COLLABORATION

Collaboration develops invisibility cloak and more using nanomaterials

SOURCE: Pau Barrena/AFP
This collaboration will look into the development of innovative real-world applications for graphene.

Innovative research led by the University of Sussex on nanomaterial technology is bringing in exciting new inventions straight out of sci-fi and fantasy flicks. 

A team of University of Sussex researchers led by Professor Alan Dalton, have received £1 million in funds thanks to a partnership with Advanced Material Development, an SME which commercialises materials science projects that have been researched at various universities across the UK and beyond. 

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This collaboration will entail research projects on the real-world applications of nanomaterials, including camouflage technology somewhat resembling a Harry Potter-styled invisibility cloak to stop soldiers from being spotted by thermal imaging or night vision goggles. 

Besides that, the team will also develop anti-counterfeiting graphene inks which can be used across several real-world applications. 

These can be printed onto clothes and medicine containers, incorporated into smart tyres to assist in monitoring for problems, used as an anti-counterfeiting mechanism on banknotes, included on metal-free radio-frequency identification tags (RFID) for supermarkets to track products, and wearable technology including monitors for babies’ heartbeats or diabetic patients’ glucose levels. 

Nanomaterial
Research institutes across the nation have been looking into how nanomaterials work. Source: Richard Stonehouse/Pool/AFP.

Graphene inks are carbon-based nanomaterials that are metal-free and can be considered as a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to existing materials. 

These inks are also flexible and highly conductive which allow a wider range of real-world uses for this technology. 

Graphene has become a popular nanomaterial of choice due to its unique composition which allows it to be used for various different applications. It’s an atom-thick honeycomb sheet of carbon atoms and is the building block for other graphitic materials. 

Its unique composition of being robust yet flexible makes it a viable material platform to develop next-generation technologies, ranging from high-tech wearables, sensors, multi-functional coatings, and for use in medical and biotechnology. As far as research shows, Graphene is the strongest known nanomaterial. 

The £1 million funds will be split over two years for the project and will cover four post-doctorate researchers and various students who will primarily work on the research and development of the graphene inks. 

“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,” said University of Sussex Director of Innovation and Business Partnerships Dr Sue Baxter. 

As a preliminary initiative for these research projects, Professor Dalton’s team has already created a prototype capacitive sensor for smartphone screens using silver nanowires and graphene which are both highly conductive, didn’t rely on particular materials that may be facing critical supply shortages, and are also flexible and smash-proof. 

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This relationship with Advanced Material Development was established since 2017 to develop applications for graphene technology from Professor Dalton’s Lab and is based at the Sussex Innovation Centre. 

This is the second grant the university has received from the firm, with the first being a £600,000 fund in 2018. 

Currently, Advanced Material Development is working with the University of Sussex and chain department store Walmart to explore the feasibility of commercialising sustainable RFID tags to the market.