'Atomaterials' centre seeks to transform everyday devices

Thursday, 13 February, 2020

'Atomaterials' centre seeks to transform everyday devices

Researchers from Swinburne University of Technology are on a mission to create materials and products with unprecedented functionalities, set to revolutionise the world of electronics, communications and manufacturing by transforming our everyday devices.

Their base of operations is the newly launched Centre for Translational Atomaterials, referring to ‘atomic materials’ or the building blocks of nanomaterials — the materials that make our devices and technologies small, fast and powerful.

“Atomaterials are a bit like Lego,” said Centre Director and nanotechnology expert Professor Baohua Jia, who coined the term. “Nanomaterials are like different pieces of Lego joined together, whereas atomic materials are the single pieces about one millionth of a human hair in size.”

The Centre for Translational Atomaterials is described by the university as a world-first centre dedicated to the discovery and research of atomaterials with a particular focus on translating them into new technologies with never-before-seen functionalities. Graphene is one example of an atomaterial which Swinburne has already helped develop for use in large-scale manufacturing and device development, but new materials and products being produced by the centre include the following:

  • A supercapacitor energy-storing device made from graphene that charges devices in seconds and has millions of cycles because it doesn’t rely on a chemical reaction to work like a traditional battery. It is also safer than current batteries, which are toxic to the environment.
  • Self-cooling film that can cool down an environment without electricity. It could be used for buildings and clothes and ease blackouts in summer and reduce CO2 emissions.
  • Ultrathin graphene solar heating — a material that can rapidly heat up to 160°C under natural sunlight that could be used for solar energy harvesting, distilling sea water into clean water and creating more efficient hot water systems.
  • Super-sensory technology that could be integrated into devices or immersed into environments to make them intelligent when they are linked to other technologies. It could be applied to floors of aged-care facilities to monitor if residents fall over or integrated into steering wheels to assess the driver’s grip of the wheel and prevent crashes.

Professor Baohua Jia and Dr Han Lin with the working prototype of the supercapacitor energy storing device that can charge devices in seconds and has a lifetime of millions of cycles.

The Centre for Translational Atomaterials launched its Global Open Lab on 1 February, set to enable industry and researchers to collaborate more easily and allow for the seamless translation of new technologies. It aims to open up conversation between academia and the wider community, and facilitate the commercialisation and development of new products.

“Rapid progress in nanomaterials in the past 30 years has enabled miniaturisation and drastic performance improvement on electronics, manufacturing and every aspect of our life,” Prof Jia said.

“But nanomaterials are reaching their physical fabrication limits. Silicon, for instance, cannot sustain once it is pushed smaller than 5 nm. Atomaterials, however, can be designed and constructed in intelligent ways to create new materials that outperform the old ones.”

Top image: Professor Baohua Jia and Dr Han Lin with a prototype of the cooling film that can cool an environment down up to 10°C without electricity.

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