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Creating 2D heterostructures for future electronics

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Thursday, November 7, 2019
Updated: Thursday, November 7, 2019
While many nanomaterials exhibit promising electronic properties, scientists and engineers are still working to best integrate these materials together to eventually create semiconductors and circuits with them.

Northwestern Engineering researchers have created two-dimensional (2D) heterostructures from two of these materials, graphene and borophene, taking an important step toward creating intergrated circuits from these nanomaterials.

"If you were to crack open an integrated circuit inside a smartphone, you'd see many different materials integrated together," said Mark Hersam, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, who led the research. "However, we've reached the limits of many of those traditional materials. By integrating nanomaterials like borophene and graphene together, we are opening up new possibilities in nanoelectronics."

Supported by the Office for Naval Research and the National Science Foundation, the results were published October 11 in the journal Science Advances. In addition to Hersam, applied physics PhD student Xiaolong Liu co-authored this work.

Creating a new kind of heterostructure

Any integrated circuit contains many materials that perform different functions, like conducting electricity or keeping components electrically isolated. But while transistors within circuits have become smaller and smaller -- thanks to advances in materials and manufacturing -- they are close to reaching the limit of how small they can get.

Ultrathin 2D materials like graphene have the potential to bypass that problem, but integrating 2D materials together is difficult. These materials are only one atom thick, so if the two materials' atoms do not line up perfectly, the integration is unlikely to be successful. Unfortunately, most 2D materials do not match up at the atomic scale, presenting challenges for 2D integrated circuits.

Borophene, the 2D version of boron that Hersam and coworkers first synthesized in 2015, is polymorphic, meaning it can take on many different structures and adapt itself to its environment. That makes it an ideal candidate to combine with other 2D materials, like graphene.

To test whether it was possible to integrate the two materials into a single heterostructure, Hersam's lab grew both graphene and borophene on the same substrate. They grew the graphene first, since it grows at a higher temperature, then deposited boron on the same substrate and let it grow in regions where there was no graphene. This process resulted in lateral interfaces where, because of borophene's accommodating nature, the two materials stitched together at the atomic scale.

Measuring electronic transitions

The lab characterized the 2D heterostructure using a scanning tunneling microscope and found that the electronic transition across the interface was exceptionally abrupt -- which means it could be ideal for creating tiny electronic devices.

"These results suggest that we can create ultrahigh density devices down the road," Hersam said. Ultimately, Hersam hopes to achieve increasingly complex 2D structures that lead to novel electronic devices and circuits. He and his team are working on creating additional heterostructures with borophene, combining it with an increasing number of the hundreds of known 2D materials.

"In the last 20 years, new materials have enabled miniaturization and correspondingly improved performance in transistor technology," he said. "Two-dimensional materials have the potential to make the next leap."

Tags:  2D materials  Graphene  Mark Hersam  nanoelectronics  nanomaterials  Northwestern University  Xiaolong Liu 

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Colloids funds graphene nanocomposites collaborative Ph.D research project with The University of Manchester

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Thursday, October 17, 2019
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2019
Colloids Group, a leading manufacturer of innovative masterbatches, compounds, and performance enhancing additives, is funding a joint collaborative Ph.D. research project with the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) at The University of Manchester. The centre specialises in the rapid development and scale up of graphene and other 2D materials applications and focuses on several application areas to rapidly accelerate the development and commercialisation of new graphene technologies.The GEIC is an industry-led innovation centre, designed to work in collaboration with industry partners to create, test and optimise new concepts for delivery to market, along with the processes required for scale up and supply chain integration.

Phase 1 of this collaborative project was successfully completed within 12 months. Phase 2, which is about to start, is expected to be a three to four year research project. For this next phase, Colloids is funding and supporting a full time Ph.D. researcher who will be based at University of Manchester with the Advanced nanomaterials Group led by Dr. Mark A. Bissett and Professor Ian A. Kinloch. The Ph.D. researcher will also be working with and supervised by key Colloids’ R & D people involved in the project.  

The potential benefits of 2D thermoplastic nanocomposites have long been recognized. The project team will investigate the applicability of nanocomposites based on graphene and other two-dimensional (2D) materials to a broad range of thermoplastic materials, including polyolefins, polyamides and polyesters, and to understand how mechanical, thermal, electrical, rheological and gas-barrier properties (among others) are affected by the production process and by the materials used.  

