Tag Archives: Opalux

Cambridge University wants to take its flexible opals to market

Structural colour due to nanoscale structures such as those found on Morpho butterfly wings, jewel beetles, opals, and elsewhere is fascinating to me (Feb. 7, 2013 posting). It would seem many scientists share my fascination  including these groups at the UK’s University of Cambridge and Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute, from the May 30, 2013 University of Cambridge news release (also on EurekAlert),

Instead of through pigments, these ‘polymer opals’ get their colour from their internal structure alone, resulting in pure colour which does not run or fade. The materials could be used to replace the toxic dyes used in the textile industry, or as a security application, making banknotes harder to forge. Additionally, the thin, flexible material changes colour when force is exerted on it, which could have potential use in sensing applications by indicating the amount of strain placed on the material.

The most intense colours in nature – such as those in butterfly wings, peacock feathers and opals – result from structural colour. While most of nature gets its colour through pigments, items displaying structural colour reflect light very strongly at certain wavelengths, resulting in colours which do not fade over time.

In collaboration with the DKI (now Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability) in Germany, researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed a synthetic material which has the same intensity of colour as a hard opal, but in a thin, flexible film.

Here’s what the researchers’ synthetic opal looks like,

Polymer Opals Credit: Nick Saffel [downloaded from http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/flexible-opals]

Polymer Opals Credit: Nick Saffel [downloaded from http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/flexible-opals]

The news release provides a brief description of naturally occurring opals and contrasts them with the researchers’ polymer opals,

Naturally-occurring opals are formed of silica spheres suspended in water. As the water evaporates, the spheres settle into layers, resulting in a hard, shiny stone. The polymer opals are formed using a similar principle, but instead of silica, they are constructed of spherical nanoparticles bonded to a rubber-like outer shell. When the nanoparticles are bent around a curve, they are pushed into the correct position to make structural colour possible. The shell material forms an elastic matrix and the hard spheres become ordered into a durable, impact-resistant photonic crystal.

“Unlike natural opals, which appear multi-coloured as a result of silica spheres not settling in identical layers, the polymer opals consist of one preferred layer structure and so have a uniform colour,” said Professor Jeremy Baumberg of the Nanophotonics Group at the University’s Cavendish Laboratory, who is leading the development of the material.

Like natural opals, the internal structure of polymer opals causes diffraction of light, resulting in strong structural colour. The exact colour of the material is determined by the size of the spheres. And since the material has a rubbery consistency, when it is twisted and stretched, the spacing between spheres changes, changing the colour of the material. When stretched, the material shifts into the blue range of the spectrum, and when compressed, the colour shifts towards red. When released, the material will return to its original colour.

I find the potential for use in the textile industry a little more interesting than the anti-counterfeiting application. (There’s a Canadian company, Nanotech Security Corp., a spinoff from Simon Fraser University, which capitalizes on the Blue Morpho butterfly wing’s nanoscale structures for an anti-counterfeiting application as per my first posting about the company on Jan. 17, 2011.) There has been at least one other attempt to create a textile that exploits structural colour. Unfortunately Teijin Fibres has stopped production of its morphotex, as per my April 12, 2012 posting.

Here’s what the news release has to say about textiles and the potential importance of structural colour,

The technology could also have important uses in the textile industry. “The World Bank estimates that between 17 and 20 per cent of industrial waste water comes from the textile industry, which uses highly toxic chemicals to produce colour,” said Professor Baumberg. “So other avenues to make colour is something worth exploring.” The polymer opals can be bonded to a polyurethane layer and then onto any fabric. The material can be cut, laminated, welded, stitched, etched, embossed and perforated.

The researchers have recently developed a new method of constructing the material, which offers localised control and potentially different colours in the same material by creating the structure only over defined areas. In the new work, electric fields in a print head are used to line the nanoparticles up forming the opal, and are fixed in position with UV light. The researchers have shown that different colours can be printed from a single ink by changing this electric field strength to change the lattice spacing.

As for wanting to take this research to market, from the news release,

Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm, is currently looking for a manufacturing partner to further develop the technology and take polymer opal films to market.

For more information, please contact [email protected].

The reference to opals reminded me of yet another Canadian company exploring the uses of structural colour, Opalux, as per my Jan. 31, 2011 posting.

A patent for Nanotech Security Corp

The Nov. 5, 2012 news item on Nanowerk is a bit confusing (to me, a neophyte) in regard to which enterprise actually holds the patent,

The patent (USA Patent No. 8,253,536B2) names the Company’s Director and Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Bozena Kaminska and its Chief Technology Officer, Clint Landrock as co-inventors. The patent covers a number of core aspects of Nanotech’s technology including claims for the use of optically efficient nano-hole arrays as security features. The patent also claims the use of nano-scale structures that are smaller than a wavelength of light in conjunction with printable electronic components such as electronic displays, batteries and solar cells. Originally filed in early 2009, the patent has been assigned to Simon Fraser University where it is exclusively sub-licensed to Nanotech pending its transfer to a Nanotech affiliate upon completion of its Advance Royalty obligations schedule to complete next year.

