Tag Archives: University of Manchester

Making the impossible possible: on demand and by design, atomic scale pipes

This research on pipes from the University of Manchester will probably never finds its way into plumbing practices but, apparently, is of great interest in fundamental research. From a Sept. 7, 2016 news item on phys.org,

Materials containing tiny capillaries and cavities are widely used in filtration, separation and many other technologies, without which our modern lifestyle would be impossible. Those materials are usually found by luck or accident rather than design. It has been impossible to create artificial capillaries with atomic-scale precision.

Now a Manchester group led by postdoctoral researcher Radha Boya and Nobel laureate Andre Geim show how to make the impossible possible, as reported in Nature.

A Sept. 7, 2016 University of Manchester press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item,  provides a description of the technology,

The new technology is elegant, adaptable and strikingly simple. In fact, it is a kind of antipode of the famous material graphene. When making graphene, people often take a piece of graphite and use Scotch tape to extract a single atomic plane of carbon atoms, graphene. The remaining graphite is discarded.

In this new research, Manchester scientists similarly extracted a strip of graphene from graphite, but discarded the graphene and focused on what was left: an ultra-thin cavity within the graphite crystal.

Such atomic scale cavities can be made from various materials to achieve not only a desired size but also to choose properties of capillary walls. They can be atomically smooth or rough, hydrophilic or hydrophobic, insulating or conductive, electrically charged or neutral; the list goes on.

The voids can be made as cavities (to confine various substances) or open-ended tunnels (to transport different gases and liquids), which is of huge interest for fundamental research and many applications. It is limited only by imagination what such narrow tunnels with designer properties can potentially do for us.

Properties of materials at this truly atomic scale are expected to be quite different from those we are familiar with in our macroscopic world. To demonstrate that this is the case of their atomic-scale voids, the Manchester group tested how water runs through those ultra-narrow pipes.

To everyone’s surprise, they found water to flow with little friction and at high speed, as if the channels were many thousands times wider than they actually are.

Radha Boya commented ‘This is an entirely new type of nanoscale systems. Such capillaries were never imagined, even in theory. No one thought that this degree of accuracy in design could be possible. New filtration, desalination, gas separation technologies are kind of obvious directions but there are so many others to explore’.

Sir Andre added ‘Making something useful out of an empty space is certainly cute. Finding that this space offers so much of new science is flabbergasting. Even with hindsight, I did not expect the idea to work so well. There are myriads of possibilities for research and development, which now need to be looked at. We are stunned by the choice.’

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Molecular transport through capillaries made with atomic-scale precision by B. Radha, A. Esfandiar, F. C. Wang, A. P. Rooney, K. Gopinadhan, A. Keerthi, A. Mishchenko, A. Janardanan, P. Blake, L. Fumagalli, M. Lozada-Hidalgo, S. Garaj, S. J. Haigh, I. V. Grigorieva, H. A. Wu, & A. K. Geim. Nature (2016)  doi:10.1038/nature19363 Published online 07 September 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Cientifica’s latest smart textiles and wearable electronics report

After publishing a report on wearable technology in May 2016 (see my June 2, 2016 posting), Cientifica has published another wearable technology report, this one is titled, Smart Textiles and Wearables: Markets, Applications and Technologies. Here’s more about the latest report from the report order page,

“Smart Textiles and Wearables: Markets, Applications and Technologies” examines the markets for textile based wearable technologies, the companies producing them and the enabling technologies. This is creating a 4th industrial revolution for the textiles and fashion industry worth over $130 billion by 2025.

Advances in fields such as nanotechnology, organic electronics (also known as plastic electronics) and conducting polymers are creating a range of textile–based technologies with the ability to sense and react to the world around them.  This includes monitoring biometric data such as heart rate, the environmental factors such as temperature and The presence of toxic gases producing real time feedback in the form of electrical stimuli, haptic feedback or changes in color.

The report identifies three distinct generations of textile wearable technologies.

First generation is where a sensor is attached to apparel and is the approach currently taken by major sportswear brands such as Adidas, Nike and Under Armour
Second generation products embed the sensor in the garment as demonstrated by products from Samsung, Alphabet, Ralph Lauren and Flex.
In third generation wearables the garment is the sensor and a growing number of companies including AdvanPro, Tamicare and BeBop sensors are making rapid progress in creating pressure, strain and temperature sensors.

Third generation wearables represent a significant opportunity for new and established textile companies to add significant value without having to directly compete with Apple, Samsung and Intel.

The report predicts that the key growth areas will be initially sports and wellbeing

followed by medical applications for patient monitoring. Technical textiles, fashion and entertainment will also be significant applications with the total market expected to rise to over $130 billion by 2025 with triple digit compound annual growth rates across many applications.

The rise of textile wearables also represents a significant opportunity for manufacturers of the advanced materials used in their manufacture. Toray, Panasonic, Covestro, DuPont and Toyobo are already suppling the necessary materials, while researchers are creating sensing and energy storage technologies, from flexible batteries to graphene supercapacitors which will power tomorrows wearables. The report details the latest advances and their applications.

This report is based on an extensive research study of the wearables and smart textile markets backed with over a decade of experience in identifying, predicting and sizing markets for nanotechnologies and smart textiles. Detailed market figures are given from 2016-2025, along with an analysis of the key opportunities, and illustrated with 139 figures and 6 tables.

The September 2016 report is organized differently and has a somewhat different focus from the report published in May 2016. Not having read either report, I’m guessing that while there might be a little repetition, you might better consider them to be companion volumes.

Here’s more from the September 2016 report’s table of contents which you can download from the order page (Note: The formatting has been changed),