The main goal of this collaborative Ph.D. research project is to develop and upscale new polymer-graphene nanocomposites with enhanced properties and multifunctional capabilities that are not currently available. Key target markets for ‘next generation’graphene nanocomposite Colloids products include automotive, aerospace, electronics and electrical.

As the research project is through Graphene@Manchester, the collaborative project teambenefits from access to the extensive graphene research facilities at The University of Manchester: the National Graphene Institute (NGI), the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), and theHenry Royce Institute. The University of Manchesteris a globally recognized centre of excellence for cutting edge graphene research, building upon the published work by Professor Andre Geim and Professor Konstantin Novoselov, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for isolating, characterising and contacting ground-breaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene.

Colloids Group is exhibiting with parent company, TOSAF Group Ltd. (Booth# Hall 8a / D01) at the K’19 Plastics & Rubber exhibition in Dusseldorf, Germany, which runs from 16-23 October 2019. Show visitors from companies interested in the graphene nanocomposites collaborative project can speak with technical people from the Colloids’ team who will be at the show.

Tags:  2D materials  Colloids Group  Graphene  Ian A. Kinloch  Mark A. Bissett  nanocomposites  nanomaterials  polymers  University of Manchester 

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First Graphene to develop graphene-based energy storage materials for supercapacitors

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Tuesday, September 24, 2019
First Graphene has signed an exclusive worldwide licensing agreement with the University of Manchester to develop graphene-hybrid materials for use in supercapacitors. The licencing agreement is for patented technology for the manufacture of metal oxide decorated graphene materials, using a proprietary electrochemical process.

The graphene-hybrid materials will have the potential to create a new generation of supercapacitors, for use in applications ranging from electric vehicles to elevators and cranes. Supercapacitors offer high power-density energy storage, with the possibility of multiple charge/discharge cycles and short charging times. The market for supercapacitor devices is forecast to grow at 20% per year to approximately USD 2.1 billion by 2022. Growth may, however, be limited by the availability of suitable
materials.

Supercapacitors typically use microporous carbon nanomaterials, which have a gravimetric capacitance between 50 and 150 Farads/g. Research carried out by the University of Manchester shows that high capacitance materials incorporating graphene are capable of reaching up to 500 Farads/g. This will significantly increase the operational performance of supercapacitors in a wide range of applications, as well as increasing the available supply of materials.

Published research1 by Prof. Robert Dryfe and Prof. Ian Kinloch of The University of Manchester reveals how high capacity, microporous materials can be manufactured by the electrochemical processing of graphite raw materials. These use transition metal ions to create metal oxide decorated graphene materials, which have an extremely high gravimetric capacitance, to 500 Farads/g.

Prof. Dryfe has secured funding from the UK EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Council) for further optimisation of metal oxide/graphene materials. Following successful completion of this study, FGR is planning to build a pilot-scale production unit at its laboratories within the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC). It is anticipated that this will be the first step in volume production in the UK, to enable the introduction of these materials to supercapacitor device manufacturers.

Andy Goodwin, Chief Technology Officer of First Graphene Ltd says: “This investment is a direct result of our presence at the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre. It emphasises the importance of effective external relationships with university research partners. The programme is also aligned with the UK government’s industrial strategy grand challenges and we’ll be pursuing further support for the development of our business within the UK.”

James Baker, Chief Executive of Graphene@Manchester, added: “We are really pleased with this further development of our partnership with First Graphene. The University’s Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre is playing a key role in supporting the acceleration of graphene products and applications through the development of a critical supply chain of material supply and in the development of applications for industry. This latest announcement marks a significant step in our Graphene City developments, which looks to create a unique innovation ecosystem here in the Manchester city-region, the home of graphene.”

Tags:  Andy Goodwin  Energy Storage  First Graphene  Graphene  Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre  Ian Kinloch  James Baker  nanomaterials  Robert Dryfe  supercapacitors  University of Manchester 

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Nanochains could increase battery capacity, cut charging time

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Tuesday, September 24, 2019
How long the battery of your phone or computer lasts depends on how many lithium ions can be stored in the battery's negative electrode material. If the battery runs out of these ions, it can't generate an electrical current to run a device and ultimately fails.

Materials with a higher lithium ion storage capacity are either too heavy or the wrong shape to replace graphite, the electrode material currently used in today's batteries.

