, JSST, (2013), 65, 61-73; DOI 10.1007/s10971-012-2739-1


It is well known that the sol-gel process is a very attractive alternative for the fabrication of the various layers of an electrochromic device (ECD). After defending my PhD thesis in 2011, I started working in this field with great enthusiasm. Since then, the preparation and characterisation of new sustainable and green sol-gel derived electrolytes for ECDs has become one of the mains targets of my research. In the last couple of years, I have also been deeply involved in the use of the sol-gel technique for the preparation of superhydrophobic coatings inspired by the surface of plant leaves.

Currently I have a position as researcher at UTAD. After so many years of work in science, sol-gel chemistry remains to me a great challenge and a great opportunity.