Contents  1
List of Tables  4
List of Figures  4
Introduction  8
How to Use This Report  8
Wearable Technologies and the 4Th Industrial Revolution  9
The Evolution of Wearable Technologies  10
Defining Smart Textiles  15
Factors Affecting The Adoption of Smart Textiles for Wearables  18
Cost  18
Accuracy  18
On Shoring  19
Power management  19
Security and Privacy  20
Markets  21
Total Market Growth and CAGR  21
Market Growth By Application  21
Adding Value To Textiles Through Technology  27
How Nanomaterials Add Functionality and Value  31
Business Models  33
Applications  35
Sports and Wellbeing  35
1st Generation Technologies  35
Under Armour Healthbox Wearables  35
Adidas MiCoach  36
Sensoria  36
EMPA’s Long Term Research  39
2nd Generation Technologies  39
Google’s Project Jacquard  39
Samsung Creative Lab  43
Microsoft Collaborations  44
Intel Systems on a Chip  44
Flex (Formerly Flextronics) and MAS Holdings  45
Jiobit  46
Asensei Personal Trainer  47
OmSignal Smart Clothing  48
Ralph Lauren PoloTech  49
Hexoskin Performance Management  50
Jabil Circuit Textile Heart Monitoring  51
Stretch Sense Sensors  52
NTT Data and Toray  54
Goldwin Inc. and DoCoMo  55
SupaSpot Inc Smart Sensors  55
Wearable Experiments and Brand Marketing  56
Wearable Life Sciences Antelope  57
Textronics NuMetrex  59
3rd Generation Technologies  60
AdvanPro Pressure Sensing Shoes  60
Tamicare 3D printed Wearables with Integrated Sensors  62
AiQ Smart Clothing Stainless Steel Yarns  64
Flex Printed Inks And Conductive Yarns  66
Sensing Tech Conductive Inks  67
EHO Textiles Body Motion Monitoring  68
Bebop Sensors Washable E-Ink Sensors  70
Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research Piezolectric Polymer
Sensors  71
CLIM8 GEAR Heated Textiles  74
VTT Smart Clothing Human Thermal Model  74
ATTACH (Adaptive Textiles Technology with Active Cooling and Heating) 76
Energy Storage and Generation  78
Intelligent Textiles Military Uniforms  78
BAE Systems Broadsword Spine  79
Stretchable Batteries  80
LG Chem Cable Batteries  81
Supercapacitors  83
Swinburne Graphene Supercapacitors  83
MIT Niobium Nanowire Supercapacitors  83
Energy Harvesting  86
Kinetic  86
StretchSense Energy Harvesting Kit  86
NASA Environmental Sensing Fibers  86
Solar  87
Powertextiles  88
Sphelar Power Corp Solar Textiles  88
Ohmatex and Powerweave  89
Fashion  89
1st Generation Technologies  92
Cute Circuit LED Couture  92
2nd Generation Technologies  94
Covestro Luminous Clothing  94
3rd Generation Technologies  96
The Unseen Temperature Sensitive Dyes  96
Entertainment  98
Wearable Experiments Marketing  98
Key Technologies 100
Circuitry  100
Conductive Inks for Fabrics  100
Conductive Ink For Printing On Stretchable Fabrics  100
Creative Materials Conductive Inks And Adhesives  100
Dupont Stretchable Electronic Inks  101
Aluminium Inks From Alink Co  101
Conductive Fibres  102
Circuitex Silver Coated Nylon  102
Textronics Yarns and Fibres  102
Novonic Elastic Conductive Yarn  103
Copper Coated Polyacrylonitrile (PAN) Fibres  103
Printed electronics  105
Covestro TPU Films for Flexible Circuits  105
Sensors  107
Electrical  107
Hitoe  107
Cocomi  108
Panasonic Polymer Resin  109
Cardiac Monitoring  110
Mechanical  113
Strain  113
Textile-Based Weft Knitted Strain Sensors  113
Chain Mail Fabric for Smart Textiles  113
Nano-Treatment for Conductive Fiber/Sensors 115
Piezoceramic materials  116
Graphene-Based Woven Fabric  117
Pressure Sensing  117
LG Innotek Flexible Textile Pressure Sensors  117
Hong Kong Polytechnic University Pressure Sensing Fibers  119
Conductive Polymer Composite Coatings  122
Printed Textile Sensors To Track Movement  125
Environment  127
Photochromic Textiles  127
Temperature  127
Sefar PowerSens  127
Gasses & Chemicals  127
Textile Gas Sensors  127
Energy  130
Storage  130
Graphene Supercapacitors  130
Niobium Nanowire Supercapacitors  130
Stretchy supercapacitors  132
Energy Generation  133
StretchSense Energy Harvesting Kit  133
Piezoelectric Or Thermoelectric Coated Fibres  134
Optical  137
Light Emitting  137
University of Manchester Electroluminescent Inks and Yarns 137
Polyera Wove  138
Companies Mentioned  141
List of Tables
Table 1 CAGR by application  22
Table 2 Value of market by application 2016-25 (millions USD)  24
Table 3 % market share by application  26
Table 4 CAGR 2016-25 by application  26
Table 5 Technology-Enabled Market Growth in Textile by Sector (2016-22) 28
Table 6 Value of nanomaterials by sector 2016-22 ($ Millions)  33
List of Figures
Figure 1 The 4th Industrial Revolution (World Economic Forum)  9
Figure 2 Block Diagram of typical MEMS digital output motion sensor: ultra
low-power high performance 3-axis “femto” accelerometer used in
fitness tracking devices.  11
Figure 3 Interior of Fitbit Flex device (from iFixit)  11
Figure 4 Internal layout of Fitbit Flex. Red is the main CPU, orange is the
BTLE chip, blue is a charger, yellow is the accelerometer (from iFixit)  11
Figure 5 Intel’s Curie processor stretches the definition of ‘wearable’  12
Figure 6 Typical Textile Based Wearable System Components  13
Figure 7 The Chromat Aeros Sports Bra “powered by Intel, inspired by wind, air and flight.”  14
Figure 8 The Evolution of Smart textiles  15
Figure 9 Goldwin’s C2fit IN-pulse sportswear using Toray’s Hitoe  16
Figure 10 Sensoglove reads grip pressure for golfers  16
Figure 11 Textile Based Wearables Growth 2016-25(USD Millions)  21
Figure 12 Total market for textile based wearables 2016-25 (USD Millions)  22
Figure 13 Health and Sports Market Size 2016-20 (USD Millions)  23
Figure 14 Health and Sports Market Size 2016-25 (USD Millions)  23
Figure 15 Critical steps for obtaining FDA medical device approval  25
Figure 16 Market split between wellbeing and medical 2016-25  26
Figure 17 Current World Textile Market by Sector (2016)  27
Figure 18 The Global Textile Market By Sector ($ Millions)  27
Figure 19 Compound Annual Growth Rates (CAGR) by Sector (2016-25)  28
Figure 20 The Global Textile Market in 2022  29
Figure 21 The Global Textile Market in 2025  30
Figure 22 Textile Market Evolution (2012-2025)  30
Figure 23 Total Value of Nanomaterials in Textiles 2012-2022 ($ Millions)  31
Figure 24 Value of Nanomaterials in Textiles by Sector 2016-2025 ($ Millions) 32
Figure 25 Adidas miCoach Connect Heart Rate Monitor  36
Figure 26 Sensoria’s Hear[t] Rate Monitoring Garments . 37
Figure 27 Flexible components used in Google’s Project Jacquard  40
Figure 28 Google and Levi’s Smart Jacket  41
Figure 29 Embedded electronics Google’s Project Jacquard  42
Figure 30 Samsung’s WELT ‘smart’ belt  43
Figure 31 Samsung Body Compass at CES16  44
Figure 32 Lumo Run washable motion sensor  45
Figure 33 OMSignal’s Smart Bra  49
Figure 34 PoloTech Shirt from Ralph Lauren  50
Figure 35 Hexoskin Data Acquisition and Processing  51
Figure 36 Peak+™ Hear[t] Rate Monitoring Garment  52
Figure 37 StretchSense CEO Ben O’Brien, with a fabric stretch sensor  53
Figure 38 C3fit Pulse from Goldwin Inc  55
Figure 39 The Antelope Tank-Top  58
Figure 40 Sportswear with integrated sensors from Textronix  60
Figure 41 AdvanPro’s pressure sensing insoles  61
Figure 42 AdvanPro’s pressure sensing textile  62
Figure 43 Tamicare 3D Printing Sensors and Apparel  63
Figure 44 Smart clothing using stainless steel yarns and textile sensors from AiQ  65
Figure 45 EHO Smart Sock  69
Figure 46 BeBop Smart Car Seat Sensor  71
Figure 47 Non-transparent printed sensors from Fraunhofer ISC  73
Figure 48 Clim8 Intelligent Heat Regulating Shirt  74
Figure 49 Temperature regulating smart fabric printed at UC San Diego  76
Figure 50 Intelligent Textiles Ltd smart uniform  79
Figure 51 BAE Systems Broadsword Spine  80
Figure 52 LG Chem cable-shaped lithium-ion battery powers an LED display even when twisted and strained  81
Figure 53 Supercapacitor yarn made of niobium nanowires  84
Figure 54 Sphelar Textile  89
Figure 55 Sphelar Textile Solar Cells  89
Figure 56 Katy Perry wears Cute Circuit in 2010  91
Figure 57 Cute Circuit K Dress  93
Figure 58 MAKEFASHION runway at the Brother’s “Back to Business” conference, Nashville 2016  94
Figure 59 Covestro material with LEDs are positioned on formable films made from thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU).  95
Figure 60 Unseen headpiece, made of 4000 conductive Swarovski stones, changes color to correspond with localized brain activity  96
Figure 61 Eighthsense a coded couture piece.  97
Figure 62 Durex Fundawear  98
Figure 63 Printed fabric sensors from the University of Tokyo  100
Figure 64 Tony Kanaan’s shirt with electrically conductive nano-fibers  107
Figure 65 Panasonic stretchable resin technology  109
Figure 66 Nanoflex moniroring system  111
Figure 67 Knitted strain sensors  113
Figure 68 Chain Mail Fabric for Smart Textiles  114
Figure 69 Electroplated Fabric  115
Figure 70 LG Innotek flexible textile pressure sensors  118
Figure 71 Smart Footwear installed with fabric sensors. (Credit: Image courtesy of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University)  120
Figure 72 SOFTCEPTOR™ textile strain sensors  122
Figure 73 conductive polymer composite coating for pressure sensing  123
Figure 74 Fraunhofer ISC_ printed sensor  125
Figure 75 The graphene-coated yarn sensor. (Image: ETRI)  128
Figure 76 Supercapacitor yarn made of niobium nanowires  131
Figure 77 StretchSense Energy Harvesting Kit  134
Figure 78 Energy harvesting textiles at the University of Southampton  135
Figure 79 Polyera Wove Flexible Screen  139

