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Why nanomaterial quality matters, and the smart new way to check it

Posted By Graphene Council, Friday, August 14, 2020
A new way to check the quality of nanomaterials like graphene has emerged from a team at the University of Sussex.

Graphene and nanomaterials have been touted as wonder materials, and they are proving invaluable in all sorts of applications, such as in the automotive and aerospace industries, where heavy metals are replaced with lighter but equally strong composite materials. Nanomaterial quality therefore matters a great deal, but standardisation and quality checking have eluded the industry.

The Sussex team have developed a technique that gives detailed information about the size and thickness of graphene particles. It uses a non-destructive, laser-based method for looking at the particles as a whole, and lets them quickly build a detailed picture of the distribution of particles in a given material.

Their paper 'Raman Metrics for Molybdenum Disulfide and Graphene Enable Statistical Mapping of Nanosheet Populations' is published in the journal Chemistry of Materials.

Dr Matt Large, who led the discovery in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, said:

“Standards for measurement are a really critical underpinning of modern economies. It really comes down to one simple question; how do you know you got what you paid for?

“At the moment the graphene industry is a bit of a wild frontier; it’s very difficult to compare different products because there is no agreed way of measuring them. That’s where studies like ours come in.

“It’s really an important issue for any business looking to reap the benefits of graphene (or any other nanomaterial, for that matter) in their products. Often using the wrong material can either have no benefit at all, or even make product performance worse.

“A particular example would be composite materials like graphene-reinforced plastics; if a poor-quality graphene material is used it can cause parts to fail instead of providing the improved strength expected. This can be a big issue for industries such as automotive and aerospace, where there is enormous effort behind replacing heavier metal parts with lighter composite materials (like carbon fibre) that are just as strong. If graphene and other nanomaterials are to play a role in reducing weight and cost then agreed standards are really important.”

Aline Amorim Graf is a co-author of the paper in the team at the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. She said:

“Some manufacturers say they produce graphene but actually – no doubt inadvertently - produce a form of graphite. Some will charge up to £500 per gram.

“The trouble is there’s no standardisation. What we’ve done is to create a new way to measure the quality of nanomaterials like graphene. We use a Raman spectrometer to do this, and have created an algorithm to automate the process. In this way, we can determine the quality, size and thickness of the sample.

"Clearly the quality of graphene really matters. If you’re using graphene to strengthen structures, to use in health monitors, to use in supermarket tags, you want to know you’re getting the real stuff. But actually purchasers of graphene have no clue as to the quality of what they’re buying online. If you’re using graphene to strengthen cement, and it turns out it’s actually not graphene or is low quality graphene, then that’s going to matter.”

Professor Alan Dalton, co-Director of the Sussex Programme for Quantum Research and co-author of the paper, said:

“This is truly an important area of research for our team. We believe that our new metric will be of great help to industry, researchers and standards bodies alike who are key-stakeholders in the development of 2D materials towards commercialisation."

The Graphene Council has long called for better standardisation. Terrance Barkan of the Graphene Council has written: “The lack of an agreed global standard for graphene and closely related materials creates a vacuum and lack of trust in the marketplace for industrial scale adoption of graphene materials.”

The Sussex team continue their research and are open to checking the quality of graphene on a consultative basis.

Tags:  Alan Dalton  Graphene  Matt Large  nanomaterials  University of Sussex 

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Pretty as a peacock: The gemstone for the next generation of smart sensors

Posted By Graphene Council, Tuesday, May 19, 2020
An international team of scientists, led by the Universities of Surrey and Sussex, has developed colour-changing, flexible photonic crystals that could be used to develop sensors that warn when an earthquake might strike next.

The wearable, robust and low-cost sensors can respond sensitively to light, temperature, strain or other physical and chemical stimuli making them an extremely promising option for cost-effective smart visual sensing applications in a range of sectors including healthcare and food safety. 

In a study published by the journal Advanced Functional Materials, researchers outline a method to produce photonic crystals containing a minuscule amount of graphene resulting in a wide range of desirable qualities with outputs directly observable by the naked eye.

Intensely green under natural light, the extremely versatile sensors change colour to blue when stretched or turn transparent after being heated.

Dr. Izabela Jurewicz, Lecturer in Soft Matter Physics at the University of Surrey’s Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, said “This work provides the first experimental demonstration of mechanically robust yet soft, free-standing and flexible, polymer-based opals containing solution-exfoliated pristine graphene. While these crystals are beautiful to look at, we’re also very excited about the huge impact they could make to people’s lives.”