If I understand this rightly, Nanotech Security Corporation which is licencing the patent from Simon Fraser University (SFU) will be passing the licence on to a spinoff or affiliate company in 2013 while the parent corporation continues to develop other technologies for commercialization. SFU not Nanotech Security Corporation nor any proposed affiliate holds the patent rights.

In the company’s November 5, 2012  news release (which orignated the news item), they refer to USA Patent No. 8,253,536B2 as a parent-patent and here is what SFU and/or Nanotech Security Corporation claimed in this patent,

The patent encompasses the structure, design and manufacturing process for NTS’s security technology, NOtES®, which deploys a controlled array of extremely tiny holes that can be quickly imprinted in large numbers directly onto virtually any surface, creating a vibrant, crisp, ultra high definition image. This highly sophisticated authentication feature replicates nano-scale (billionth of a meter) light-reflective structures similar to those found in nature, for example on the iridescent wings of certain butterflies.

Mr. Blakeway [Doug Blakeway, CEO and Chairman] added, “This parent patent is at the foundation for not only further uses and new designs in the security and authentication space, but branches out to many other applications involving nano-optics with extremely high optical efficiency – including solar cell technologies. [emphases mine] We believe that nano-optic technology is in its infancy, and has huge potential for growth.”

I wonder what SFU and Nanotech Security Corporation are planning to do with their new patent. I hope it won’t be used in an attempt to kill competition. There’s at least one other Canadian company  (Opalux mentioned in my Jan. 31, 2011 posting) which works with optically efficient nano-hole arrays and at least one team in the UK (mentioned in my May 20, 2011 posting) also working in this area.

As for my concern, it’s widely acknowledged internationally that the patent systems are causing problems as per a sample of my previous postings on patents, copyright, and/or intellectual property,

UN’s International Telecommunications Union holds patent summit in Geneva on Oct. 10, 2012

Billions lost to patent trolls; US White House asks for comments on intellectual property (IP) enforcement; and more on IP

Patents as weapons and obstacles

I’m not arguing against the underlying intent for patents and copyright. The laws were designed to stimulate invention and innovation by insuring that the creators were compensated for their efforts.  Sadly, that intent has been lost and today we have situations where research and creativity are stifled due to ‘copyright and patent thickets’.

Commercializing nanotechnology talk at Simon Fraser University in downtown Vancouver (Canada)

Professor Geoffrey Ozin will be giving a free talk titled, Commercializing Nanotechnology: An Evening with Geoffrey Ozin from Opalux, at Simon Fraser University’s Segal Graduate School of Business, 500 Granville Street, Vancouver (Room 2800) from 5-6 pm PST on Monday, Oct. 22, 2012. From the event page,

You are cordially invited to hear Professor Geoffrey Ozin, co-founder of Opalux – a global leader in photonic colour technology research and development, speak about his experiences in advancing and commercializing nanomaterials and Opalux’s strategy in overcoming challenges to commercialize their photonic colour technology platform.

Professor Ozin, a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair and Distinguished University Professor at the University of Toronto, is considered to be the father of Nanochemistry. His career’s work, which include pioneering studies of new classes of nanomaterials, mesoporous materials, photonic crystals and most recently nanomachines, epitomizes how leading-edge research in Nanochemistry can be most effectively directed towards solving contemporary challenges in Nanotechnology and how these contributions have brought true benefit and well being to mankind.

… Professor Ozin co-founded Opalux Inc in 2006 to commercialize his inventions of photonic ink and elastic ink, two new and exciting photonic crystal technologies.

Opalux has been developing a platform of technologies using active polymer-based materials that can respond to an array of stimuli such as pressure, stretching, heat, humidity, and electrical current/voltage. By exploiting the many advantages of photonic color, Opalux has invented a new color display technology that stands apart with its unique combination of brightness, energy efficiency, form factor, customizability, and economy.

Opalux was mentioned here in my Jan. 31, 2011 posting. Given the current low rate of commercializing nanotechnology in Vancouver and BC, I imagine Ozin’s talk is causing some excitement. His company’s (Opalux) website is here.

ETA Oct. 18, 2012 10 am PST: I sent Dr. Ozin a few questions about himself and his talk. Here are the questions and answers (which arrived via Blackberry and less than 20 mins. after I sent the email):

  • What brings you to Vancouver? Were you specially invited by the Segal business school to talk about commercializing nanotechnology?

  Yes

  • Could you describe your business experience? (Is this the first time you’ve commercialized a technology?)