If you compare that with the table of contents for the May 2016 report in my June 2, 2016 posting, you can see the difference.

Here’s one last tidbit, a Sept. 15, 2016 news item on phys.org highlights another wearable technology report,

Wearable tech, which was seeing sizzling sales growth a year ago [2015], is cooling this year amid consumer hesitation over new devices, a survey showed Thursday [Sept. 15, 2016].

The research firm IDC said it expects global sales of wearables to grow some 29.4 percent to some 103 million units in 2016.

That follows 171 percent growth in 2015, fueled by the launch of the Apple Watch and a variety of fitness bands.

“It is increasingly becoming more obvious that consumers are not willing to deal with technical pain points that have to date been associated with many wearable devices,” said IDC analyst Ryan Reith.

So-called basic wearables—including fitness bands and other devices that do not run third party applications—will make up the lion’s share of the market with some 80.7 million units shipped this year, according to IDC.

According to IDC, it seems that the short term does not promise the explosive growth of the previous year but that new generations of wearable technology, according to both IDC and Cientifica, offer considerable promise for the market.

Creating quantum dots (artificial atoms) in graphene

An Aug. 22, 2016 news item on phys.org describes some recent work on artificial atoms and graphene from the Technical University of Vienna (Austria) and partners in Germany and the UK,

In a tiny quantum prison, electrons behave quite differently as compared to their counterparts in free space. They can only occupy discrete energy levels, much like the electrons in an atom – for this reason, such electron prisons are often called “artificial atoms”. Artificial atoms may also feature properties beyond those of conventional ones, with the potential for many applications for example in quantum computing. Such additional properties have now been shown for artificial atoms in the carbon material graphene. The results have been published in the journal Nano Letters, the project was a collaboration of scientists from TU Wien (Vienna, Austria), RWTH Aachen (Germany) and the University of Manchester (GB).

“Artificial atoms open up new, exciting possibilities, because we can directly tune their properties”, says Professor Joachim Burgdörfer (TU Wien, Vienna). In semiconductor materials such as gallium arsenide, trapping electrons in tiny confinements has already been shown to be possible. These structures are often referred to as “quantum dots”. Just like in an atom, where the electrons can only circle the nucleus on certain orbits, electrons in these quantum dots are forced into discrete quantum states.

Even more interesting possibilities are opened up by using graphene, a material consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms, which has attracted a lot of attention in the last few years. “In most materials, electrons may occupy two different quantum states at a given energy. The high symmetry of the graphene lattice allows for four different quantum states. This opens up new pathways for quantum information processing and storage” explains Florian Libisch from TU Wien. However, creating well-controlled artificial atoms in graphene turned out to be extremely challenging.

Florian Libisch, explaining the structure of graphene. Courtesy Technical University of Vienna

Florian Libisch, explaining the structure of graphene. Courtesy Technical University of Vienna

An Aug. 22, 2016 Technical University of Vienna press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

There are different ways of creating artificial atoms: The simplest one is putting electrons into tiny flakes, cut out of a thin layer of the material. While this works for graphene, the symmetry of the material is broken by the edges of the flake which can never be perfectly smooth. Consequently, the special four-fold multiplicity of states in graphene is reduced to the conventional two-fold one.

Therefore, different ways had to be found: It is not necessary to use small graphene flakes to capture electrons. Using clever combinations of electrical and magnetic fields is a much better option. With the tip of a scanning tunnelling microscope, an electric field can be applied locally. That way, a tiny region is created within the graphene surface, in which low energy electrons can be trapped. At the same time, the electrons are forced into tiny circular orbits by applying a magnetic field. “If we would only use an electric field, quantum effects allow the electrons to quickly leave the trap” explains Libisch.

The artificial atoms were measured at the RWTH Aachen by Nils Freitag and Peter Nemes-Incze in the group of Professor Markus Morgenstern. Simulations and theoretical models were developed at TU Wien (Vienna) by Larisa Chizhova, Florian Libisch and Joachim Burgdörfer. The exceptionally clean graphene sample came from the team around Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov from Manchester (GB) – these two researchers were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010 for creating graphene sheets for the first time.

The new artificial atoms now open up new possibilities for many quantum technological experiments: “Four localized electron states with the same energy allow for switching between different quantum states to store information”, says Joachim Burgdörfer. The electrons can preserve arbitrary superpositions for a long time, ideal properties for quantum computers. In addition, the new method has the big advantage of scalability: it should be possible to fit many such artificial atoms on a small chip in order to use them for quantum information applications.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Electrostatically Confined Monolayer Graphene Quantum Dots with Orbital and Valley Splittings by Nils M. Freitag, Larisa A. Chizhova, Peter Nemes-Incze, Colin R. Woods, Roman V. Gorbachev, Yang Cao, Andre K. Geim, Kostya S. Novoselov, Joachim Burgdörfer, Florian Libisch, and Markus Morgenstern. Nano Lett., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.6b02548 Publication Date (Web): July 28, 2016

Copyright © 2016 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Dexter Johnson in an Aug. 23, 2016 post on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) provides some additional insight into the world of quantum dots,

Quantum dots made from semiconductor materials, like silicon, are beginning to transform the display market. While it is their optoelectronic properties that are being leveraged in displays, the peculiar property of quantum dots that allows their electrons to be forced into discrete quantum states has long held out the promise of enabling quantum computing.