Alan Dalton, Professor Of Experimental Physics at the University of Sussex’s School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, said: ““Our research here has taken inspiration from the amazing biomimicry abilities in butterfly wings, peacock feathers and beetle shells where the colour comes from structure and not from pigments. Whereas nature has developed these materials over millions of years we are slowly catching up in a much shorter period.”

Among their many potential applications are:

Time-temperature indicators (TTI) for intelligent packaging – The sensors are able to give a visual indication if perishables, such as food or pharmaceuticals, have experienced undesirable time-temperature histories. The crystals are extremely sensitive to even a small rise in temperature between 20 and 100 degrees C.

Finger print analysis - Their pressure-responsive shape-memory characteristics are attractive for biometric and anti-counterfeiting applications. Pressing the crystals with a bare finger can reveal fingerprints with high precision showing well-defined ridges from the skin.

Bio-sensing – The photonic crystals can be used as tissue scaffolds for understanding human biology and disease. If functionalised with biomolecules could act as highly sensitive point-of-care testing devices for respiratory viruses offering inexpensive, reliable, user-friendly biosensing systems.

Bio/health monitoring – The sensors mechanochromic response allows for their application as body sensors which could help improve technique in sports players.

Healthcare safety – Scientists suggest the sensors could be used in a wrist band which changes colour to indicate to patients if their healthcare practitioner has washed their hands before entering an examination room.

The research draws on the Materials Physics Group’s (University of Sussex) expertise in the liquid processing of two-dimensional nanomaterials, Soft Matter Group's (University of Surrey) experience in polymer colloids and combines it with expertise at the Advanced Technology Institute in optical modelling of complex materials. Both universities are working with the Sussex-based company Advanced Materials Development (AMD) Ltd to commercialise the technology.

Joseph Keddie, Professor of Soft Matter Physics at the University of Surrey, said: “Polymer particles are used to manufacture everyday objects such as inks and paints. In this research, we were able finely distribute graphene at distances comparable to the wavelengths of visible light and showed how adding tiny amounts of the two-dimensional wonder-material leads to emerging new capabilities.” 

John Lee, CEO of Advanced Materials Development (AMD) Ltd, said: “Given the versatility of these crystals, this method represents a simple, inexpensive and scalable approach to produce multi-functional graphene infused synthetic opals and opens up exciting applications for novel nanomaterial-based photonics. We are very excited to be able to bring it to market in near future.”

Tags:  2D materials  Advanced Materials Development  Alan Dalton  Graphene  Izabela Jurewicz  John Lee  Joseph Keddie  nanomaterials  photonics  Universities of Surrey  Universities of Sussex 

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£1 million for nanotech: invisibility cloaks, smart tyres and supermarket tags

Posted By Graphene Council, Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Scientists at the University of Sussex have secured a major cash boost for their research into the real-world applications of nanomaterials.  With new funding of £1 million from private company Advanced Material Development, Professor Alan Dalton and his team will pursue their research into nanomaterials, including camouflage technology to stop soldiers from being spotted by thermal imaging cameras or night vision goggles – potentially paving the way for a Harry Potter or Predator-style invisibility cloak. 

The team will also develop their research into anti-counterfeiting graphene inks which can be printed onto clothes and medicine containers; incorporated into smart tyres which monitor for problems; used on banknotes; included on metal-free radio-frequency identification tags (RFID) tags for supermarkets to track products; and wearable technology including monitors for babies’ heartbeats or diabetic patients’ glucose levels. 

Carbon based nanomaterials, such as graphene, are metal-free and more ecologically-friendly than many alternatives. They can also be flexible and highly conductive.

Professor Alan Dalton said: 
“The funding we’ve received from AMD means that we can push forward with our research into useful applications for nanomaterials like graphene. Whether that’s to develop wearable technology to remotely track babies’ heartbeats, or to print ink onto car tyres which can monitor the tyres and warn the driver about problems, the potential applications of these materials are vast.  

“One of the most exciting applications is for camouflage clothing which masks the heat or light being emitted from a material or surface.  This paves the way for one day making a cloaking device like the one in the movie Predator which lowers its wearer’s thermal temperature, or like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.”

The £1 million is split over two years and covers four post-doctorate researchers and various students who will primarily produce nanomaterial inks. The versatile applications include:

Invisibility cloaks for the military and heat-proof windows

When the graphene ink is laid onto a textile or substrate, its reflectiveness can be manipulated.  In the laboratory, Alan Dalton’s team have been able to control how ions move between graphene sheets which modifies the sheet’s optical properties. The team have shown that this works with heat as well as light, recording more than a 5 degree drop in the temperature in the lab.  There are clear military applications for this, using a graphene coating to hide the infrared signature of a soldier, or a vehicle.  With further development, a soldier’s thermal signature could be totally camouflaged to keep them safe from detection at night or from thermal imaging.  