Purdue University scientists and engineers have introduced a potential way that these materials could be restructured into a new electrode design that would allow them to increase a battery's lifespan, make it more stable and shorten its charging time.

The study, appearing as the cover of the September issue of Applied Nano Materials, created a net-like structure, called a "nanochain," of antimony, a metalloid known to enhance lithium ion charge capacity in batteries.

The researchers compared the nanochain electrodes to graphite electrodes, finding that when coin cell batteries with the nanochain electrode were only charged for 30 minutes, they achieved double the lithium-ion capacity for 100 charge-discharge cycles.

Some types of commercial batteries already use carbon-metal composites similar to antimony metal negative electrodes, but the material tends to expand up to three times as it takes in lithium ions, causing it to become a safety hazard as the battery charges.

"You want to accommodate that type of expansion in your smartphone batteries. That way you're not carrying around something unsafe," said Vilas Pol, a Purdue associate professor of chemical engineering.

Through applying chemical compounds -- a reducing agent and a nucleating agent -- Purdue scientists connected the tiny antimony particles into a nanochain shape that would accommodate the required expansion. The particular reducing agent the team used, ammonia-borane, is responsible for creating the empty spaces -- the pores inside the nanochain -- that accommodate expansion and suppress electrode failure.

The team applied ammonia-borane to several different compounds of antimony, finding that only antimony-chloride produced the nanochain structure.

"Our procedure to make the nanoparticles consistently provides the chain structures," said P. V. Ramachandran, a professor of organic chemistry at Purdue.

The nanochain also keeps lithium ion capacity stable for at least 100 charging-discharging cycles. "There's essentially no change from cycle 1 to cycle 100, so we have no reason to think that cycle 102 won't be the same," Pol said.

Henry Hamann, a chemistry graduate student at Purdue, synthesized the antimony nanochain structure and Jassiel Rodriguez, a Purdue chemical engineering postdoctoral candidate, tested the electrochemical battery performance.

The electrode design has the potential to be scalable for larger batteries, the researchers say. The team plans to test the design in pouch cell batteries next.

Tags:  batteries  Battery  Graphene  Henry Hamann  Jassiel Rodriguez  Li-ion  nanomaterials  P. V. Ramachandran  Purdue University  Vilas Pol 

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New health monitors are flexible, transparent and graphene enabled

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Wednesday, September 18, 2019

New technological devices are prioritizing non-invasive tracking of vital signs not only for fitness monitoring, but also for the prevention of common health problems such as heart failure, hypertension, and stress related complications, among others. Wearables based on optical detection mechanisms are proving an invaluable approach for reporting on our bodies inner workings and have experienced a large penetration into the consumer market in recent years.

Current wearable technologies, based on non-flexible components, do not deliver the desired accuracy and can only monitor a limited number of vital signs. To tackle this problem, conformable non-invasive optical-based sensors that can measure a broader set of vital signs are at the top of the end-users’ wish list.

In a recent study published in Science Advances ("Flexible graphene photodetectors for wearable fitness monitoring"), ICFO researchers have demonstrated a new class of flexible and transparent wearable devices that are conformable to the skin and can provide continuous and accurate measurements of multiple human vital signs. These devices can measure heart rate, respiration rate and blood pulse oxygenation, as well as exposure to UV radiation from the sun.

While the device measures the different parameters, the read-out is visualized and stored on a mobile phone interface connected to the wearable via Bluetooth. In addition, the device can operate battery-free since it is charged wirelessly through the phone.

“It was very important for us to demonstrate the wide range of potential applications for our advanced light sensing technology through the creation of various prototypes, including the flexible and transparent bracelet, the health patch integrated on a mobile phone and the UV monitoring patch for sun exposure. They have shown to be versatile and efficient due to these unique features”, reports Dr. Emre Ozan Polat, first author of this publication.

The bracelet was fabricated in such a way that it adapts to the skin surface and provides continuous measurement during activity (see Figure 1). The bracelet incorporates a flexible light sensor that can optically record the change in volume of blood vessels, due to the cardiac cycle, and then extract different vital signs such as heart rate, respiration rate and blood pulse oxygenation.

Secondly, the researchers report on the integration of a graphene health patch onto a mobile phone screen, which instantly measures and displays vital signs in real time when a user places one finger on the screen (see Figure 2). A unique feature of this prototype is that the device uses ambient light to operate, promoting low-power-consumption in these integrated wearables and thus, allowing a continuous monitoring of health markers over long periods of time.