If you have time to read it, Dexter’s post features an email interview with Florian Libisch where they further discuss quantum dots and quantum computing.

Improving fossil-fueled cars’ efficiency with graphene-based ballistic rectifier

UK and Chinese researchers have a developed a technology to make fuel use more efficient in fossil-fueled cars (from a June 2, 2016 news item on phys.org),

A graphene-based electrical nano-device has been created which could substantially increase the energy efficiency of fossil fuel-powered cars.

The nano-device, known as a ‘ballistic rectifier’, is able to convert heat which would otherwise be wasted from the car exhaust and engine body into a useable electrical current.

Parts of car exhausts can reach temperatures of 600 degrees Celsius. The recovered energy can then be used to power additional automotive features such as air conditioning and power steering, or be stored in the car battery.

The nano-rectifier was built by a team at The University of Manchester led by Professor Aimin Song and Dr. Ernie Hill, with a team at Shandong University. The device utilises graphene’s phenomenally high electron mobility, a property which determines how fast an electron can travel in a material and how fast electronic devices can operate.

A June 1, 2016 University of Manchester press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

The resulting device is the most sensitive room-temperature rectifier ever made. Conventional devices with similar conversion efficiencies require cryogenically low temperatures.

Even today’s most efficient internal combustion engines can only convert about 70% of energy burned from fossil fuels into the energy required to power a car. The rest of the energy created is often wasted through exhaust heat or cooling systems.

Greg Auton, who performed most of the experiment said: “Graphene has exceptional properties; it possesses the longest carrier mean free path of any electronic material at room temperature.

“Despite this, even the most promising applications to commercialise graphene in the electronics industry do not take advantage of this property. Instead they often try to tackle the the problem that graphene has no band gap.”

Professor Song who invented the concept of the ballistic rectifier said: “The working principle of the ballistic rectifier means that it does not require any band gap. Meanwhile, it has a single-layered planar device structure which is perfect to take the advantage of the high electron-mobility to achieve an extremely high operating speed.

“Unlike conventional rectifiers or diodes, the ballistic rectifier does not have any threshold voltage either, making it perfect for energy harvest as well as microwave and infrared detection”.

The Manchester-based group is now looking to scale up the research by using large wafer-sized graphene and perform high-frequency experiments. The resulting technology can also be applied to harvesting wasted heat energy in power plants.

Making rubber more rubbery for better condoms

A May 20, 2016 news item on Nanowerk announces some research on rubber from the University of Manchester (Note: A link has been removed),

In an article published in Carbon (“Graphene and water-based elastomers thin-film composites by dip-moulding”), Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan and Dr Maria Iliut from Manchester have shown that adding a very small amount of graphene, the world’s thinnest and strongest material, to rubber films can increase both their strength and the elasticity by up to 50%. Thin rubber films are ubiquitous in daily life, used in everything from gloves to condoms.

A May 20, 2016 University of Manchester press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

In their experiments, the scientists tested two kinds of rubbery materials – natural rubber, comprised of a material called polyisoprene, and a man-made rubber called polyurethane. To these, they added graphene of different kinds, amounts and size.

In most cases, it they observed that the resulting composite material could be stretched to a greater degree and with greater force before it broke. Indeed, adding just one tenth of one percent of graphene was all it took to make the rubber 50% stronger.

Dr Vijayaraghavan, who leads the Nano-functional Materials Group, explains “A composite is a material which contains two parts, a matrix which is soft and light and a filler which is strong. Taken together, you get something which is both light and strong. This is the principle behind carbon fibre composites used in sports cars, or Kevlar composites used in body armour.

“In this case, we have made a composite of rubber, which is soft and stretchy but fragile, with graphene and the resulting material is both stronger and stretchier.”

Dr Maria Iliut, a research associate in Dr Vijayaraghavan’s group, describes how this material is produced: “We use a form of graphene called graphene oxide, which unlike graphene is stable as a dispersion in water. The rubber materials are also in a form that is stable in water, allowing us to combine them before forming thin films with a process called dip moulding.”

“The important thing here is that because these films are so thin, we need a strengthening filler which is also very thin. Fortunately, graphene is both the thinnest and strongest material we know of.”

The project emerged from a call by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to develop a more desirable condom. [my Nov. 22, 2013 post features the grant announcement and Dr. Vijayaraghavan’s research plans] According to Dr Vijayaraghavan, this composite material has tremendous implications in daily life.

He adds “Our thinking was that if we could make the rubber used in condoms stronger and stretchier, then you could use that to make even thinner condoms which would feel better without breaking.

“Similar arguments can be made for using this material to make better gloves, sportswear, medical devices and so on. We are seeing considerable industrial interest in this area and we hope more companies will want to get involved in the commercial opportunities this research could create.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Graphene and water-based elastomers thin-film composites by dip-moulding by Maria Iliut, Claudio Silva, Scott Herrick, Mark McGlothlin, Aravind Vijayaraghavan. Carbon doi:10.1016/j.carbon.2016.05.032 Available online 14 May 2016

This paper is open access.


Calming a synapse (part of a neuron) with graphene flakes

As we continue to colonize our own brains, there’s more news of graphene and neurons (see my Feb. 1, 2016 post featuring research from the same team in Italy featured in this post). A May 10, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily highlights work that could be used for epilepsy,

Innovative graphene technology to buffer the activity of synapses– this is the idea behind a recently-published study in the journal ACS Nano coordinated by the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste (SISSA) and the University of Trieste. In particular, the study showed how effective graphene oxide flakes are at interfering with excitatory synapses, an effect that could prove useful in new treatments for diseases like epilepsy.

I guess the press release took a while to make its way through translation, here’s more from the April 10, 2016 SISSA (International School for Advanced Studies) press release (also on EurekAlert),

The laboratory of SISSA’s Laura Ballerini in collaboration with the University of Trieste, the University of Manchester and the University of Castilla -la Mancha, has discovered a new approach to modulating synapses. This methodology could be useful for treating diseases in which electrical nerve activity is altered. Ballerini and Maurizio Prato (University of Trieste) are the principal investigators of the project within the European flagship on graphene, a far-reaching 10-year international collaboration (one billion euros in funding) that studies innovative uses of the material.

Traditional treatments for neurological diseases generally include drugs that act on the brain or neurosurgery. Today however, graphene technology is showing promise for these types of applications, and is receiving increased attention from the scientific community. The method studied by Ballerini and colleagues uses “graphene nano-ribbons” (flakes) which buffer activity of synapses simply by being present.

“We administered aqueous solutions of graphene flakes to cultured neurons in ‘chronic’ exposure conditions, repeating the operation every day for a week. Analyzing functional neuronal electrical activity, we then traced the effect on synapses” says Rossana Rauti, SISSA researcher and first author of the study.

In the experiments, size of the flakes varied (10 microns or 80 nanometers) as well as the type of graphene: in one condition graphene was used, in another, graphene oxide. “The ‘buffering’ effect on synaptic activity happens only with smaller flakes of graphene oxide and not in other conditions,” says Ballerini. “The effect, in the system we tested, is selective for the excitatory synapses, while it is absent in inhibitory ones”

A Matter of Size

What is the origin of this selectivity? “We know that in principle graphene does not interact chemically with synapses in a significant way- its effect is likely due to the mere presence of synapses,” explains SISSA researcher and one of the study’s authors, Denis Scaini. “We do not yet have direct evidence, but our hypothesis is that there is a link with the sub-cellular organization of the synaptic space.”