The same technology can work on hard surfaces too such as windows. In hot climates it will be possible to cool a room by reducing the amount of heat passing through the window into it, and visa versa in cold weather. Similarly, the amount of light coming into a room could be changed with the touch of a button.  

Smart tyres which monitor for defects

The team at Sussex are developing a graphene ink which would be flexible and conductive enough to be printed onto car tyres. It would be able to inform the driver about the health of the tyres. In collaboration with AMD, they are already working with a German automotive company on this technology. 

Metal-free tags for supermarkets

AMD and the Sussex team are already working with a major UK retailer on creating metal-free RFID tags for products. They have created an alternative to metal tags on clothing and food by developing antennas based on graphene inks which can be printed onto paper. This will help stores to track their items within supply chains and also to keep more accurate inventories of their stocks within stores.  Retailers will be able to bin their metal-dependent tags and replace them with this much more eco-friendly answer.  There’s no need now for the old fashioned supermarket tags of the past to populate landfill sites.  With various supermarkets pledging to improve their green credentials, including Walmart in the US, this technology is set to disrupt this aspect of the retail sector. 

Anti-counterfeiting for fashion and medicine

The Sussex laboratory has created a way to incorporate an invisible but unique ink-based signature into textiles and onto hard materials.   With this, fashion houses can be sure their clothes are genuinely theirs and not rip-off copies. Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies could likewise be assured of the authenticity of medicines. Even often-stolen items such as metal power line cables could be stamped with the ink so their true origin can be tracked.  

Wearable technology for health

The team have also developed a potentially lifesaving baby monitor to track newborns’ heartbeats remotely in developing countries where medical centres are sparse.  They’re now looking to take the developments further including to create printable tattoos for diabetic patients which could track their glucose levels and give them early notice that they are at risk.

Dr Sue Baxter, Director of Innovation and Business Partnerships, said: 
“The University is thrilled at the ground-breaking technologies that are bursting out of this university-business partnership.  We have such great research capability at Sussex and teaming up with AMD has created a fantastic platform for Alan and his team to get their innovations out of the lab and into our daily lives in a transformational way.”

Professor Dalton’s team has already created a proto-type capacitive sensor for  smart phone screen using silver nanowires and graphene which was both highly conductive, didn’t rely on ITO (which maybe facing critical shortage in supply and contains damaging indium) and crucially is also flexible and almost smash-proof.   

Advanced Material Development was set up in 2017 to develop applications for graphene technology from Professor Dalton’s lab, and is based at the Sussex Innovation Centre.  John Lee (right) is the Chief Executive Officer, Dr James Johnstone (left) is Chief Operating Officer and Alan Dalton is Chief Scientific Officer.  This is the second grant the laboratory has received from AMD, following £600,000 in Autumn 2018. 

Tags:  Alan Dalton  Graphene  James Johnstone  nanomaterials  Sue Baxter  University of Sussex 

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Nanotech SME and University of Sussex team up with Walmart to reduce retail waste

Posted By Graphene Council, Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Nanomaterial specialists Advanced Material Development (AMD) and researchers from the University of Sussex Business School have teamed up with Walmart to examine and develop the impact of bringing an innovative solution into retail supply chains, significantly reducing metal waste.

The project will be funded via a grant from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the National Productivity Investment Fund. It follows the recent £8 million ESRC investment into the Digital Futures at Work Research Centre.

The funded project will examine the employment consequences of the development, adoption and implementation of new environmentally friendly digital technologies; in this case Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags in the retail sector. Material scientist Professor Alan Dalton and his team have created an alternative to the traditional metal tags on clothing and food by developing antennas based on graphene inks.

John Lee, CEO of AMD, said: “Our work at Sussex in the field of highly conductive inks has partly been driven by demands from the retail industry searching for a sustainable solution in the replacement of metal content in RFID antennas. We are continuing to improve our technology for our partners in this space, with a possible large-scale print trial this year. The opportunity to work with a company with the global impact and sustainability reputation of Walmart is a substantial boost for us, and testament to the potential value of this innovation.”

AMD has recently announced a £1.5m equity funding round as the company further extends its nano-material research and development operations. It will also support its government and industry partnerships in Europe and the US. The business has now incorporated in the United States and formed an office presence in the Washington metropolitan area.