ICFO’s advanced light sensing technology has implemented two types of nanomaterials: graphene, a highly flexible and transparent material made of one-atom thick layer of carbon atoms, together with a light absorbing layer made of quantum dots. The demonstrated technology brings a new form factor and design freedom to the wearables’ field, making graphene-quantum-dots-based devices a strong platform for product developers.

 

Dr. Antonios Oikonomou, business developer at ICFO emphasized this by stating that “The booming wearables industry is eagerly looking to increase fidelity and functionality of its offerings. Our graphene-based technology platform answers this challenge with a unique proposition: a scalable, low-power system capable of measuring multiple parameters while allowing the translation of new form factors into products.”

Dr. Stijn Goossens, co-supervisor of the study, also comments that “we have made a breakthrough by showing a flexible, wearable sensing system based on graphene light sensing components. Key was to pick the best of the rigid and flexible worlds. We used the unique benefits of flexible components for vital sign sensing and combined that with the high performance and miniaturization of conventional rigid electronic components.”

Finally, the researchers have been able to demonstrate a broad wavelength detection range with the technology, extending the functionality of the prototypes beyond the visible range. By using the same core technology, they have fabricated a flexible UV patch prototype (see Figure 3) capable of wirelessly transferring both power and data, and operating battery-free to sense the environmental UV-index. continuous monitoring of health markers over long periods of time.

The patch operates with a low power consumption and has a highly efficient UV detection system that can be attached to clothing or skin, and used for monitoring radiation intake from the sun, alerting the wearer of any possible over-exposure.

“We are excited about the prospects for this technology, pointing to a scalable route for the integration of graphene-quantum-dots into fully flexible wearable circuits to enhance form, feel, durability, and performance”, remarks Prof. Frank Koppens, leader of the Quantum Nano-Optoelectronics group at ICFO. “Such results show that this flexible wearable platform is compatible with scalable fabrication processes, proving mass-production of low-cost devices is within reach in the near future.”

Tags:  Antonios Oikonomou  Emre Ozan Polat  Frank Koppens  Graphene  Healthcare  ICFO  nanomaterials  quantum dots  Sensors  Stijn Goossens 

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Scientists create ultraviolet light on a graphene surface

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Sunday, June 2, 2019
Updated: Friday, May 31, 2019

Ultraviolet light is used to kill bacteria and viruses, but UV lamps contain toxic mercury. A newly developed nanomaterial is changing that.

The nano research team led by professors Helge Weman and Bjørn-Ove Fimland at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)’s Department of Electronic Systems has succeeded in creating light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, from a nanomaterial that emits ultraviolet light (Nano Letters, "GaN/AlGaN Nanocolumn Ultraviolet Light-Emitting Diode Using Double-Layer Graphene as Substrate and Transparent Electrode").It is the first time anyone has created ultraviolet light on a graphene surface.

“We’ve shown that it’s possible, which is really exciting,” says PhD candidate Ida Marie Høiaas, who has been working on the project with Andreas Liudi Mulyo, who is also a PhD candidate.
“We’ve created a new electronic component that has the potential to become a commercial product. It’s non-toxic and could turn out to be cheaper, and more stable and durable than today’s fluorescent lamps. If we succeed in making the diodes efficient and much cheaper, it’s easy to imagine this equipment becoming commonplace in people’s homes. That would increase the market potential considerably,” Høiaas says.

Dangerous – but useful

Although it’s important to protect ourselves from too much exposure to the sun’s UV radiation, ultraviolet light also has very useful properties. This applies especially to UV light with short wavelengths of 100-280 nanometres, called UVC light, which is especially useful for its ability to destroy bacteria and viruses. Fortunately, the dangerous UVC rays from the sun are trapped by the ozone layer and oxygen and don’t reach the Earth. But it is possible to create UVC light, which can be used to clean surfaces and hospital equipment, or to purify water and air.

The problem today is that many UVC lamps contain mercury. The UN’s Minamata Convention, which went into effect in 2017, sets out measures to phase out mercury mining and reduce mercury use. The convention was named for a Japanese fishing village where the population was poisoned by mercury emissions from a factory in the 1950s.

Building on graphene

A layer of graphene placed on glass forms the substrate for the researchers’ new diode that generates UV light.

