The ICN2 became a Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence in 2014, earning itself a place alongside the top research centres in Spain. The associated research programme united the institute’s 18 research groups, support division and administration in finding new ways to adapt and transform the wealth of knowledge generated in-house into real-world devices that offer innovative solutions to social challenges. It also boosted the institute’s international profile within academic circles, building on its first forays into technology transfer, and making the institute an attractive place to pursue a career within and beyond research.

In November 2018 the Spanish Research Agency (AEI) published the definitive list of centres and units to be awarded grants under its programme to recognise centres and units of scientific excellence. In total, five national research centres were awarded the Severo Ochoa distinction and seven research units named as María de Maeztu units of excellence. The ICN2 was again among the awarded centres, renewing its position as a reference in national and international research and consolidating the scientific leadership achieved under the previous Severo Ochoa grant.

The ICN2 is proud to have been awarded this distinction for the second time, and devotes the associated grant (€4m over four years) to the implementation of a strategic plan that strives for excellence in both the research it develops, and the supporting services and institutional framework that make it possible. At the heart of this plan, our scientific programme will continue in the pursuit of frontier outcomes in both basic and applied research.

In 2020 the ICN2 successfully developed and delivered a mid-term report highlighting some of the main achievements that were possible with the support of the Severo Ochoa funds. A detailed presentation of these highlights is provided at the ICN2 website (

The ICN2 Severo Ochoa plan established for the 2018-2022 period reflects the will to continue to achieve scientific excellence and to nourish research over the full spectrum of fundamental and applied areas of nanoscience and nanotechnology. It is structured around the following interlocking pillars and cross-cutting areas:

Pillar 1: Application Domains

Research at the ICN2 focuses, under the Severo Ochoa perspective, on four main areas of application, chosen for their relevance to societal challenges and socio-economic growth. They are also fully aligned with the priorities identified by current and future European research and innovation programmes.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

ICT research at the ICN2 pushes at the boundaries of understanding of single state variables and hybrid states with the aim of taking information processing beyond the use of the electron charge alone. The diversity and complementarity of the ICN2 groups allow them to tackle almost any basic research challenge in this field.

The highlights presented in the Severo Ochoa Mid-Term report include:

  • Manipulation of spin currents for advanced electronic devices
  • ERC Advanced Grant to reduce energy use in information technology
  • FET-PROACTIVE project TOCHA to apply a topological approach to information technology


Health-related research at the ICN2 sees innovative science and technologies developed from fundamental research to prototyping. It covers the development of smart nanomaterials and devices to: a) make the diagnostic process simpler, faster, less invasive and less costly; b) allow therapeutic approaches to be targeted and monitored more precisely.

The highlights presented in the Severo Ochoa Mid-Term report include:

  • New applications of graphene-based neural technologies for brain implants
  • INBRAIN Neuroelectronics spin-off to develop brain implants for optimised treatment of brain disorders
  • Optical and electrochemical sensing
  • Fight against the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Nanomotors for drug delivery
  • Nanomaterials for therapy


Energy research at the ICN2 is focused on optimising the generation, storage and use of energy. Work on the synthesis of novel nanomaterials and the fabrication by printing of various devices has led to innovative technologies that have reached the prototyping stage.

The highlights presented in the Severo Ochoa Mid-Term report include:

  • Perovskite-based photovoltaic solar cells
  • Photoflexoelectric effect in halide perovskites
  • Supercapacitors
  • Solar water splitting cells


Some ICN2 groups branch out into the design and fabrication of sensors and biosensors for the detection and monitoring of environmental indicators like air, soil and water quality. Others are developing active nanostructures and devices with relevant properties for environmental remediation. For all these applications, high sensitivity and selectivity for a variety of relevant targets, fast turnaround times, portability and cost-effectiveness are important objectives.

The highlights presented in the Severo Ochoa Mid-Term report include:

  • Biosensors for pollutant detection and monitoring
  • Pollutant removal and degradation
  • Nano-safety

Research transversal to the four application areas

Apart from the research that can be clearly associated to one of the application domains, scientific activity at the ICN2 is also dedicated to the development of nanomaterials and nanotechnologies that can be eventually applied to any of the application domains.

The highlights presented in the Severo Ochoa Mid-Term report include:

  • Advances in Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) research
  • Nanoporous graphene
  • Amorphous Boron Nitride

Pillar 2: Enabling Platforms

Three technological platforms work closely with the domains mentioned above to help unlock access to new knowledge, and support the development of materials, techniques and instrumentation as required by ICN2 groups. They also work independently on new techniques and make relevant scientific contributions in their own right.

Nanomaterials and Nanofabrication

This platform supports the development of bottom-up and top-down approaches to the synthesis of novel nanostructures and nanomaterials, as well as the fabrication of devices using state-of-the-art nanofabrication tools and cleanroom-type facilities. It also leads the design of innovative manufacturing processes and prototype production.