 Yes

  •  Can you offer a preview of what you’ll be talking about on Monday, Oct. 22, 2012?

Idea to Innovation
Lab to Market
Material to Manufacturing

Thank you Dr. Ozin for taking the time to answer and replying in such a speedy fashion.

UK team works on anti-counterfeiting using Morpho butterfly and jewel beetles as inspiration

The Morpho butterfly, peacock feather, and beetle shells exert a fascination for scientists these days. What they have in common is iridescence and that optical property is being pursued with single-minded passion. A research team from Sheffield University in the UK is the latest to come up with a prototype film which exploits the nanostructures making iridescent colour possible. From the May 18, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Scientists from the University of Sheffield have developed pigment-free, intensely coloured polymer materials, which could provide new, anti-counterfeit devices on passports or banknotes due to their difficulty to copy (“Continuously tuneable optical filters from self-assembled block copolymer blends”).

The polymers do not use pigments but instead exhibit intense colour due to their structure, similar to the way nature creates colour for beetle shells and butterfly wings.

Dr Andrew Parnell, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: “Our aim was to mimic the wonderful and funky coloured patterns found in nature, such as Peacock feathers. We now have a painter’s palette of colours that we can choose from using just two polymers to do this. We think that these materials have huge potential to be used commercially.”

Here’s a video of the work (there’s no explanation of what you’re seeing; the silence is total),

A minute and half of shiny stuff, I love the zen quality. Although I don’t really understand it, I do enjoy not knowing, just seeing.

There are two teams in Canada working along the same lines, Opalux (a spin-off company from the University of Toronto) about which I posted on Jan. 21, 2011 and Nanotech Security Corporation (a spin-off company from Simon Fraser University) about which I posted on Jan. 17, 2011. Both companies are also working to create films useful in anti-counterfeiting strategies.

Opalux, Inc., another Canadian company with an anti-counterfeiting strategy

On the heels (more or less) of my Jan. 17, 2011 posting about the Simon Fraser University-related start-up company, Nanotech Security, and its anti-counterfeiting technology based on the Morpho butterfly, I came across an article about a University of Toronto-related company, Oplaux, and its anti-counterfeiting technology which is based on opals and, again, the Morpho butterfly.  The Canada Foundation for Innovation article provides some details in the Fall/Winter 2009 issue of its Innovation Canada online magazine,

Inspired by the iridescent colours found in nature, such as butterfly wings, researchers at Opalux, a University of Toronto spin-off company, are recreating nature’s colours using nanotechnology. The “photonic colour” product that results can be switched on and off, offering applications in currency dyes and perishable food packaging. (p. 3)

The company is focused on more than anti-counterfeiting measures (as opposed to Nanotech Security) and food packaging, there’s also work being done on,

… a rechargeable battery whose changing surface colour indicates how much charge the battery currently holds and how much rechargeable life remains? (p. 3)

Opalux, derives its name and inspiration from opals (as well as, the Morpho butterfly mentioned previously). André Arsenault, one of Opalux’s co-founders and Chief Technology Officer, synthesized work from two researchers (Geoffrey Ozin and Ian Manners) at the University of Toronto to develop the notion of a ‘tunable and opal-like crystal’,

Ozin’s research involved the creation of synthetic nanostructures that, when exposed to light, mimic the visual qualities of an opal, the mineral renowned for its ability to appear as all colours of the rainbow. Manners was looking into producing artificial materials, particularly an iron-based polymer that could carry an electrical charge. For his thesis, Arsenault combined the two concepts to create a “tunable” opal-like crystal — a material in which you could control extremely rapid colour changes.

If you are interested in Opalux, the website is here. By contrast here’s a description of the work done by the researchers and nascent entrpreneurs at Simon Fraser University (SFU), from the Jan. 17, 2011 news release,

Imagine a hole so small that air can’t go through it, or a hole so small it can trap a single wavelength of light. Nanotech Security Corp., with the help of Simon Fraser University researchers, is using this type of nano-technology – 1,500 times thinner than a human hair and first of its kind in the world – to create unique anti-counterfeiting security features.

Landrock and Kaminska [Chris Landrock and Bozena Kaminska, SFU researchers) both continue their work as part of Nanotech’s scientific team. The company’s Nano-Optic Technology for Enhanced Security (NOtES) product stems from an idea originating in the purest form of nature – insects using colorful markings to identify themselves.

How this works is microscopic gratings composed of nanostructures interact with light to produce the shimmering iridescence seen on the Costa Rican morpho butterfly. The nanostructures act to reflect and refract light waves to produce the morpho’s signature blue wings and absorb other unwanted light.

There you have it, two different approaches to anti-counterfeiting and the beginnings of a possible case study about innovation in Canada.