Liquid lenses offer alternative eye-care model

In the latest podcast, Josh Silver – a physicist and inventor based in Oxford, UK – introduces his liquid lens enabled adjustable eye-wear. Dubbed Adspecs, the product offers an alternative eye-care model by allowing wearers to tune the power of their spectacles. To do this, users put on the glasses and pump fluid into lens chambers formed between clear, high optical quality plastic films, which changes the curvature of these flexible structures and brings the wearer’s view of the world into focus. To complete the simple setup procedure, the left and right eye adjusters are locked-off leaving the spectacles fixed at the correct prescription.

Physicist and inventor Joshua Silver of The Centre for Vision in the Developing World talks to about the prospects for self-adjustable glasses.

Physicist and inventor Joshua Silver of The Centre for Vision in the Developing World talks to about the prospects for self-adjustable glasses.

In the interview, Silver talks about the positive impact his invention could have in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa where there are insufficient numbers of optometrists to deliver vision correction through the conventional approach of eye-tests and traditional glasses. He also describes the challenges of taking his ideas from the lab and bringing them to mass market. Silver came up with his first prototypes in 1985 and through the work of The Centre for Vision in the Developing World he hopes to see a billion people having Adspecs-enabled vision correction by the year 2020.

Barriers to success
It’s easy to pinpoint cost and performance as important considerations, but as Silver explains, there were other lessons to be learnt when translating the technology from first prototypes into products with market appeal. “When people meet one another, they tend to look at their eyes,” he commented. “People are very sensitive about what their eyes look like and so you’ve got to get the fashion right as well as the optical function.”

Listen to the interview in full on

Related links

Adjustable glasses (Institute of Making)

Graphene Flagship highlights commercialization opportunities in 2D materials roadmap

Europe’s Graphene Flagship – a € 1 billion research initiative tasked with bringing together academia and industry to translate 2D materials from the lab to the market – has released an Open Access version of its science and technology roadmap highlighting key application areas for graphene and related structures and providing estimates of timelines to market.

The report (PDF | Rich HTML) includes the views of more than 60 academics and industrial partners, and concludes a four-year project to collect and coordinate information “to guide the community
towards the development of products based on graphene, related two dimensional (2d) crystals and hybrid systems.”

The roadmap flags flexible electronics, composites, and energy as three areas that could generate close-to-market products within a 10-year timeline. Further out, the programme hopes to see silicon-integrated photonic devices, sensors, high-speed electronics, and biomedical devices based on 2D materials also making an impact beyond the lab.

For more information, visit –

Related stories on TMR+

Fullerex talks graphene pricing; identifies growth areas and supply targets

Online graphene course educates engineers in 2D materials

Video highlights from Graphene Week 2014 (Gothenburg, Sweden)

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

National University of Singapore and BASF team up to develop the use of graphene in organic electronic devices

Supercapacitors: market factors to consider

Supercapacitors are a promising application for advanced materials such as high surface area nanocarbons, but what are the translational issues and market factors that researchers need to consider to win-over commercial partners? To find out more on the topic, TMR+ spoke with Franco Gonzalez, a senior analyst at IDTechEx and co-author of ‘Electrochemical Double Layer Capacitors: Supercapacitors 2014-2024’ – a 10 year forecast analysing the market, applications, technology, patent and profit trends, and key players in the sector.

Advantages over batteries
Supercapacitors don’t rely on chemical reactions and this gives them several advantages over batteries including a higher power capacity per unit mass, superior operation at low temperatures and extended operational lifetime. Truck-makers are using supercapacitors to guarantee that vehicles will start in very cold weather – a scenario where lead-acid batteries perform poorly as their energy capacity can be reduced by as much as 50%.

The longer cycle lifetimes of supercapacitors compared with batteries can lower system maintenance costs and improve reliability. It makes devices attractive for large resource power applications, particular in remote locations. In wind farms, supercapacitors are used to power actuators that change the blade pitch in high winds to protect the turbines.

IDTechEx senior analyst, Franco Gonzalez

IDTechEx senior analyst, Franco Gonzalez

Energy recovery
Although supercapacitors store less energy than batteries, they can be charged very quickly without detriment (unlike batteries). This makes them ideal for regenerative breaking systems, for example on trains and trams, which convert kinetic energy into electricity. They can also be configured to recover potential energy stored in cranes operating at cargo loading and unloading sites. “At ports, these machines can be in use almost constantly, so it’s a great opportunity for energy recovery,” said Gonzalez. “The need to reduce CO2 emissions is driving the market.”

It often makes sense to pair a supercapacitor and a battery together. “Power surges reduce the energy capacity of a battery,” he explained. “But you can protect it using a supercapacitor.” The combination can be used to extend the lifetime of batteries in renewable energy systems, or in smart phones where power-demand fluctuates depending on the functions in use.

Industry factors
As a general rule, supercapacitors are well-suited to applications with highly-variable power demands. In principle, this means they are a great match for ‘stop-start’ systems fitted to modern cars, which switch-off the engine while you are waiting in traffic or at stop lights and then restart the vehicle when you engage the gearbox. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

“Different industries focus on different parameters,” Gonzalez cautioned. “Auto-makers are looking for supercapacitors that are half the price of current devices as they focus on the cost per unit energy and are concerned about the selling price of the car.”