A synapse is a contact point between one neuron and another where the nervous electrical signal “jumps” between a pre and post-synaptic unit. [emphasis mine] There is a small gap or discontinuity where the electrical signal is “translated” by a neurotransmitter and released by pre-synaptic termination into the extracellular space and reabsorbed by the postsynaptic space, to be translated again into an electrical signal. The access to this space varies depending on the type of synapses: “For the excitatory synapses, the structure’s organization allows higher exposure for the graphene flakes interaction, unlike inhibitory synapses, which are less physically accessible in this experimental model,” says Scaini.

Another clue that distance and size could be crucial in the process is found in the observation that graphene performs its function only in the oxidized form. “Normal graphene looks like a stretched and stiff sheet while graphene oxide appears crumpled, and thus possibly favoring interface with the synaptic space, ” adds Rauti.

Administering graphene flake solutions leaves the neurons alive and intact. For this reason the team thinks they could be used in biomedical applications for treating certain diseases. “We may imagine to target a drug by exploiting the apparent flakes’ selectivity for synapses, thus targeting directly the basic functional unit of neurons”concludes Ballerini.

That’s a nice description of neurons, synapses, and neurotransmitters.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Graphene Oxide Nanosheets Reshape Synaptic Function in Cultured Brain Networks by Rossana Rauti, Neus Lozano, Veronica León, Denis Scaini†, Mattia Musto, Ilaria Rago, Francesco P. Ulloa Severino, Alessandra Fabbro, Loredana Casalis, Ester Vázquez, Kostas Kostarelos, Maurizio Prato, and Laura Ballerini. ACS Nano, 2016, 10 (4), pp 4459–4471
DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.6b00130 Publication Date (Web): March 31, 2016

Copyright © 2016 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

With over 150 partners from over 20 countries, the European Union’s Graphene Flagship research initiative unveils its work package devoted to biomedical technologies

An April 11, 2016 news item on Nanowerk announces the Graphene Flagship’s latest work package,

With a budget of €1 billion, the Graphene Flagship represents a new form of joint, coordinated research on an unprecedented scale, forming Europe’s biggest ever research initiative. It was launched in 2013 to bring together academic and industrial researchers to take graphene from the realm of academic laboratories into European society in the timeframe of 10 years. The initiative currently involves over 150 partners from more than 20 European countries. The Graphene Flagship, coordinated by Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden), is implemented around 15 scientific Work Packages on specific science and technology topics, such as fundamental science, materials, health and environment, energy, sensors, flexible electronics and spintronics.

Today [April 11, 2016], the Graphene Flagship announced in Barcelona the creation of a new Work Package devoted to Biomedical Technologies, one emerging application area for graphene and other 2D materials. This initiative is led by Professor Kostas Kostarelos, from the University of Manchester (United Kingdom), and ICREA Professor Jose Antonio Garrido, from the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2, Spain). The Kick-off event, held in the Casa Convalescència of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), is co-organised by ICN2 (ICREA Prof Jose Antonio Garrido), Centro Nacional de Microelectrónica (CNM-IMB-CSIC, CIBER-BBN; CSIC Tenured Scientist Dr Rosa Villa), and Institut d’Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS; ICREA Prof Mavi Sánchez-Vives).

An April 11, 2016 ICN2 press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the Biomedical Technologies work package and other work packages,

The new Work Package will focus on the development of implants based on graphene and 2D-materials that have therapeutic functionalities for specific clinical outcomes, in disciplines such as neurology, ophthalmology and surgery. It will include research in three main areas: Materials Engineering; Implant Technology & Engineering; and Functionality and Therapeutic Efficacy. The objective is to explore novel implants with therapeutic capacity that will be further developed in the next phases of the Graphene Flagship.

The Materials Engineering area will be devoted to the production, characterisation, chemical modification and optimisation of graphene materials that will be adopted for the design of implants and therapeutic element technologies. Its results will be applied by the Implant Technology and Engineering area on the design of implant technologies. Several teams will work in parallel on retinal, cortical, and deep brain implants, as well as devices to be applied in the periphery nerve system. Finally, The Functionality and Therapeutic Efficacy area activities will centre on development of devices that, in addition to interfacing the nerve system for recording and stimulation of electrical activity, also have therapeutic functionality.

Stimulation therapies will focus on the adoption of graphene materials in implants with stimulation capabilities in Parkinson’s, blindness and epilepsy disease models. On the other hand, biological therapies will focus on the development of graphene materials as transport devices of biological molecules (nucleic acids, protein fragments, peptides) for modulation of neurophysiological processes. Both approaches involve a transversal innovation environment that brings together the efforts of different Work Packages within the Graphene Flagship.

A leading role for Barcelona in Graphene and 2D-Materials

The kick-off meeting of the new Graphene Flagship Work Package takes place in Barcelona because of the strong involvement of local institutions and the high international profile of Catalonia in 2D-materials and biomedical research. Institutions such as the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) develop frontier research in a supportive environment which attracts talented researchers from abroad, such as ICREA Research Prof Jose Antonio Garrido, Group Leader of the ICN2 Advanced Electronic Materials and Devices Group and now also Deputy Leader of the Biomedical Technologies Work Package. Until summer 2015 he was leading a research group at the Technische Universität München (Germany).

Further Graphene Flagship events in Barcelona are planned; in May 2016 ICN2 will also host a meeting of the Spintronics Work Package. ICREA Prof Stephan Roche, Group Leader of the ICN2 Theoretical and Computational Nanoscience Group, is the deputy leader of this Work Package led by Prof Bart van Wees, from the University of Groningen (The Netherlands). Another Work Package, on optoelectronics, is led by Prof Frank Koppens from the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO, Spain), with Prof Andrea Ferrari from the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom) as deputy. Thus a number of prominent research institutes in Barcelona are deeply involved in the coordination of this European research initiative.

Kostas Kostarelos, the leader of the Biomedical Technologies Graphene Flagship work package, has been mentioned here before in the context of his blog posts for The Guardian science blog network (see my Aug. 7, 2014 post for a link to his post on metaphors used in medicine).

Tempest in a teapot or a sign of things to come? UK’s National Graphene Institute kerfuffle

A scandal-in-the-offing, intellectual property, miffed academics, a chortling businessman, graphene, and much more make this a fascinating story.

Before launching into the main attractions, those unfamiliar with the UK graphene effort might find this background informal useful. Graphene, was first isolated at the University of Manchester in 2004 by scientists Andre Geim* and Konstantin Novoselov, Russian immigrants, both of whom have since become Nobel laureates and knights of the realm. The excitement in the UK and elsewhere is due to graphene’s extraordinary properties which could lead to transparent electronics, foldable/bendable electronics, better implants, efficient and inexpensive (they hope) water filters, and more. The UK government has invested a lot of money in graphene as has the European Union (1B Euros in the Graphene Flagship) in the hope that huge economic benefits will be reaped.

Dexter Johnson’s March 15, 2016 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) provides details about the situation (Note: Links have been removed),

A technology that, a year ago, was being lauded as the “first commercially viable consumer product” using graphene now appears to be caught up in an imbroglio over who owns its intellectual property rights. The resulting controversy has left the research institute behind the technology in a bit of a public relations quagmire.

