Energy and health solutions: TMR+ arrives in Salt Lake City ready for COMS 2014

Event location for COMS 2014

Venue with a view: Grand America hotel and conference facility, Salt Lake City, Utah, US

TMR+ is in Utah this week for COMS 2014 – a key conference on the lab-to-market events calendar looking at the commercialization of micro, nano and emerging technologies. The four day meeting, which was held in Europe last year, focuses primarily on entrepreneurship and marketable solutions, not just science and technology. And with its Young Technology Award and accompanying bootcamp session for entrants, the event takes a hands on and practical approach to guiding entrepreneurs from university spin-outs and early-stage companies.

The conference features lab and company visits, and a series of plenary sessions examining the commercialization process from first idea to final product. Keynote speakers at this year’s meeting include George Gruner of UCLA, who will be commenting on the search for application-relevant materials and changes in the research landscape.

Building on these themes, Translational Materials Research (TMR) is chairing a session – The New Age of Materials: Why Translation Matters (Track C4) – featuring Deborah Jackson from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Fiona Jamieson – science and innovation officer at the Institute of Physics (IOP), Deborah Newbury from the Nano-Link Center, and Xiao Feng Zhang of Hitachi High Technologies.

The event runs from Sunday 12 October through to Wednesday 15 October

Registered and ready to go: TMR+ will be posting highlights from COMS 2014

The full COMS 2014 programme is available online and I’d encourage you to come along to the conference if you’re in the area on Monday 13th, Tuesday 14th or Wednesday 15th of October.

Show report
If you’re unable to attend, but still want to follow the meeting then register for updates on TMR+ as we’ll be posting a show report for COMS 2014. It’s easy to sign up, just look for the “subscribe to email alerts” box on TMR+.

Lightning lab to offer full waveform testing by end 2014

Aerospace is a prime destination for materials that are both light and strong, but that’s only part of the story. Translating promising materials into production aircraft brings additional selection criteria into play such as the ability to survive lightning strikes. To find out more, TMR+ visited the Morgan-Botti Lightning Laboratory in Cardiff, Wales – one of the world’s leading facilities in this area.

Zap: high-speed video stills showing a composite panel under test. Credit: Morgan-Botti Lightning lab.

Zap: high-speed video stills showing a carbon composite panel under test. Credit: Morgan-Botti Lightning lab.

The primary focus of the £1.6 million centre, which was set up by Cardiff University in collaboration with AIRBUS Group Innovations, is on the electromechanical characterization of carbon composites, and its goal is to understand and develop safer and more lightning resilient materials.

Using banks of giant capacitors and resistor stacks, the custom-built lab can generate lightning strikes based on protocols such as the EUROCAE ED-84 Aircraft Lightning Environment and Related Test Waveform Standard.

Hot spots
Directing the centre’s activities is Manu Haddad from Cardiff University. In the tour, he explained that the tips of the aircraft such as the wings or nose tend to be targets for the initial strike, but because the plane is in motion the main fuselage will also likely come into contact with the discharge and needs to be protected too.

Samples from Morgan-Botti lightning lab

Test results: carbon composite samples with and without copper mesh (inset).

Today, aircraft makers such as Airbus and Boeing use a copper mesh bonded to the skin of the carbon composite material to disperse the energy from the lightning strike, but this adds weight – typically an extra 3% – and so developers are motivated to optimize their designs and find lighter-weight alternatives.

The lab’s measurement chamber is kitted out with thermal and high-speed cameras to evaluate the dynamic performance of test pieces, and the facility has access to a range of other characterization equipment including scanning electron microscopes.

Electromagnetic issues
Without protection, the top layers of the composite are ripped from the surface as the local area jumps in temperature, which risks overall mechanical failure. Also, designers need to consider the damage caused by electromagnetic radiation penetrating the material, where it could disrupt sensitive equipment below such as wiring loops or sensors.

Resistor stack and capacitor bank for generating lightning waveforms.

Resistor stack and capacitor bank for generating lightning waveforms.

Haddad illustrated how aircraft parts can be modified by showing a composite nose cone fitted with aluminium strips on either side to draw lighting strikes away from the radar equipment often housed in this portion of the plane.

Airbus is a major research partner and played a key role in the lab’s founding back in 2007 together with support from the Welsh government, but today the facility is supporting more than just the aerospace industry. “Wind turbines also need to be protected and we’re working closely with the energy sector on this,” commented Haddad.