Graphene is a super-strong and ultra-thin crystalline material consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms. Researchers have succeeded in growing nanowires of aluminium gallium nitride (AlGaN) on the graphene lattice.

The process takes place in a high temperature vacuum chamber where aluminium and gallium atoms are deposited or grown directly on the graphene substrate – with high precision and in the presence of nitrogen plasma. This process is known as molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) and is conducted in Japan, where the NTNU research team collaborates with Professor Katsumi Kishino at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Let there be light

After growing the sample, it is transported to the NTNU NanoLab where the researchers make metal contacts of gold and nickel on the graphene and nanowires. When power is sent from the graphene and through the nanowires, they emit UV light. Graphene is transparent to light of all wavelengths, and the light emitted from the nanowires shines through the graphene and glass.

“It’s exciting to be able to combine nanomaterials this way and create functioning LEDs, says Høiaas.
An analysis has calculated that the market for UVC products will increase by NOK 6 billion, or roughly US $700 million between now and 2023. The growing demand for such products and the phase- out of mercury are expected to yield an annual market increase of almost 40 per cent.

Concurrently with her PhD research at NTNU, Høiaas is working with the same technology on an industrial platform for CrayoNano. The company is a spinoff of NTNU’s nano research environment.

Use less electricity more cheaply

UVC LEDs that can replace fluorescent bulbs are already on the market, but CrayoNano’s goal is to create far more energy-efficient and cheaper diodes. According to the company, one reason that today’s UV LEDs are expensive is that the substrate is made of costly aluminium nitride. Graphene is cheaper to manufacture and requires less material for the LED diode.
Høiaas believes that the technology needs to be improved quite a bit before the process developed at NTNU can be scaled up to industrial production level.

Among the issues that need to be addressed are conductivity and energy efficiency, more advanced nanowire structures and shorter wavelengths to create UVC light. CrayoNano has made progress, but results documenting their progress have not yet been published. “CrayoNano’s goal is to commercialize the technology sometime in 2022,” says Høiaas.

Tags:  Bjørn-Ove Fimland  CrayoNano AS  Graphene  Helge Weman  nanomaterials  Norwegian University of Science and Technology  ultraviolet 

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Flexible, transparent monolayer graphene device for power generation and storage

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, May 14, 2019
Researchers at Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology developed single-layer graphene based multifunctional transparent devices that are expected to be used as electronics and skin-attachable devices with power generation and self-charging capability (ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, "Single-Layer Graphene-Based Transparent and Flexible Multifunctional Electronics for Self-Charging Power and Touch-Sensing Systems").

Senior Researcher Changsoon Choi's team actively used single-layered graphene film as electrodes in order to develop transparent devices. Due to its excellent electrical conductivity and light and thin characteristics, single-layered graphene film is perfect for electronics that require batteries.

By using high-molecule nano-mat that contains semisolid electrolyte, the research team succeeded in increasing transparency (maximum of 77.4%) to see landscape and letters clearly.

Furthermore, the research team designed structure for electronic devices to be self-charging and storing by inserting energy storage panel inside the upper layer of power devices and energy conversion panel inside the lower panel. They even succeeded in manufacturing electronics with touch-sensing systems by adding a touch sensor right below the energy storage panel of the upper layer.

Senior Researcher Changsoon Choi in the Smart Textile Research Group, the co-author of this paper, said that "We decided to start this research because we were amazed by transparent smartphones appearing in movies. While there are still long ways to go for commercialization due to high production costs, we will do our best to advance this technology further as we made this success in the transparent energy storage field that has not had any visible research performances."

Tags:  Batteries  Changsoon Choi  Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technolog  Graphene  nanomaterials 

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New graphene-based material developed for medical implants

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Thursday, May 2, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, May 1, 2019
A group of scientists have developed a new material for biomedical applications by combining a graphene-based nanomaterial with Hydroxyapatite (HAp), a commonly used bioceramic in implants.

In recent years, biometallic implants have become popular as a means to repair, restructure or replace damaged or diseased parts in orthopaedic and dental procedures. Metal parts also find use in devices such as pacemakers.

However, metallic implants face several limitations and are not a permanent solution. They react with body fluids and corrode, release wear and tear debris resulting in toxins and inflammation. They also have high thermal expansion and low compressive strength causing pain and are dense and may cause reactions.