The venerable UK publication The Sunday Times reported this week on what appeared to be a mutiny occurring at the National Graphene Institute (NGI) located at the University of Manchester. Researchers at the NGI had reportedly stayed away from working at the institute’s gleaming new $71 million research facility over fears that their research was going to end up in the hands of foreign companies, in particular a Taiwan-based company called BGT Materials.

The “first commercially viable consumer product” noted in Dexter’s posting was a graphene-based lightbulb which was announced by the NGI to much loud crowing in March 2015 (see my March 30, 2015 posting). The company producing the lightbulb was announced as “… Graphene Lighting PLC is a spin-out based on a strategic partnership with the National Graphene Institute (NGI) at The University of Manchester to create graphene applications.” There was no mention of BGT.

Dexter describes the situation from the BGT perspective (from his March 15, 2016 posting), Note: Links have been removed,

… BGT did not demur when asked by  the Times whether it owned the technology. In fact, Chung Ping Lai, BGT’s CEO, claimed it was his company that had invented the technology for the light bulb and not the NGI. The Times report further stated that Lai controls all the key patents and claims to be delighted with his joint venture with the university. “I believe in luck and I have had luck in Manchester,” Lai told the Times.

With companies outside the UK holding majority stakes in the companies spun out of the NGI—allowing them to claim ownership of the technologies developed at the institute—one is left to wonder what was the purpose of the £50 million (US $79 million) earmarked for graphene research in the UK more than four years ago? Was it to develop a local economy based around graphene—a “Graphene Valley”, if you will? Or was it to prop up the local construction industry through the building of shiny new buildings that reportedly few people occupy? That’s the charge leveled by Andre Geim, Nobel laureate for his discovery of graphene, and NGI’s shining star. Geim reportedly described the new NGI building as: “Money put in the British building industry rather than science.”

Dexter ends his March 15, 2016 posting with an observation  that will seem familiar to Canadians,

Now, it seems the government’s eagerness to invest in graphene research—or at least, the facilities for conducting that research—might have ended up bringing it to the same place as its previous lack of investment: the science is done in the UK and the exploitation of the technology is done elsewhere.

The March 13, 2016 Sunday Times article [ETA on April 3, 2016: This article is now behind a paywall] by Tom Harper, Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Michael Sheridan, which seems to be the source of Dexter’s posting, takes a more partisan approach,

ACADEMICS are boycotting a top research facility after a company linked to China was given access to lucrative confidential material from one of Britain’s greatest scientific breakthroughs.

Some scientists at Manchester University working on graphene, a wonder substance 200 times stronger than steel, refuse to work at the new £61m national institution, set up to find ways to exploit the material, amid concerns over a deal struck between senior university management and BGT Materials.

The academics are concerned that the National Graphene Institute (NGI), which was opened last year by George Osborne, the chancellor, and forms one of the key planks of his “northern powerhouse” industrial strategy, does not have the necessary safeguards to protect their confidential research, which could revolutionise the electronics, energy, health and building industries.

BGT, which is controlled by a Taiwanese businessman, subsequently agreed to work with a Chinese manufacturing company and university to develop similar graphene technology.

BGT says its work in Manchester has been successful and it is “offensive” and “untrue” to suggest that it would unfairly use intellectual property. The university say there is no evidence “whatsoever” of unfair use of confidential information. Manchester says it is understandable that some scientists are cautious about the collaborative environment of the new institute. But one senior academic said the arrangement with BGT had caused the university’s graphene research to descend into “complete anarchy”.

The academic said: “The NGI is a national facility, and why should we use it for a company, which is not even an English [owned] company? How much [intellectual property] is staying in England and how much is going to Taiwan?”

The row highlights concerns that the UK has dawdled in developing one of its greatest discoveries. Nearly 50% of ­graphene-related patents have been filed in China, and just 1% in Britain.

Manchester signed a £5m “research collaboration agreement” with BGT Materials in October 2013. Although the company is controlled by a Taiwanese businessman, Chung-ping Lai, the university does have a 17.5% shareholding.

Manchester claimed that the commercial deal would “attract a significant number of jobs to the city” and “benefit the UK economy”.

However, an investigation by The Sunday Times has established:

Only four jobs have been created as a result of the deal and BGT has not paid the full £5m due under the agreement after two projects were cancelled.

Pictures sent to The Sunday Times by a source at the university last month show that the offices at the NGI [National Graphene Institute], which can accommodate 120 staff, were deserted.

British-based businessmen working with graphene have also told The Sunday Times of their concerns about the institute’s information security. Tim Harper, a Manchester-based graphene entrepreneur, said: “We looked at locating there [at the NGI] but we take intellectual property extremely seriously and it is a problem locating in such a facility.

“If you don’t have control over your computer systems or the keys to your lab, then you’ve got a problem.”

I recommend reading Dexter’s post and the Sunday Times article as they provide some compelling insight into the UK situation vis à vis nanotechnology, science, and innovation.

*’Gheim’ corrected to ‘Geim’ on March 30, 2016.

Graphene like honey

Two teams have published results in Science magazine showing that graphene can flow like a liquid. The UK-Italian team has likened the movement to honey while the US team likened it to water (Feb. 18, 2016 posting). Here’s more about the honey from a Feb. 12, 2016 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Electrons which act like slow-pouring honey have been observed for the first time in graphene, prompting a new approach to fundamental physics.

Electrons are known to move through metals like bullets being reflected only by imperfections, but in graphene they move like in a very viscous liquid, University of Manchester researchers have found.

The possibility of a highly viscous flow of electrons in metals was predicted several decades ago but despite numerous efforts never observed, until now as reported in the journal Science (“Negative local resistance caused by viscous electron backflow in graphene”).

The observation and study of this effect allows better understanding of the counterintuitive behaviour of interacting particles, where the human knowledge and developed mathematical techniques are lacking.

A Feb. 11, 2016 University of Manchester press release, which originated the news item, offers more technical detail,

One-atom thick material graphene, first explored a decade ago by a team at The University of Manchester, is renowned for its many superlative properties and, especially, exceptionally high electrical conductivity.

It is widely believed that electrons in graphene can move ‘ballistically’, like bullets or billiard balls scattering only at graphene boundaries or other imperfections.

The reality is not quite so simple, as found by a Manchester group led by Sir Andre Geim in collaboration with Italian researchers led by Prof Marco Polini.

They observed that the electric current in graphene did not flow along the applied electric field, as in other materials, but travelled backwards forming whirlpools where circular currents appeared.Such behaviour is familiar for conventional liquids such as water which makes whirlpools when flowing around obstacles, for example, in rivers.

The scientists measured the viscosity of this strange new liquid in graphene, which consists not of water molecules but electrons. To the researchers surprise, the electron fluid can be 100 times more viscous than honey, even at room temperature.

The scientific breakthrough is important for understanding of how materials work at increasing smaller sizes required by the semiconducting industry because such whirlpools are more likely to appear at micro and nanoscale.

The observation also questions our current understanding of the physics of highly conductive metals, especially graphene itself.

The simultaneous existence of such seemingly incompatible properties, with electrons behaving like bullets and a liquid in the same material prompts a fundamental rethinking about our understanding of materials properties.