“This is a key development in the AMD business plan,” said John Lee. “The U.S. effort has been the key thrust for our business in the last year and our success to date is notable. Our partners have urged us to establish a local presence and we now see this to be just the start of a huge growth opportunity for the company.”

Professor Alan Dalton from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex said: “The nanotech ink we create in our lab has loads of important, sustainable applications. We’re excited that our world-leading research has paved the way for Walmart and other retailers to bin metal-dependent tags and replace them with our much more eco-friendly answer. There’s no need now for the old-fashioned supermarket tags of the past to populate landfill sites.”

As part of the project, social sciences and management studies academics will examine the learning process from product development to implementation and its impact on labour requirements and productivity. The global RFID market was estimated to be worth US$11bn in 2018, and is predicted to increase to US$13.4bn by 2022.

Professor Jackie O’Reilly, Co-Director for the new Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (digit-research.org), said: “This is a fantastically exciting project. It is a unique opportunity to work with brilliant physics researchers to understand their world and what they create; to understand how these hard science ideas are exported into the business world; and to understand how these decisions affect the way work is constructed and what kinds of jobs people get as a result of major companies adopting these new technologies."

Tags:  Advanced Material Development  Alan Dalton  Graphene  Jackie O’Reilly  John Lee  nanomaterials  RFID  University of Sussex 

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Blue sky inking: How nanomaterials could lower retail waste and speed up the stock take

Posted By Graphene Council, Thursday, February 6, 2020
As part of the new £8 million ESRC investment in Digital Futures at Work Research Centre, University of Sussex academics and an innovative SME have teamed up with the world's largest retail company to understand how quantum digital technology could revolutionise employment in the retail sector and significantly reduce metal waste.

University academics and Advanced Material Development (AMD) are working with Quantum Physics researchers, sociologists at the University of Sussex Business School digit centre and Walmart to understand how more environmentally-friendly radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags are developed, implemented and affect employment in the retail sector.

Materials scientist Professor Alan Dalton and his team have created an alternative to metal tags on clothing and food by developing antennas based on graphene inks which can be printed onto paper creating a sustainable solution to an essential part of the retail supply chain.

As part of the project, social sciences and management studies academics from the Digit Centre at the University of Sussex Business School will examine the learning process from product development to implementation and its impact on labour requirements and productivity.

Professor Alan Dalton from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex said: "The nanotech ink we create in our lab has loads of important, sustainable applications.

"We're excited that our world-leading research has paved the way for Walmart and other retailers to bin metal-dependent tags and replace them with our much more eco-friendly answer.

"There's no need now for the old fashioned supermarket tags of the past to populate landfill sites." The global RFID market was estimated to be worth US$11bn in 2018, and is predicted to increase to US$13.4bn by 2022.

Graphene-based nanomaterial inks, where the individual components are invisible to the human eye, have been developed as coatings which could replace metals in RFID systems and which can be applied to a range of surfaces using commercial printing techniques such as ink-jet, screen and flexographic.

The capability of the inks are also being expanded through the application of a quantum microscope - developed and constructed by the Sussex Programme for Quantum Research.

John Lee, CEO of AMD, said: "Our work at Sussex in the field of highly conductive inks has partly been driven by demands from the retail industry searching for a sustainable solution in the replacement of metal content in RFID antennas.

"We are continuing to improve our technology for our partners in this space, with a possible large scale print trial this year, and the opportunity to work with a company with the global impact and sustainability reputation of Walmart is a substantial boost and support of the need for us."

AMD has recently announced a £1.5m equity funding round as the company further extends its nanomaterial research and development operations. It will also support its government and industry partnerships in Europe and the US.

Professor Jackie O'Reilly, Co-Director for the new Digital Futures at Work Research Centre at the University of Sussex Business School, said: "The potential for this technology is huge.

"Implementation of RFID systems can transform supply chain efficiencies for large companies with complex supplier bases and can significantly reduce inventory count time from hundreds to a handful of hours.

"While this is hugely beneficial for companies, there is clearly the potential for huge consequences on employment rates, worker satisfaction and wellbeing that need to be adequately investigated.

"This is a unique opportunity to work with brilliant physics researchers to understand their world and what they create; to understand how these hard core science ideas are exported into the business world; and to understand how these?decisions?affect the way work is constructed and what kinds of jobs people get as a result of major companies adopting these new technologies."

Tags:  Advanced Material Development  Alan Dalton  biomaterials  Graphene  John Lee  nanomaterials  RFID  University of Sussex 

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