Networking opportunities
To encourage collaborative research on the direct effects of lightning on emerging materials, Cardiff University is co-ordinating an international network of academic and industry partners dubbed EMC3 (Electro-mechanical characterization of carbon composites).

For more details on the lab and on becoming a member of the EMC3 network, contact Haddad and his team –

Related reading

Lightning Hazards to Aircraft and Launchers (Aerospace Lab – Issue 5)

Lightning strike protection strategies for composite aircraft (Composites World)

Related links -

Advanced High Voltage Engineering Research Centre (Cardiff University)

Video archive – lightning tests (Morgan-Botti Lightning Laboratory)

Registration opens for Young Technology Award bootcamp at COMS 2014, Utah

MANCEF’s commercialization of micro, nano, and emerging technologies conference (COMS) gives early-stage companies in these fields the opportunity for expert feedback through its Young Technology Award.

In 2014, the event takes place in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is hosted by the Center for Engineering Innovation.

Young Technology Award timetable

  • Sunday 12 October 2014, noon to 7 pm – expert bootcamp and pitch training
  • Tuesday 14 October 2014, from 6:30 pm – top six entrants go through to the Young Technology Award final held at the Natural history museum of Utah.

Focus on materials translation
Other highlights in the COMS 2014 program include a session chaired by the journal Translational Materials Research (Track C4 – Tuesday 14 October, 2 pm) looking at progress in the commercialization of devices based on graphene, and exploring the acceleration of materials translation through innovation ecosystems.

Related stories -
Gearing up for the commercialization of micro- and nanotechnologies (TMR+)
Show report: COMS 2013 (

NSF expands I-Corps innovation network for translating academic research into the market

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is further extending its popular I-Corps innovation network with nodes in Texas and Southern California.

Now in its 4th year, the I-Corps program brings together academic researchers, student entrepreneurs and business mentors to focus on the transition of technology from the lab to the market. The scheme features a mandatory I-Corps curriculum that examines the transfer of knowledge into products and processes that benefit society, and introduces the concept of a Lean LaunchPad.

To fulfil the latest expansion, the NSF has awarded two grants of $3.75 million, each over three years, to consortia based in the two regions. The Southern California node will be based at the University of Southern California (USC) and includes the University of California Los Angeles and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). The Texas hub, known as the Southwest Alliance for Entrepreneurial Innovation Node, will be based at the University of Texas at Austin and includes Rice University and Texas A&M University.

Existing I-Corps regional nodes –

  • Washington, D.C.
  • New York City,
  • Michigan,
  • Northern California
  • Atlanta

New additions to the network –

  • Southern California
  • Texas

Accelerating biomedical innovations
Earlier this year the NSF joined forces with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to deliver a program aimed at accelerating the translation of biomedical innovations into applied health technologies, which goes under the name of The I-Corps at NIH.

Related links

Video: team members describe the I-Corps experience (NSF)

UT, A&M, Rice Form NSF hub to move ideas to marketplace (University of Texas at Austin)

USC teams with UCLA and Caltech on federally funded innovation hub (University of Southern California)

Commercializing physics: turning ideas into products

In a series of video reports, our sister site has been looking at what it takes to commercialize scientific research. After visiting flexible electronics start-up MC10, the team caught up with Stan Reiss of Matrix Partners to continue the discussion.

In the interview, Reiss, a venture capitalist, describes the funding options that are open to university start-ups and the things that founders should focus on to attract further investment. Building on this, he looks at the skill set that’s typically required to translate discoveries from the lab to the market.

In his experience, researchers tend to underestimate the amount of time that it takes to fully develop a product. Reiss also points out that the iterative nature of product development won’t appeal to everyone.

Focusing on specific sectors, he sees lots of opportunities coming out of materials research thanks in part to advances in computer modelling, which make it easier to tailor materials properties.

Related content from the journal Translational Materials Research (TMR)
From the VC desk: Striking a balance on focusTransl. Mater. Res. 1 010202 (2014)

Related stories on TMR+
MC10 declares that the future of electronics is flexible
Materials by design: NIST announces consortium to speed up time from discovery to first commercial use

Fast Track to Innovation: close-to-market funding programme announces timetable for applicants

Fast Track to Innovation (FTI) is a new element of Europe’s Horizon 2020 programme, and focuses on supporting ideas in the final stages of their journey from lab to market across a broad range of applications. The scheme, which offers grants to translate technology into products, processes and services, is set to launch as a pilot action in 2015 and has a budget of Euro 200 million.