On the other hand, bioceramics do not have these limitations. HAp specifically is osteoconductive, with a bone-like porous structure offering the required scaffold for tissue re-growth. However, it is brittle and lacks the mechanical strength of metals. The problem is overcome by combining it with nanoparticles of materials such as Zirconia.

In the new research, scientists have combined HAp with graphene nanoplatelets. “Previously reported studies have focused on only structural properties of such composites without throwing light on their biological properties. We have found that combining HAp with graphene nanomaterial enhances mechanical strength, provides better in-vivo imaging and biocompatibility without changing its basic bone-like properties,” explained Dr Gautam Chandkiram, the principal investigator at University of Lucknow, while speaking to India Science Wire.

Purification of the base ceramic material is a significant primary challenge in fabricating composites. According to scientists, in the current study, highly efficient biocompatible Hydroxyapatite was successfully prepared via a microwave irradiation technique and the consequent composites was synthesised using a simple solid-state reaction method.

The process involved mixing different concentrations of graphene nanoplatelet powders and drying, crushing, sieving and ball-milling the resulting slurry. The fine composite powder was further cold-compressed and sintered at 1200 degrees Celsius to achieve the desired density.

The scientists found that the composite had adequate interfacial area between the nanoparticles, with the graphene nanoplatelets well distributed into the hydroxyapatite matrix, while exhibiting high fracture resistance. Further, structural characterization, mechanical and load bearing tests showed that the 2D nature of graphene improves the load transfer efficiency significantly.

Researchers also examined cell viability of the composite by observing metabolic activity in specific cells using a procedure known as MTT assay. They used gut tissues of Drosophila larvae and primary osteoblast cells of a rat. “The overall cell viability studies demonstrated that there is no cytotoxic effect of the composites on any cell type,” explained Dr. Gautam.

Biomaterials also find use in drug delivery and bioimaging diagnosis. “Our research on the composite found that it displays a better fluorescence behaviour as compared to pure hydroxyapatite, indicating it has a great potential in bone engineering and bioimaging bio-imaging applications as well,” he added.

Tags:  2D Materials  Gautam Chandkiram  Graphene  Medical  nanomaterials  University of Lucknow 

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Thomas Swan Advanced Materials announce exciting Graphene collaboration with Graphene Composites Ltd pioneering advanced protection against knife and gun-crime

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Wednesday, May 1, 2019
Thomas Swan is proud to collaborate with nano-materials technology manufacturer Graphene Composites Ltd to provide the graphene solution in their GC Shield™ armour products. The product is the result of a lengthy development collaboration between the companies together with the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) using GNP-M grade graphene from Thomas Swan in the final application - an endorsement of the company’s ability to manufacture graphene in volume.

The GC Shield™ comes in a range of armour products providing lightweight, mobile protection to individuals and groups, plus effective protection for installation in large spaces. From a lightweight, flexible shield that is both bullet and stab-proof and can fit into a schoolbag, the GC Shield™ Plus has been successfully tested to stop multiple 7.62 x 51mm NATO M80 sniper bullets and AR-15 assault rifle M193 bullets fired at close range. The GC Shield™ Curtain can be deployed quickly, effectively and safely to provide protection in large spaces (e.g. school cafeterias, open plan areas, entrance halls).

Michael Edwards, head of the Advanced Materials Division at Thomas Swan said “It is always great to see an end-application that transfers into production demonstrating real-life applications for graphene – something that has been evasive in our market to date. As always there is a learning curve to be developed with a willing partner for a go-to market product, but we are always delighted to reach that point”.

Thomas Swan has a patented process to produce Multiple Layer (MLG) and Graphene Nanoplatelets (GNP) in volume at our facility in Consett, UK. Using our patented process of HighShear Liquid Phase Exfoliation licensed from Professor Jonathan Coleman’s work at Trinity College Dublin, we have further enhanced the process using our expertise at Thomas Swan, scaling-up to a 20T per year GNP capacity available today. We have the distinct advantage of being an established global player in the chemicals and materials business.

With manufacturing in the UK, a subsidiary company in the USA together with QA, logistics, regulatory and safety management, we are a leader in the field of 2D materials. Sandy Chen, CEO and founder of Graphene Composites said “Thomas Swan’s expertise in graphene manufacturing has been crucial to our success in developing our revolutionary armour products. Not only has the high quality and consistent manufacture made this possible but as a company, their willingness to collaborate closely with our Technical Team in our development processes has led to innovative and agile product design and development. This has enabled us to get our products market-ready much more quickly”.

