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ERA Chair for emerging technologies and innovative research in Stretchable and Textile Electronics

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - STRENTEX (ERA Chair for emerging technologies and innovative research in Stretchable and Textile Electronics)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2021-03-31

The problem/issue being addressed: Despite serious efforts deployed at national and European level, the significant internal disparities in terms of research and innovation performance can be observed in Europe. The STRENTEX project is intended to enhance research performances of the promising institution from low performing country (Serbia), Faculty of Technical Sciences, University of Novi Sad (FTS-UNS), thanks to establishing ERA Chair in the field of stretchable and textile electronics.

Importance for society. The STRENTEX project is in line with the Horizon 2020 Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) cross-cutting issue, engaging society, integrating the gender and ethical dimensions and ensuring the open access to research publications. The STRENTEX team has already identified strategic road mapping directions, aligning them with the needs and expectations of society. As a response to the identified societal challenges, ERA Chair team will deliver some of the following new innovative solutions: Face masks with embroidered breath sensors, Microfluidic platforms for milk quality detection, Stretchable batteries for wearables, Textile-based wound monitoring system, Smart storage bags for monitoring potato diseases, etc.

The objectives of the STRENTEX project. Five specific objectives (SOs) are as follows:
SO1: To attract and maintain high quality human resources
Status: Achieved – Era Chair holder (prof. dr Varun Jeoti) was employed, seven members of the ERA chair team were employed and research equipment in the field of stretchable and textile electronics delivered (Screen Printer, Embroidery machine, Instrument for stretch tests). KPI: 8 new team members employed, 3 new sophisticated pieces of equipment purchased and installed in the laboratory of ERA Chair team member.

SO2: To implement structural changes at FTS-UNS to achieve excellence on a sustainable basis
Status: Under progress – The strategic road mapping directions of ERA Chair team identified. Open, transparent and merit-based recruitment procedures is implemented; Gender equality plan is under consideration.

SO3: To significantly improve research performance of FTS-UNS in the field of Stretchable & Textile Electronics
Status: Under progress – the five manuscript have been submitted to potential publications in respectable international journals. KPI: Two journal papers and two conference papers have been already published.

SO4: To improve success of FTS-UNS in obtaining competitive funding
Status: Under progress – one project proposal was submitted for H2020 European green deal call, the second project proposal is writing for Horizon Europe EIC Pathfinder open, in order to obtain competitive funding and to ensure sustainability of ERA Chair team, and one of bilateral scientific cooperation India-Serbia was submitted.

SO5: To increase FTS-UNS’s attractiveness and the visibility of the ERA Chair team
Status: Under progress – a flyer with a description of the STRENTEX project at glance was designed and printed; promotional materials including the roll up with clear project visual identity were printed and distributed; project web site created as well as social media platforms; two promotional movies created.
The most important work performed from the beginning of the STRENTEX project (01.01.2020) to the end to the first reporting period (31.03.2021) has been establishment of the ERA Chair. This task was performed through the following steps: (a) Appointment of ERA Chair holder; (b) Recruitment of ERA Chair team members; (c) Procuring research equipment for ERA Chair team.
(a) The whole process of ERA Chair holder appointment was organized in the period from 10/01/2020 to 01/09/2020. The panel for selection of ERA chair holder has been established, comprised of 3 independent and internationally recognized experts in the field of Stretchable & Textile Electronics and 3 national experts who are part of decision-making bodies within the University of Novi Sad (UNS) and the Department of Electronics of the Faculty of Technical Sciences. In the framework of the stated deadline, 10 applicants submitted requested documents for ERA Chair holder position. Based on qualitative and quantitative criteria stated in the project, the final decision of the Selection panel was to employ Prof. Dr Varun Jeoti, from India (spending part of the career in Malaysia), as an ERA Chair holder, and he started his contract from 01/09/2020.

(b) In the framework of the stated deadline, 26 applicants submitted requested documents for 3 open job positions for Postdoctoral researchers, while 31 applicants applied for 4 early-stage researcher positions. Thus, in total we received 57 applications from 19 different countries, for 7 open positions. After careful consideration of all CVs and conclusions after performed interviews by Skype, ERA Chair holder and STRENTEX project coordinator made the decision to employ the following candidates: (i) for the three postdoc positions: Dr Mitar Simić, Dr Saima Qureshi and Dr Ankita Sinha; (ii) for four early stage researchers: Adrian Stavrakis, Adnan Endro Ali, Hima Zafar and Nikoleta Garces (up to 15.03.2021) and after termination of the contract on her personal request, Dragan Stoiljković was employed.

(c) The following pieces of sophisticated equipment have been purchased and installed at the laboratory of the ERA Chair team: Screen stencil printer – for fabrication on stretchable and flexible substrates; Embroidery machine – for fabrication on textile substrates; instrument for stretch tests – for testing mechanical properties of textile threads/substrates
State of the Art: Stretchable & Textile electronics is an area that is slowly maturing. However, the smart and intelligent clothing and dressing of this type have still not caught the imagination of the people and market is very slow to grow. Among various issues that are still bothersome, main is that the footprint of the electronics is large and the circuits are not flexible and not easy to hide. The circuit components are still hard and inflexible. So are batteries, lithium or otherwise.
Plan beyond State of the art:
The ERA Chair team road-mapping workshop was held on 05/02/2021. That workshop was an ideal opportunity to identify strategic directions of the development of the team in the near future.
ERA Chair team is looking at flexible, printable and/or embroidered electronics, like, novel printable batteries and super-capacitors, novel sensors and actuators, and entire circuitry retaining smaller footprint. Novel sensing technologies that render stretchable sheets and textiles materials intelligent are being developed using flexible, stretchable materials and/or embroidery using conducting threads.
Potential Socio-economic Impacts: It is expected that new products will find market and thus create opportunity for employment.
Potential Societal Impacts: One of the primary focus of the application domain of these stretchable and textile electronics will be Health. Many wearable health monitoring gadgets will be developed along the way. As the acceptance of these wearables among the people increases, an awareness and respect for healthy lifestyle will also increase, thereby impacting the health of large segments of society.
Capacitive sensor manufactured on embroidery machine
Strategic road-mapping workshop
ERA Chair team members
Textile-based sensor developed