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Graphene-based nanomaterials for touchscreen technologies: Comprehension, Commerce and Communication

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - Enabling Excellence (Graphene-based nanomaterials for touchscreen technologies: Comprehension, Commerce and Communication)

Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2019-03-31

Reaping the benefits of nanotechnology requires highly skilled creative young researchers able to communicate and think widely across the different areas of academic and socio-economic progress. Enabling Excellence is a training vehicle covering all these aspects, offering training at PhD level focused on graphene-based nanostructures. Graphene is an unprecedented fundamental nanobuilding block with a wide range of outstanding properties.

The core research and development structure follows two parallel streams along the TRLs via intersectoral (public-private) collaboration towards either materials design (Graphene-based composites for consumer and industrial electronics), or materials characterization (new instrumentation for spectroscopy of nanocarbons).
The project tackled critical issues at different levels of R&I, starting with graphene as the nanoobject itself, the development of functional graphene-based materials, their processing and integration into electronic device platforms such as supercapacitors, strain-sensors and touchscreens. In parallel we explored mission-critical techniques (electronic and optic) required for rapid, accurate characterization of these materials, developing new instrumentation with unparalleled resolution. Uniquely the other pillars, commerce and communication, are not just training elements; both contain a key research aspect we will feed back into future EU projects and ESR training. The action has concluded successfully with a range of exciting and innovative research, business and communication outcomes including new materials and products brought to market, high-impact publications, and launch of a company now valued at several times the money initially invested in the ITN. Primarily the project has delivered 12 highly-trained ESRs with the skills to become the new European leaders in nanomaterials science and technology.
After kick-off in Nantes, 9-11th June 2015, 9 of the 13 ESRs started their PhDs as anticipated, six months into the project at the start of October, with the rest shortly afterwards. At project end most have now completed their PhDs, several are in final stage of preparation. We held training workshops every six months, covering communication skills and activities, graphene “nanobuilding blocks”, commerce training, and nanocharacterisation skills and training, finishing with a ten-day tour of Japan giving workshops and seminars at academic, industry and government sites. Details of all workshops are on the project website eetraining.wordpress.com. We performed over twice the number of initially proposed scientific exchanges, albeit of more focused and shorter duration, with all students participating in at least one intersectorial exchange. All the ESRs have multiple publications. All deliverables and milestones have been met, communication and dissemination activities are ahead of those initially proposed.

The action scientific content has been highly successful. A range of individual nanoobjects have been synthesized, isolated or exfoliated from host material, fully characterized, and in many cases subject to post-treatment chemical functionalisation (both covalent and non-covalent). Collaborative studies of treatment processes, templating, solvent effects and sample hydration all resulted in joint high-impact publications (ACIE, JACS, AdvMat, etc) and ESR oral presentations at international conferences. Developments in super-resolution (sub-wavelength) Raman imaging is producing deconvoluted Raman spectroscopy maps at unprecedented sub-50nm spatial resolution, and is exploited for characterising samples produced by other ESRs (associated technology taken to market). An example collaboration between three ESRs in NHRF, Unizar and CNRS-IMN have successfully functionalised, characterized and simulated MoS2 monolayers with light activated pyrene “molecular switches” (published in Nature 2D). New graphene-based composites resulted in several “world firsts”, including the most sensitive liquid-based strain sensor, ultra-high conductivity low-loading composites (IP protected) and unprecedented sensitivity/selectivity gas sensors. The launch of a new company AMD is allowing the exploitation of technology and materials developed in the ITN.

As part of the business and communication training the ESRs developed their own “Grand Challenge” projects, including innovative ideas such as a chemistry card game (on sale on Amazon), a LGBT-targeted YouTube channel, trade stands and school outreach projects. We have produced a suggestions guide on ITN communication.
"Key highlights include:

• New equipment design and software allow Raman spectrometer at unprecedented spatial resolution (well below the conventional ""optical limit""). This opens the door to a new type of ultra-high resolution Raman spectroscopy, allowing us to identify local variations in bonding and chemistry at the nanoscale, on individual nanoobjects.
• Successful production of hybrid light-sensitive polymer-gold nanowires through electrochemical approaches, capable of acting as light waveguides. These unique hybrid nanoobjects can have their properties tuned to specific applications and have potential in bio-imaging, optoelectronics, and other disciplines, opening up a new area of nanoscale plasmonic remote Raman sensing.
• Scalable controlled synthesis of fluorescent water soluble light-sensitive plastic nanoparticles. They can then be combined with various other nanoparticles (graphene oxide, carbon quantum dots, ... produced within the network. These are potential building blocks in future light detection, harvesting and emission systems, and are an important tool towards ""green nanotechnology"".
• New functionalized MoS2 and WS2 solutions that act as donor-acceptor hybrids with potential application in energy capture and storage.
• Gas sensing thin film electrode chemresistor arrays (carbon “spiderweb”) produced by laser treatment of graphene based films capable of ultra-high sensitivity detection.
• Preparation of nanotube inks associated device fabrication by painting/printing processes. Appropriate removal of surfactants of importance for preparation of crystals for photonic applications, with IP protected results in ultra-high conductivity low-loading composites, as well as commercially viable nano-inks. These higher TRL results are being exploited by AMD and M-Solv through new contracts with major government and industrial players.
• Fabrication of novel liquid based strain sensors based on graphene emulsions. These can serve as ultra-cheap electromechanical sensor that can be used for wearable medical devices in a non-invasive fashion.
• Launch by project partners of company AMD enabling transfer to market and exploitation of nanocarbon / nanocomposite materials and technology. Successful initial private equity funding campaign and contracts with major government and industrial global players means the company is now valued at several times the total budget of the ITN.
• Grand Challenge project results are detailed on the website and include innovative projects in outreach, arts-science, business plan development in exploitation of project results, and a card game brought to market.

The key impact remains the high-level training of the early stage researchers and their preparation for future careers in the European research and development sphere.
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The Enabling Excellence Team Kick-Off Meeting
Student training developing next generation nanotechnology
Prof. Alan Dalton is developing nanoscale thin films for touchscreen displays
Metallic nanorods imaged with a scanning electron microscope
Quantum Chemical simulations of chemically modified graphene