Tags:  2D materials  Graphene  Graphene Composites  Jonathan Coleman  Michael Edwards  nanomaterials  Sandy Chen  Thomas Swan 

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Future Ready: The Graphene Innovators

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Saturday, April 6, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, April 2, 2019

When the material graphene, which earned two University of Manchester scientists the Nobel Prize in Physics, exploded onto the research scene in 2004, many thought it was destined to change the world. Bulletproof armour and space elevators, super-antibiotics and rust-proof vehicles were only a few of the imagined applications of graphene, some of which are in development. However, realizing the full impact of the two-dimensional form of carbon carries as much promise as it does challenges.

As people around the globe race to solve the riddle of taking this emerging technology to market, researchers in the lab of McGill Professor Thomas Szkopek had a wave—a sound wave—of inspiration.

Innovation by Example

Szkopek devotes much of his research activity to exploring and exploiting 2D atomic crystals and he is especially curious about graphene. In his Nanoelectronic Devices and Materials lab, he and his students often have impromptu discussions about possible applications for graphene and how they could be developed. “Most of the ideas are bad – but that process is how good ideas get started,” he says. 

Szkopek has always been interested in solving science problems. He looks to his family for the source of his perseverance in the face of challenges. “I inherited a hard work ethic and tolerance for failure. You learn more from your failures than your successes, if you take the time to think about why things failed."

In the lab, he models this determination and inquisitiveness with the goal of fostering innovation—new ideas for problems new or old—and cross-disciplinary solutions. “My job is to allow students to reach their potential and encourage their curiosity. I give students freedom to ask their own questions and pursue their own good ideas. I want to get them out of the mode of being consumers of knowledge and turn them into producers of knowledge.”

He also uses his scientific connections with a diverse network of key players—collaborators from different disciplines, experts in transferring technology from lab to industry, and possible funders—to help students translate and apply new knowledge into practical devices with commercial potential that could benefit society and have a positive impact on people’s daily lives.



As a graduate student at UCLA before arriving at McGill in 2006, Szkopek was encouraged to ask probing physics questions and find practical engineering solutions to difficult problems by his Ph.D. supervisor, electrical engineering professor and physicist Eli Yablonovitch. Szkopek’s mentor introduced a factor that describes light-trapping phenomena, referred to as the “4n2 limit”, which is now used worldwide in almost all commercial solar panels. Yablonovitch was awarded a McGill Honourary Degree in 2018.

“I learned a lot from Eli about trying to reduce problems to their core and asking deep questions about physical limits. I shared an interest in applying physics to technological problems, which is closer to the engineering frontier where things aren’t figured out yet. If you ask good questions, you often find interesting answers. The key is to never lose your curiosity.”

The deep question always at the top of his mind: how to harness the potential of graphene?

A sound idea

During one scientific discussion in the lab, Peter Gaskell, a Ph.D. student who was working with Szkopek on developing lithium-ion batteries made with graphene-treated anodes for electric vehicles, proposed a novel idea about using graphene oxide for an acoustic application: to improve sound quality by using the material in a microphone.

While later sharing a beer with his brother Eric Gaskell, who was doing a Ph.D. in sound engineering at McGill’s Schulich School of Music, Peter floated his idea about graphene and graphene oxide’s mechanical properties and potential application in sound amplification.

Eric, who had worked for Audio Engineering Associates (AEA) in California building ribbon microphones for high-performance studio recording and has been a recording engineer at the Aspen Music Festival, was excited and intrigued. He agreed that graphene oxide might be an ideal material for acoustic membranes in ribbon microphones to enhance sound quality. Its high stiffness could potentially produce better sound with less distortion, while the low-density and lightness could lead to greater energy efficiency.

Peter again pitched the idea to Szkopek and his lab mates. “We couldn’t find any obvious holes in the idea, so we thought it should work,” says Szkopek. The Gaskell brothers proceeded to design, develop and build a graphene oxide membrane for ribbon microphones in his lab.

Szkopek’s initial endorsement and support of the idea, along with access to his lab space, specialized equipment, guidance and expertise in graphene, were invaluable: “Thomas’ enthusiasm for the idea allowed us to take it to the next level,” says Eric.

They successfully created a prototype acoustic membrane for ribbon microphones formed from ultra-thin, flat sheets of graphene oxide-based material, which markedly improved sound quality.