Professor Polini commented: “Giving decades long efforts to find even minor signs of a viscous flow in metals, we were flabbergasted that graphene exhibited not just some small blip on an experimental curve but the clear qualitative effect, a large backflow of electric current.”

Sir Andre Geim, who received a Nobel Prize for graphene, added: “Graphene cannot stop amazing us. Now we need to think long and hard how to connect such contradictory behaviour as ballistic motion of electrons, which is undoubtedly seen in graphene, with this new quantum weirdness arising from their collective motion. A strong adjustment of our understanding of the physics is due.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Negative local resistance caused by viscous electron backflow in graphene by D. A. Bandurin, I. Torre, R. Krishna Kumar, M. Ben Shalom, A. Tomadin, A. Principi, G. H. Auton, E. Khestanova, K. S. Novoselov, I. V. Grigorieva, L. A. Ponomarenko, A. K. Geim, M. Polini. Science  11 Feb 2016: pp. DOI: 10.1126/science.aad0201

This paper is behind a paywall.

Here’s an image supplied by the University of Manchester illustrating the discovery,

Courtesy University of Manchester

Courtesy University of Manchester

Wearable tech for Christmas 2015 and into 2016

This is a roundup post of four items to cross my path this morning (Dec. 17, 2015), all of them concerned with wearable technology.

The first, a Dec. 16, 2015 news item on phys.org, is a fluffy little piece concerning the imminent arrival of a new generation of wearable technology,

It’s not every day that there’s a news story about socks. But in November [2015], a pair won the Best New Wearable Technology Device Award at a Silicon Valley conference. The smart socks, which track foot landings and cadence, are at the forefront of a new generation of wearable electronics, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society [ACS].

That news item was originated by a Dec. 16, 2015 ACS news release on EurekAlert which adds this,

Marc S. Reisch, a senior correspondent at C&EN, notes that stiff wristbands like the popular FitBit that measure heart rate and the number of steps people take have become common. But the long-touted technology needed to create more flexible monitoring devices has finally reached the market. Developers have successfully figured out how to incorporate stretchable wiring and conductive inks in clothing fabric, program them to transmit data wirelessly and withstand washing.

In addition to smart socks, fitness shirts and shoe insoles are on the market already or are nearly there. Although athletes are among the first to gain from the technology, the less fitness-oriented among us could also benefit. One fabric concept product — designed not for covering humans but a car steering-wheel — could sense driver alertness and make roads safer.

Reisch’s Dec. 7, 2015 article (C&EN vol. 93, issue 48, pp. 28-90) provides more detailed information and market information such as this,

Materials suppliers, component makers, and apparel developers gathered at a printed-electronics conference in Santa Clara, Calif., within a short drive of tech giants such as Google and Apple, to compare notes on embedding electronics into the routines of daily life. A notable theme was the effort to stealthily [emphasis mine] place sensors on exercise shirts, socks, and shoe soles so that athletes and fitness buffs can wirelessly track their workouts and doctors can monitor the health of their patients.

“Wearable technology is becoming more wearable,” said Raghu Das, chief executive officer of IDTechEx [emphasis mine], the consulting firm that organized the conference. By that he meant the trend is toward thinner and more flexible devices that include not just wrist-worn fitness bands but also textiles printed with stretchable wiring and electronic sensors, thanks to advances in conductive inks.

Interesting use of the word ‘stealthy’, which often suggests something sneaky as opposed to merely secretive. I imagine what’s being suggested is that the technology will not impose itself on the user (i.e., you won’t have to learn how to use it as you did with phones and computers).

Leading into my second item, IDC (International Data Corporation), not to be confused with IDTechEx, is mentioned in a Dec. 17, 2015 news item about wearable technology markets on phys.org,

The global market for wearable technology is seeing a surge, led by watches, smart clothing and other connected gadgets, a research report said Thursday [Dec. 16, 2015].

IDC said its forecast showed the worldwide wearable device market will reach a total of 111.1 million units in 2016, up 44.4 percent from this year.

By 2019, IDC sees some 214.6 million units, or a growth rate averaging 28 percent.

A Dec. 17, 2015 IDC press release, which originated the news item, provides more details about the market forecast,

“The most common type of wearables today are fairly basic, like fitness trackers, but over the next few years we expect a proliferation of form factors and device types,” said Jitesh Ubrani , Senior Research Analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. “Smarter clothing, eyewear, and even hearables (ear-worn devices) are all in their early stages of mass adoption. Though at present these may not be significantly smarter than their analog counterparts, the next generation of wearables are on track to offer vastly improved experiences and perhaps even augment human abilities.”

One of the most popular types of wearables will be smartwatches, reaching a total of 34.3 million units shipped in 2016, up from the 21.3 million units expected to ship in 2015. By 2019, the final year of the forecast, total shipments will reach 88.3 million units, resulting in a five-year CAGR of 42.8%.

“In a short amount of time, smartwatches have evolved from being extensions of the smartphone to wearable computers capable of communications, notifications, applications, and numerous other functionalities,” noted Ramon Llamas , Research Manager for IDC’s Wearables team. “The smartwatch we have today will look nothing like the smartwatch we will see in the future. Cellular connectivity, health sensors, not to mention the explosive third-party application market all stand to change the game and will raise both the appeal and value of the market going forward.

“Smartwatch platforms will lead the evolution,” added Llamas. “As the brains of the smartwatch, platforms manage all the tasks and processes, not the least of which are interacting with the user, running all of the applications, and connecting with the smartphone. Once that third element is replaced with cellular connectivity, the first two elements will take on greater roles to make sense of all the data and connections.”

Top Five Smartwatch Platform Highlights

Apple’s watchOS will lead the smartwatch market throughout our forecast, with a loyal fanbase of Apple product owners and a rapidly growing application selection, including both native apps and Watch-designed apps. Very quickly, watchOS has become the measuring stick against which other smartwatches and platforms are compared. While there is much room for improvement and additional features, there is enough momentum to keep it ahead of the rest of the market.

Android/Android Wear will be a distant second behind watchOS even as its vendor list grows to include technology companies (ASUS, Huawei, LG, Motorola, and Sony) and traditional watchmakers (Fossil and Tag Heuer). The user experience on Android Wear devices has been largely the same from one device to the next, leaving little room for OEMs to develop further and users left to select solely on price and smartwatch design.

Smartwatch pioneer Pebble will cede market share to AndroidWear and watchOS but will not disappear altogether. Its simple user interface and devices make for an easy-to-understand use case, and its price point relative to other platforms makes Pebble one of the most affordable smartwatches on the market.

Samsung’s Tizen stands to be the dark horse of the smartwatch market and poses a threat to Android Wear, including compatibility with most flagship Android smartphones and an application selection rivaling Android Wear. Moreover, with Samsung, Tizen has benefited from technology developments including a QWERTY keyboard on a smartwatch screen, cellular connectivity, and new user interfaces. It’s a combination that helps Tizen stand out, but not enough to keep up with AndroidWear and watchOS.

There will be a small, but nonetheless significant market for smart wristwear running on a Real-Time Operating System (RTOS), which is capable of running third-party applications, but not on any of these listed platforms. These tend to be proprietary operating systems and OEMs will use them when they want to champion their own devices. These will help within specific markets or devices, but will not overtake the majority of the market.