Start date
The FTI programme will be run as a permanently open call starting 6 January 2015 with three cut-off-dates (to evaluate proposals), which have been announced as 29 April, 1 September and 1 December. Time-to-grant for participants will be six months at most.

The scheme requires that proposals are business-driven and close-to-market, and to be eligible for funding, applicants must team-up with two to four project partners. Objectives of the FTI programme include increasing the participation of industry, SMEs and first-time applicants in Horizon 2020.

The FTI programme will be assessed as part of the interim evaluation of Horizon 2020 in 2017.

For more details visit

Related links -

Horizon 2020 online manual

Video highlights from Graphene Week 2014 (Gothenburg, Sweden)

Graphene Week is now the annual showcase event for Europe’s Graphene Flagship programme – a 10 year, Euro 1 billion initiative that hopes to accelerate the translation of the so-called wonder material from lab to market. For attendees, the five-day conference is a chance to find out what big names in the field such as Nobel-prize-winner Andre Geim think about graphene’s prospects.

As Geim observes in the clip, currently applications are focused on using graphene as a substitute to other materials. But what he’s really looking forward to are applications unique to graphene – uses where the 2D allotrope of carbon performs a function that no other material can achieve.

Other experts at the event included leaders of the Flagship’s 16 work packages (WPs). Andrea Ferrari (WP 5 – Optoelectronics), who’s based at the Cambridge Graphene Center, sees graphene’s optical properties as beneficial for shaping laser pulses and creating photodetectors that operate in the infrared.

Joining Ferrari on WP 5 is Frank Koppens – group leader at ICFO in Barcelona. Koppens is already talking about building prototypes and taking devices out of the lab to demonstrate the industrial relevance of graphene in areas such as automotive night vision.

Continue reading

Show report: Graphene supply, application and commercialization 2014 (Manchester, UK)

It’s been 10 years since graphene was isolated by Geim and Novoselov at Manchester University in the UK. Today, graphene is available to purchase from a range of suppliers, you can buy equipment for growing it on wafers and foils and you can find graphene in products on the market, but the so-called “wonder material” is still in the early stages of its commercial journey.

Taking shape: the National Graphene Institute at Manchester, UK. The state-of-the-art facility is due to open in March 2015, but staff will start moving in from October this year to begin proving out the building services.

Taking shape: the National Graphene Institute at Manchester, UK. The state-of-the-art facility is due to open in March 2015, but staff will start moving in from October this year to begin proving out the building services.

“Short term applications will pave the way towards the principal uses of graphene,” Jani Kivioja, head of nanomaterials at Nokia, told attendees at LBC’s popular graphene conference series – now in its second year – which examines prospects for the 2D allotrope of carbon from an industrial perspective.

Early wins
TMR+ has reported graphene’s use as an additive to prevent drilling fluid degradation at high-temperature (see – Agensi Inovasi Malaysia and Graphene Nanochem team up to develop innovation hub), and there were other early wins presented at the event. Ready-for-market examples included a transparent conductive coating from TBA, which provides electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection to industrial lighting in explosive environments such as oil refineries or mining works (see TBA case study – PDF).

Graphene coatings are also of interest to Tata Steel, another attendee at the meeting. The firm sees the material’s barrier properties as an option for delivering anti-corrosion performance and extending the lifetime of its major products.

Plastic fantastic
Other areas with market potential include composite materials, where graphene’s high strength makes it an attractive additive. Its sheet-like form is beneficial during processing as graphene platelets flow easily over each other unlike carbon nanotubes, which can knot together and make composite mixtures much more viscous and harder to manage.

Karl Coleman, a professor at Durham University and one of the founders of Applied Graphene Materials, added that graphene is very good at reducing nitrogen permeation in thermoplastics, which is of interest in the packaging sector. Also, the low loading levels required preserve colour and transparency in the host material, which can be significant. Coleman is involved in Grapol, a four year project sponsored by EPSRC and partnered by Proctor and Gamble, and Dyson – two big consumers of thermoplastics.