Szkopek encouraged them to explore commercializing the invention.

To start them on their way, Szkopek called Derrick Wong, a Technology Transfer Manager in McGill’s Office of Innovation and Partnerships.

“A key trait for researchers who work with our Office is to be very collaborative, like Thomas”, says Wong. “His personality is to encourage his students to explore and lead, and he provides them with guidance and a skill set.”

Impressed, Wong cautioned that the specific application wasn’t likely to attract funding from investors. “The prototype was cool, but the market for high-end microphones is very limited,” he says.

They discussed other possible applications that could expand the market for graphene oxide membrane technology, including loudspeakers for headphones, a $1.6 billion USD market.

Pivotal prototype funding

The Faculty of Engineering saw the potential of this idea and raised money from donors that enabled Szkopek to develop and pursue it with an Innovation Award for $7,000. “That funding was crucial because it allowed us to hire a summer student to work on developing a prototype for headphones. We didn’t need a million dollars, just thousands,” he says.

Electrical engineering undergraduate Raed Abdo helped devise techniques to form the graphene-based material into cone-shaped loudspeaker membranes for headphones, rather than flat acoustic membranes for microphones.

This turned out to be crucial for attracting investors.
Wong had identified TandemLaunch, a Montreal-based business incubator that specializes in creating start-ups from university research and has strong connections in the consumer electronics and audio industries, as an ideal potential early-stage investor.

He called Tandem and said: “You have to see this prototype.” Four people met with the invention team in Szkopek’s lab and sampled the graphene-based headphones. “They listened and went ‘Wow!’”

Eric would carry the invention forward as an entrepreneur-in-residence, who receives business mentorship, guidance and support in building a technology company. Szkopek would be technical advisor and, as a world-leading graphene scientist, build confidence with investors.

Gaskell joined the incubator in 2016, where he assembled a co-founding team for Ora Graphene Audio, which includes business lead Ari Pinkas and materials lead Sergii Tutashkonko. The start-up received seed funding to develop and commercialize the technology, along with valuable mentoring and infrastructure support. To date, Ora has raised $1 million through Kickstarter and is working closely with several of the biggest consumer electronics brands to develop graphene-based loudspeakers for the audio industry and graphene-based micro speakers for laptops, tablets and cell phones.

Pushing biosensing limits

After Ora’s launch, Szkopek turned his sights to another challenge. He and electrical engineering Ph.D. student Ibrahim Fakih began to explore the potential of graphene’s electronic properties to design and develop a large area, graphene-based field effect transistor for high-precision sensing of ions in water.

“I had been wondering,” says Szkopek, “how could you design a graphene transistor to improve performance in sensing things? Is there an advantage to using graphene and how could you realize that advantage?”

“This device improves the minimum pH detection limits by 20 times over current silicon transistor and glass electrode sensors at a much lower cost. Making the transistor physically larger makes it quieter,” explains Szkopek, who worked with Wong to identify a promising application for commercialization.

Fakih, Szkopek and Abdo co-founded UltraSense, a company that aims to improve water quality monitoring with low-cost, graphene-based sensors.

UltraSense won a 2018 McGill Dobson Cup Award for $10,000 and McGill EngInE prize for $5,000. “Water quality is incredibly important, and I’m excited about the local and global possibilities. Imagine a network of sensors continuously feeding data that gives you the levels of contaminants in water and a map in real time,” says Szkopek.

He recently initiated a collaboration with McGill chemical engineering professor Viviane Yargeau, a leading water quality researcher. “We plan to work with her to test how well the technology functions in a real outdoor environment.”

Seeing is believing

The path from curiosity-driven invention to practical, commercial innovation opens the door to dynamic entrepreneurial and employment opportunities for McGill students and graduates who train and do research. Ora inspired more engineering students in Szkopek’s lab to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions.

“Ora was an idea and it turned into a new technology company that employs people. That encourages students to go for it. They see that what they do in the lab can turn into something people use in their daily life,” Szkopek says. “This innovation is all being driven by encouraging students’ curiosity, and by providing the resources and environment so they can develop their ideas. The world is changing and there are now more opportunities for students and graduates to build or contribute to their own start-up companies. The future is in their hands.”

Tags:  2D materials  biosensors  Eli Yablonovitch  Eric Gaskell  Graphene  McGill University  nanomaterials  Peter Gaskell  Thomas Szkopek 

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