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Project Overview
Water and life-related systems
Molecular systems: Physical properties and chemical reactivity
Structure, stability and reactivity of minerals
Development of new high pressure cells:anvil and large volume devices
Development of new optically active materials
Design of a novel laser heating system for DACs
Implementation of diagnostic devices in high pressure industrial equipments

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Water Related Systems

The main goals of this section can be grouped together into the following categories:
   • Synthesis, properties and stability of ice clathrates
   • High pressure effects on aqueous solutions: salts, supramolecular aggregates and proteins
   • Microbiology under extreme conditions of pressure and temperature

a. Water Related Systems: Synthesis, properties and stability of ice clathrates

Clathrates can be thought of as combination of a gas and normal water ice that forms a single solid substance at low temperatures and high pressures. The water molecules in clathrates form an ice-like structure that traps small molecules in nearly spherical cavities.

Our interest in clathrates is motivated by 1) an increasing recognition of its abundance in Earth’s subsurface and on icy bodies of the solar system (like Europa), 2) its possible economic importance as a source of fuel, and 3) its potential role in climate changes. For these reasons we shall study specifically CO2, methane and H2 clathrates.

Water related systems (a)

Field Coordinator

Olga Prieto

Scientific Questions

-  The kinetics of clathrate formation and decomposition

-  Study of the physicochemical properties of hydrates under crustal conditions of the icy satellites

-  The stability range of clathrates, including possible high-pressure phase transitions that would change all of their physical and chemical properties




Leading Groups


Supporting Groups


Specific Goals

- Synthesis of clathrates in large volume cells or in purposely designed sapphire-anvil cells

- Lattice dynamics: Raman, Infrared and ultrasounds

- Dielectric, electrical and optical properties

- Formation of clathrates from both brines and solid solutions under pressures of the ocean of Europa.

- Determination of PTx diagrams

Related Fields

Aqueous solutions

Hydrogen storage

P-T sensors



b.  Water Related Systems: High pressure effects on aqueous solutions: salts, supramolecular aggregates and proteins

The study of the effect of pressure on non-covalent interactions in solution is a relatively unexplored area that can lead to unexpected discoveries. The effect of pressure on the formation of host-guest complexes is an interesting playground with applications ranging from basic chemistry to pharmaceutical and medical applications. Alongside this type of interactions, another phenomenon that worths mentioning is the aggregation, i.e. micelle formation, under pressure. Again, this is a fundamental issue since it paves the way to the field that we refer to as high pressure supramolecular chemistry, a discipline in continuous interaction with others as Materials and Life Sciences.

Computer simulation of proteins, based on atomistic models and molecular dynamics calculations, has been commonly used to study pressure-induced denaturalization processes. This type of simulations presents however rather high spatial and temporal resolutions. If an aqueous solvent is considered, the time scale is of the order of nanoseconds, while the denaturalization transit of a protein ranges from milliseconds to seconds at atmospheric pressure or even longer in a compressed state. Thus, these studies provide limited information about the pressure response of native structure. Models of better resolution allow us the study of the complete equilibrium process between native and denatured forms. These simplified models include mean-field potentials, where both the attraction between hydrophobic residues (short distances) and the desolvation barriers (intermediate distances) depend on pressure. In MALTA we shall consider simulation techniques with improved mean-field potentials obtained from precise quantum mechanical calculations. Monte Carlo simulations allowing an efficient sampling of the accessible conformational space will likely provide reasonable thermodynamic results for the protein stability and the modification of their energy-pressure range. These calculations can be extended to systems with several chains (small proteins) to analyze the effect of pressure on the protein aggregation process at high concentrations.

Water related systems (b)

Field Coordinator

Pedro Sanz

Scientific Questions

- Pressure effect on the equilibrium constant of aqueous solutions

- Effect of pressure on the physico-chemical properties of the hydrates under crustal conditions of the icy satellites

-  Experiments and mean-field simulations of protein solutions.

Leading Groups


Supporting Groups


Specific Goals

- Aqueous systems with Mg2+, Na+, Fe2+/3+, sulphates; the resulting multi-component systems are of interest in Earth and Planetary Sciences.

- pH, eH diagrams as a function of pressure

- Rheological and thermodynamic (density and expansion coefficients) properties of ultra hydrated phases of these ions will be studied to several GPa.

- Pressure effects on cyclodextrine-based host-guest systems

- Micelle formation and stability: caseine and other systems of interest in food science and technology

- Studying the conformational changes in proteins under pressure


Related Fields


Molecular systems


c.  Water Related Systems: Microbiology under extreme conditions of pressure and temperature

Through the study of the behaviour of microbiological systems under extreme conditions of pressure and temperature, the MALTA initiative will cover in this section a varied list of high-pressure-related topics ranging from the origing of life to food pocessing.

Water related systems (c)

Field Coordinator

Jordi Saldo

Scientific Questions

- Adaptation of live organisms under pressure as a field of interest for biologists and food technologists

-  Identify key factors determining piezoresistance in extremofile archea and eubacteriae, especially the piezoresistant proteins and the related genes

-  Influence of the previous factors on the origin of life (basic) and food processing (applied)






Leading Groups


Supporting Groups



Specific Goals

-  Studying the processes of lipidic oxidation in cell membranes under pressure

-  Studying cell membrane integrity and functionality under pressure

-  Modelling of the cell membrane behaviour under pressure as liposomes of known and simple composition (one phospholipids - one membrane protein)

- Identification of proteins responsible for piezoresistance and the related genes

Related Fields

 P-T sensors

Aqueous solutions



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