As Coleman and others highlighted the effective integration of graphene into host materials is strongly dependent on surface functionalization, which is an area that suppliers such as Haydale are targeting with their plasma-treated graphene nanoplatelets. Surface functionalization also opens the door to the use of graphene in sensing applications, a sector that Nokia was upbeat about.

But will this be the killer application? For graphene to really take off there is a sense that it has to offer something different, something that no existing material on the market can do.

“Where I believe graphene can make a difference and be potentially disruptive is through its multifunctionality,” commented James Baker, who has moved from BAE Systems to become business director at the UK’s National Graphene Institute (NGI) – a £61 million facility under construction at Manchester University.

Graphene is unique in possessing so many record-breaking properties, but as we’ve mentioned previously on TMR+, designing multifunctional components to capitalize on this requires significant developer resources (see – Trajectories in translation: parallels between old and new materials) and pushes out the timeline for translating breakthroughs into the marketplace.

Facilities such as the NGI intend to bring academia and industry together under one roof to accelerate the commercialization of graphene from technology readiness levels 3-5 into early process validation. In September 2013, graphene CVD expert Bluestone signed up as the NGI’s first strategic partner and the building is on track to open in Q1 2015.

Reality check
Achim Hoffmann of IP group, a UK-based team of investors bridging the chasm between science and the city (financial district), reminded attendees that graphene is “technology before application”, which adds to the challenge. “We invest in businesses and value propositions – not materials,” emphasised Hoffmann. “Start-ups need to focus on who their customer is and how they address the market.”

Dispite the difficulties, a commercial landscape for graphene is emerging. Mark Rahn of MTI Ventures, who also spoke at the event, estimates that there are 23 countries (at least) with graphene companies. Europe hopes to be a major player through its Graphene Flagship, and across Asia there’s a wave of companies now making graphene in some shape or form – a point made by Kitty Cha of BASF and echoed by my colleagues at IOP China.

Device development
Seungmin Cho was representing Samsung Techwin at the workshop and talked about his team’s work on transparent electrodes. Using a graphene/PET film created by roll-to-roll processing, the group has demonstrated the manufacture of fully functional 4” touch screens – see ACS Nano 8 (2014) – but whether these devices make it into full production remains to be seen. “We need to find something that ITO cannot do,” Cho told the audience.

I got the impression from Shu-Jen Han’s presentation that graphene could be a hard sell in digital logic chips too. Han is a master inventor at IBM’s Yorktown Heights site in the US. The lack of a band gap in graphene means that devices are hard to turn off (in other words, you can write 1’s, but it’s tricky writing 0’s). There are ways of modifying the material to get around this, but from a commercial perspective the additional steps required are unattractive.

RF electronics on the other hand could be a much better match for the material. “For analogue devices you don’t have to turn the transistor fully on or fully off,” he explained. The IBM team has built a test circuit that can demodulate a digital signal carried over RF – see Nature Comm. 5, 3086 (2014). What’s more, the graphene chip was stable across a wide temperature range and up to high temperatures, which differentiates the device from versions made using traditional semiconductors.

Large organizations taking an interest in graphene include Lockheed Martin, which sees water security as a key part of its future business and believes that the 2D material could play an important role. To explain, Steve Sinton – principal chemist and Lockheed Martin fellow – introduced his team’s work on a perforated graphene membrane dubbed “Perforene”, which is seen as a promising platform for water purification (see datasheet – PDF). The work is early stage, but already the group has demonstrated that “Perforene” can reject salt ions from a test solution and copper from industrial wastewater, which has potential benefits in areas such as the electronics industry.

These are just a few highlights from what I found to be an insightful two days of talks and discussion. For further details on the event visit – – and for more on graphene, check out the links below.

Related content on the web -


Graphene: fabrication methods and thermophysical properties (Physics-Uspekhi)

Graphene: Applications and future uses (IOP)

Graphene coverage on

Graphene circuit ready for wireless (IBM Research blog)


Aixtron # Applied Graphene Materials # Bluestone # Cientifica # Graphoid # Haydale # Ocsial # Perpetuus # Planartech #

MC10 declares that the future of electronics is flexible

In my view, the concept of stretchable electronics that can be integrated with clothing and the human body could bring revolutionary technologies and spawn new industries. I’m a journalist working for Physics World magazine and I’ve recently produced a short film on this topic, which I’m delighted to share with TMR+. The video report takes you inside the headquarters of one of the most exciting companies in this burgeoning technology area — a start-up called MC10 based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

One of the company co-founders is John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a pioneer in the field of flexible electronics. In the film Rogers talks about how his interest in the research emerged from the observation that all known forms of biology are soft, elastic and curvilinear, whereas existing forms of electronics are rigid planar and brittle. “As a result, if you want to integrate electronics with biology – with human skin or tissue – you have severe challenges in a mechanics mismatch and a geometrical form mismatch,” he says.