The company has provided a table with five-year CAGR (compound annual growth rate) growth estimates, which can be found with the Dec. 17, 2015 IDC press release.

Disclaimer: I am not endorsing IDC’s claims regarding the market for wearable technology.

For the third and fourth items, it’s back to the science. A Dec. 17, 2015 news item on Nanowerk, describes, in general terms, some recent wearable technology research at the University of Manchester (UK), Note: A link has been removed),

Cheap, flexible, wireless graphene communication devices such as mobile phones and healthcare monitors can be directly printed into clothing and even skin, University of Manchester academics have demonstrated.

In a breakthrough paper in Scientific Reports (“Highly Flexible and Conductive Printed Graphene for Wireless Wearable Communications Applications”), the researchers show how graphene could be crucial to wearable electronic applications because it is highly-conductive and ultra-flexible.

The research could pave the way for smart, battery-free healthcare and fitness monitoring, phones, internet-ready devices and chargers to be incorporated into clothing and ‘smart skin’ applications – printed graphene sensors integrated with other 2D materials stuck onto a patient’s skin to monitor temperature, strain and moisture levels.

Detail is provided in a Dec. 17, 2015 University of Manchester press release, which originated the news item, (Note: Links have been removed),

Examples of communication devices include:

• In a hospital, a patient wears a printed graphene RFID tag on his or her arm. The tag, integrated with other 2D materials, can sense the patient’s body temperature and heartbeat and sends them back to the reader. The medical staff can monitor the patient’s conditions wirelessly, greatly simplifying the patient’s care.

• In a care home, battery-free printed graphene sensors can be printed on elderly peoples’ clothes. These sensors could detect and collect elderly people’s health conditions and send them back to the monitoring access points when they are interrogated, enabling remote healthcare and improving quality of life.

Existing materials used in wearable devices are either too expensive, such as silver nanoparticles, or not adequately conductive to have an effect, such as conductive polymers.

Graphene, the world’s thinnest, strongest and most conductive material, is perfect for the wearables market because of its broad range of superlative qualities. Graphene conductive ink can be cheaply mass produced and printed onto various materials, including clothing and paper.

“Sir Kostya Novoselov

To see evidence that cheap, scalable wearable communication devices are on the horizon is excellent news for graphene commercial applications.

Sir Kostya Novoselov (tweet)„

The researchers, led by Dr Zhirun Hu, printed graphene to construct transmission lines and antennas and experimented with these in communication devices, such as mobile and Wifi connectivity.

Using a mannequin, they attached graphene-enabled antennas on each arm. The devices were able to ‘talk’ to each other, effectively creating an on-body communications system.

The results proved that graphene enabled components have the required quality and functionality for wireless wearable devices.

Dr Hu, from the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, said: “This is a significant step forward – we can expect to see a truly all graphene enabled wireless wearable communications system in the near future.

“The potential applications for this research are huge – whether it be for health monitoring, mobile communications or applications attached to skin for monitoring or messaging.

“This work demonstrates that this revolutionary scientific material is bringing a real change into our daily lives.”

Co-author Sir Kostya Novoselov, who with his colleague Sir Andre Geim first isolated graphene at the University in 2004, added: “Research into graphene has thrown up significant potential applications, but to see evidence that cheap, scalable wearable communication devices are on the horizon is excellent news for graphene commercial applications.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Highly Flexible and Conductive Printed Graphene for Wireless Wearable Communications Applications by Xianjun Huang, Ting Leng, Mengjian Zhu, Xiao Zhang, JiaCing Chen, KuoHsin Chang, Mohammed Aqeeli, Andre K. Geim, Kostya S. Novoselov, & Zhirun Hu. Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 18298 (2015) doi:10.1038/srep18298 Published online: 17 December 2015

This is an open access paper.

The next and final item concerns supercapacitors for wearable tech, which makes it slightly different from the other items and is why, despite the date, this is the final item. The research comes from Case Western Research University (CWRU; US) according to a Dec. 16, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Wearable power sources for wearable electronics are limited by the size of garments.

With that in mind, researchers at Case Western Reserve University have developed flexible wire-shaped microsupercapacitors that can be woven into a jacket, shirt or dress (Energy Storage Materials, “Flexible and wearable wire-shaped microsupercapacitors based on highly aligned titania and carbon nanotubes”).

A Dec. 16, 2015 CWRU news release (on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about a device that would make wearable tech more wearable (after all, you don’t want to recharge your clothes the same way you do your phone and other mobile devices),

By their design or by connecting the capacitors in series or parallel, the devices can be tailored to match the charge storage and delivery needs of electronics donned.

While there’s been progress in development of those electronics–body cameras, smart glasses, sensors that monitor health, activity trackers and more–one challenge remaining is providing less obtrusive and cumbersome power sources.

“The area of clothing is fixed, so to generate the power density needed in a small area, we grew radially-aligned titanium oxide nanotubes on a titanium wire used as the main electrode,” said Liming Dai, the Kent Hale Smith Professor of Macromolecular Science and Engineering. “By increasing the surface area of the electrode, you increase the capacitance.”

Dai and Tao Chen, a postdoctoral fellow in molecular science and engineering at Case Western Reserve, published their research on the microsupercapacitor in the journal Energy Storage Materials this week. The study builds on earlier carbon-based supercapacitors.

A capacitor is cousin to the battery, but offers the advantage of charging and releasing energy much faster.

How it works

In this new supercapacitor, the modified titanium wire is coated with a solid electrolyte made of polyvinyl alcohol and phosphoric acid. The wire is then wrapped with either yarn or a sheet made of aligned carbon nanotubes, which serves as the second electrode. The titanium oxide nanotubes, which are semiconducting, separate the two active portions of the electrodes, preventing a short circuit.

In testing, capacitance–the capability to store charge–increased from 0.57 to 0.9 to 1.04 milliFarads per micrometer as the strands of carbon nanotube yarn were increased from 1 to 2 to 3.

When wrapped with a sheet of carbon nanotubes, which increases the effective area of electrode, the microsupercapactitor stored 1.84 milliFarads per micrometer. Energy density was 0.16 x 10-3 milliwatt-hours per cubic centimeter and power density .01 milliwatt per cubic centimeter.

Whether wrapped with yarn or a sheet, the microsupercapacitor retained at least 80 percent of its capacitance after 1,000 charge-discharge cycles. To match various specific power needs of wearable devices, the wire-shaped capacitors can be connected in series or parallel to raise voltage or current, the researchers say.

When bent up to 180 degrees hundreds of times, the capacitors showed no loss of performance. Those wrapped in sheets showed more mechanical strength.

“They’re very flexible, so they can be integrated into fabric or textile materials,” Dai said. “They can be a wearable, flexible power source for wearable electronics and also for self-powered biosensors or other biomedical devices, particularly for applications inside the body.” [emphasis mine]

Dai ‘s lab is in the process of weaving the wire-like capacitors into fabric and integrating them with a wearable device.

So one day we may be carrying supercapacitors in our bodies? I’m not sure how I feel about that goal. In any event, here’s a link and a citation for the paper,

Flexible and wearable wire-shaped microsupercapacitors based on highly aligned titania and carbon nanotubes by Tao Chen, Liming Dai. Energy Storage Materials Volume 2, January 2016, Pages 21–26 doi:10.1016/j.ensm.2015.11.004

This paper appears to be open access.