The highlights presented in the Severo Ochoa Mid-Term report include:

  • Nanofabrication Facility equipment
  • Study of defect structure in complex oxides


The ICN2 has leading scientific expertise and strong technical competence in research areas such as imaging, spectroscopy and manipulation at the nanoscale, which require advanced characterisation techniques. In-house equipment and multiple national and international large scale facilities are used to perform these measurements.

The highlights presented in the Severo Ochoa Mid-Term report include:

  • New aberration-corrected Transmission Electron Microscope:
  • Raman microscope
  • Non-ambient chamber for X-ray diffraction

Modelling and Simulation

The ICN2’s competence in multiscale simulation has allowed the development of a comprehensive, internationally recognised portfolio of realistic modelling tools for materials and devices. The platform provides state-of-the-art ab-initio and transport calculations, combined with the generation of realistic models of complex nanomaterials, to provide theoretical support for the analysis of experimental results and to inspire new experiments.

The highlights presented in the Severo Ochoa Mid-Term report include:

  • MaX European Centre of Excellence
  • SIESTA program for advanced materials simulation

Pillar 3: Technology Pipeline

In this second Severo Ochoa Programme, knowledge and technology transfer is established as a third pillar of the institute’s scientific programme. The Technology Pipeline reflects ICN2’s renewed commitment to the socioeconomic relevance and impact of its research outcomes. The aim is to consolidate its current track record in transfer, industrial collaborations and spinoff creation, already given a strong boost under the previous Severo Ochoa grant. This pipeline provides structured guidance at all stages of the development chain, from basic research to the highest technology readiness levels, including commercialisation of ICN2 technologies.

The highlights presented in the Severo Ochoa Mid-Term report include:

  • New Business and Innovation Unit
  • Founding of the INBRAIN Neuroelectronics spin-off for the development of brain-implants based on graphene technology
  • Creation of the Ahead Therapeutics SL spin-off for to develop therapies for autoimmune diseases
  • Collaboration with Microsoft Quantum Labs in Delft and Copenhagen

Pillar 4: Cross-cutting Areas

In addition to the above pillars, four cross-cutting areas support research at ICN2 and help provide an enriching environment for its best development.

Recruitment and Training

During the previous four-year term of Severo Ochoa accreditation and funding, the ICN2 launched a number of strategic actions in Human Resources which, in 2015, earned us the European Commission’s HR Excellence in Research logo. With the current Severo Ochoa Programme, the ICN2 HR Department intends to strengthen these initiatives to continue providing to our centre’s employees a globally-competitive work environment, and a safe and secure workplace.

The highlights presented in the Severo Ochoa Mid-Term report include:

  • New Group Leaders: Prof. Kostas Kostarelos and Dr Klaas-Jan Tielrooij
  • New Senior Researcher: Dr Sonia Ruiz Raga, supported by the SO Programme
  • ICN2 PhD Programme devoted to the recruitment of new PhD students, their training in technical and transferable skills, their monitoring and mentoring.
  • ICN2 Postdoctoral Programme, meant to offer recruitment and training opportunities to postdoctoral fellows.
  • Technical Support Personnel employed to work in some of the key facilities of ICN2
  • Gender Equality


In order to boost its presence and recognition on the international stage, the ICN2 will reach out to international research institutions through different programmes aimed at facilitating mobility, strengthening scientific collaboration and increasing participation.

The highlights presented in the Severo Ochoa Mid-Term report include:

  • International Visiting Scientist Programme
  • Outbound Mobility Programme
  • Collaboration with key international partners
  • Collaboration with Microsoft Quantum Labs in Delft and Copenhagen
  • Collaboration with other local institutes

Exploitation of Research Outcomes

The ICN2 is determined to boost the impact on society of the technologies it develops. The consolidation and growth of the Business and Innovation Office is a direct result of this goal.

The highlights presented in the Severo Ochoa Mid-Term report include:

  • Licenses and spin-offs (including two programmes to support proof-of-concept projects and establishment of spinoffs; 18 new patents filed; 5 new technology licenses issued; and 2 new spin-off companies established)
  • Professional development and training in innovation
  • Collaboration with local hospitals
  • International Events
  • New technology flyers and technology Business Case reports

Dissemination of Research Outcomes

The ICN2 recognises the importance of disseminating knowledge and research outcomes, and of reaching out to stakeholders and society at large. As such, the Marketing and Communication Department will continue driving actions to strengthen the institute’s public profile and engagement with nanoscience and technology.

The highlights presented in the Severo Ochoa Mid-Term report include:

  • Updated website and flyers
  • Dissemination events (including "Quantum" exhibit at the CCCB in Barcelona; Researchers' Night; Science Week; and, 10ALAMENOS9 Scientific Festival)
  • NanoEduca project
  • Crazy for Physics Programme
  • Manuel Cardona Lectures
  • Open Science