Translation tool
Rogers talks about how MC10 has overcome these mismatches by developing a printing process that allows devices to be built on rigid wafers before being lifted off in thin formats and then printed onto rubber substrates. This innovation is enabling the company to develop professional and consumer products based on integrated electronics that can flex and reshape in a range of different environments.

The film profiles one of the company’s products called the Reebok CHECKLIGHT, developed by MC10 in partnership with the sports equipment giant whose global headquarters is also in Massachusetts. It’s a type of skullcap that can be worn by athletes and provides an indication of the danger of head impacts, through the combination of an accelerometer and a gyroscope integrated into flexible materials. The product has an interesting backstory about the concerns among youth athletes and trainers about the risk of serious injuries. For example, in sports such as American football, there tends to be something of a hero culture whereby players will respond to head collisions by saying “I’m fine coach”, even if they’re really not. The Reebok CHECKLIGHT is designed to provide an objective assessment of head impact in that scenario.

Creative environment
We recorded the film over a couple of days at the end of last year, when I visited the MC10 headquarters with a small film crew. The experience certainly lived up to my expectations of what a dynamic start-up in this part of the world would be like. Alongside the labs and the business spaces, the office also had many classic start-up accessories such as running machines and a range of gourmet coffee on tap. Perhaps these mod cons go some way to explaining the friendly and co-operative nature of the MC10 people we interviewed. For example, one of the co-founders Roozbeh Ghaffari was more than happy to model the Reebok CHECKLIGHT for us by popping it onto his own head without a moment’s hesitation. From my experience – particularly with British academics – this type of thing normally takes a bit of persuasion!

Equally amenable was Benjamin Schlatka, the VP of Business Development who appears in the film talking about his personal interest in the products of MC10. As a parent of three children his interest was piqued by the idea of a wearable sensor that could measure the temperature and respiration of a child while it sleeps. Schlatka goes on to talk about the key business developments in the history of MC10, which was established in 2008 after John Rogers established a connection with an entrepreneur in the Boston area.

Rather than me spoiling the film anymore, I recommend you give it a watch!

Note – John Rogers is a founding board member of the journal Translational Materials Research (TMR).

Related reading on the web –

Nanoarray patch takes your temperature to millikelvin precision (
Silk helps make bio-integrated electronics (

Interview with George Grüner, Editor-in-Chief of Translational Materials Research

George Grüner Distinguished Professor of Physics, University of California, Los Angeles

George Grüner Distinguished Professor of Physics,
University of California, Los Angeles

How do you define translational research?
Translation is the series of innovations that are needed to advance fundamental discoveries or inventions into useful products. This raises a number of issues that are not usually discussed in the invention or discovery phase: scalability of fabrication, reproducibility, lifetime, packaging, and yes, the price.

Why the focus on translation?
Within the academic community the nature of research is rapidly changing. More and more the expectation is that scientific endeavours will lead to practical applications, with funding often directed towards a specific goal with a clear value proposition. As a result, universities have become more focused on innovation, and are now developing intellectual property that can be marketed to the enterprise sector.

What is meant by the “valley of death”?
One meaning is simple: death occurs when a company developing a product runs out of money. But there is another definition: the valley of roadblocks that an invention must be pushed through until a viable product emerges. There are many roadblocks, many potential setbacks, many ways a technology can fail, thus the name the valley of death.

How will the journal Translational Materials Research (TMR) connect the different stakeholders in the innovation chain?
Our aim is to discuss issues that are relevant to all stakeholders involved in translation. Articles cover not only advances in technology, but also the steps needed to develop a marketable product. Our Editorial Board also represents the broader community, with company CTOs and venture capitalists sitting alongside leading scientists from academia and industry.

What would you say to authors who are considering publishing their work in TMR?
My hope is that TMR becomes a vital source of information for all those scientists who dream of launching a company and changing the world. Publishing your work with TMR will help all those people to achieve their dream.