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A proposal for developing tools to make energy-efficient solar panels and lighting sources available to a wide market, at a low cost, has won a prestigious award from the Royal Society.
The winning team from Imperial College London, led by Professor Donal Bradley New Window, received the Royal Society's annual GBP 250,000 Brian Mercer Award for Innovation in the field of nanotechnology, given for the best proposal to develop a nanotechnology concept into a commercial opportunity.
Professor Bradley and his colleagues received the award for their plans to commercially develop two production processes for plastic electronics. Plastic electronics uses novel organic, carbon-based semiconductors, instead of the traditional silicon, gallium arsenide and related inorganic materials. These new organic semiconductors combine solubility, allowing solution coating and printing to be used in the fabrication of devices, and properties such as flexibility and toughness, with the key functional characteristics of traditional semiconductors.
The team believes that the development of plastic electronics can support the widespread adoption of affordable, environmentally-friendly energy generation and lighting. They are focusing on creating the next generation of solar cells and 'solid-state' light sources, motivated by the high efficiency and low-cost promise of this technology. Plastic solar cells have the potential to make affordable photovoltaic energy a reality, while solid-state lighting, in which the traditional light bulb and fluorescent tube are replaced by light emitting diodes, offers the prospect of major savings in carbon emissions.
Professor Bradley welcomed the award, saying: "It's increasingly important for scientists not only to develop sustainable energy sources and energy-efficient products, but also to find ways of making sure these innovations can be delivered to the mass market in a timely and cost effective way."
"Our bid to the Royal Society for funds from the Brian Mercer bequest reflects the importance that we place on ensuring that, wherever feasible, our scientific research translates into marketable products which can change the way businesses and individuals generate and use energy."
The team will use the GBP 250,000 award to take the next steps in developing their patented technology. One process involves a novel approach to the photolithographic patterning technique commonly used in the production of standard microelectronic circuits, in which light is used to create a spatial pattern in a light-sensitive layer of photoresist material that is subsequently used as a template to pattern the underlying semiconductor. Previous attempts to use photolithography with organic semiconductors have been largely unsuccessful and have created serious difficulties for device manufacture. The team's new 'interlayer lithography' technique offers a means to apply the photolithographic method in an effective way to the patterning of organic semiconductor devices.
The team's second technique, invented in conjunction with Dr Patrick Degenaar New Window of Imperial's Institute for Bioengineering and arising from a Research Councils UK Basic Technology project on reverse engineering the human visual system, is a stamp-based process. This technique enables the scientists to successfully transfer fragile layers of organic semiconductor onto a variety of substrate materials, including sheets of glass or plastic, in order to build up a device structure.
The award was presented to Professor Bradley at the Royal Society's 'From Labs to Riches' event which encourages innovation in science and technology, and promotes real world application of the resulting ideas. Also present at the event were Dr John De Mello New Window (Department of Chemistry) and Omar Cheema New Window (Imperial Innovations) who, together with Dr Jingsong Huang (Molecular Vision Ltd) and Dr Lichun Chen (Department of Physics), make up the team.
Key aspects of the team's winning proposal include assessing the ultimate resolution and fidelity of the two fabrication processes and testing their suitability for high-throughput manufacturing.
About Imperial College London
Rated as the world's ninth best university in the 2006 Times Higher Education Supplement University Rankings, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 11,500 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality.
Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and management and delivers practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.
With 62 Fellows of the Royal Society among our current academic staff and distinguished past members of the College including 14 Nobel Laureates and two Fields Medallists, Imperial's contribution to society has been immense. Inventions and innovations include the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of our research for the benefit of all continues today with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to tackle climate change and mathematical modelling to predict and control the spread of infectious diseases.
The College's 100 years of living science will be celebrated throughout 2007 with a range of events to mark the Centenary of the signing of Imperial's founding charter on 8 July 1907.
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Danielle Reeves, Imperial College London Press Office,
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