Sales of electric buses and on the other hand are much less sensitive to the initial purchase price as buyers in this sector pay more attention to the total cost of ownership of the vehicle. In this case, because supercapacitors bring down the price per charging cycle, the market is more lucrative for developers.

Today, supercapacitors are more attractive to industrial users that are open to considering the system level cost rather than the cost per unit energy of devices. But, as Gonzalez points out, supercapacitor manufacturers are nevertheless working hard at the material level to reduce price and improve device performance to offer a better cost per unit energy to customers.

Device development
Advances in materials can contribute in a number of ways to making supercapacitors more competitive in the market. Increasing the surface area of the electrodes through activated carbons and nanomaterials will drive up the capacitance and benefit the energy storage capacity of the device. At the same time, finding ways to reduce the resistance (of the active material, the electrolyte, and the porous separator) will boost the power output.

However, it is the operation of supercapacitor cells at higher voltages (V) and finding the right materials to make this happen, which may impact performance in the short to medium term. Both the power and the energy of a capacitor are proportional to V2. “Electrolytes in organic solvents can withstand 2.7 V, but developers are also looking at ionic liquids – room temperature salts – that operate at 5V,” said Gonzalez.

Devices come in many shapes and sizes, and he highlights micro-supercapacitors as a particularly exciting and growing area of research. Gonzalez advises researchers to look at lower-cost materials and manufacturing methods in the first instance. “If you want to use expensive materials then you need to find an application that will pay for that,” he commented. “Researchers need to be aware of how the industry is changing and the relative sensitivity to price of the different applications.”

Related stories on TMR+

World Economic Forum announces top 10 emerging technologies for 2014

Related articles from the journal 2D Materials

Fabrication of graphene foam supported carbon nanotube/polyaniline hybrids for high-performance supercapacitor applications

Nominations now open for 2015 MATERIALICA awards

MATERIALICA has been championing new materials and innovative applications since launching its awards program in 2003. “We honour products which combine outstanding design and high technology expertise,” explained Robert Metzger, jury member and organizer of the MATERIALICA Design + Technology Award.

Boosting the thermal conductivity of plastics

2014 winner SILATHERM (image credit: Quartzwerke Gmbh)

Last year‘s winners include Budenheim’s Excelion material, which is used to advance lithium ion batteries, and SILATHERM from HPF, which improves the thermal conductivity of plastics without downgrading the electrically insulating properties of the host substance. Also recognised in 2014 were LZN Laser Zentrum Nord and EDAG Engineering – co-recipients of the silver award for surface technology. The prize acknowledges the winners’ use of 3D printing to enable a multifunctional aluminium housing for electric vehicles, which weighs just 900 g compared with 1900 g for the reference casting.

In 2013, I-MEET (Institute of Materials for Electronics and Energy Technology, University Erlangen-Nuremberg) won the gold product award for its solution-processed flexible semitransparent organic solar cells. The modules are laser patterned and feature silver nanowire meshes as top and bottom electrodes. Applications for the devices include windows (the cells exhibit 56% transmittance at 550 nm) and skylights.

The deadline for submitting nominations to the selection committee is 17 July 2015. Application forms and further details can be found by visiting

Related stories on TMR+

3D printing (6 stories)

5 ways to tackle materials translation and build better products

One of the highlights of the launch of Translational Materials Research (TMR) has been the opportunity to discuss the journey from lab to market in detail with the journal’s Editorial Board through a series of exclusive interviews.

Here are five key takeaways from the conversation so far –

Invest in fundamental research
“[When I started the Quantum Science Research Initiative] I wanted to have something big that would grab people’s attention and get them to understand that long term fundamental research can be a valuable corporate strategic asset,” revealed Stan Williams, Senior Fellow and VP of Foundational Technologies at Hewlett Packard Labs. “A lot of companies are now realizing that they have to invest more in innovation, and invest more broadly as a means of risk reduction.”

Build on a solid understanding
“Regardless of what you choose to do in the future, first you need to be the best scientist or engineer you can,” advised Zhenan Bao, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at Stanford University, and co-founder of tech start-up C3-Nano. “You need to have a solid fundamental understanding that you can build on to develop the skills needed for solving problems, especially complex problems, as this will serve you well if you choose to start your own research group or technology company.”

Go large
“Having a well-defined big problem gives you a strategy to attack it. Of course, it branches as time goes on, but that strategy provokes a whole set of things that you need to do in order to reach your goal, and there can be unexpected pay-offs,” said Peter Littlewood, Director of Argonne National Lab.

Take a broad view
“One of the things that we do already is to look beyond the science problems and imagine what the system would look like,” Littlewood continued. “Could we build it? How heavy would it be? This is what we call ‘techno-economic modelling’, and we do this as part of the whole programme, which can mean that you decide to back-pedal on some of your initial ideas.”

Manage your ideas well
“You need an organizational structure with ‘low interfacial resistance’, which allows ideas to go from science to product development, and for people to move from one department or area to another,” commented Om Nalamasu, Chief Technology Officer of Applied Materials.

For much more on all of these and other key topics related to the translation of materials research into robust products and devices, visit issues #1 and #2 of the journal, which are now both live on IOPscience.

And don’t forget that you can receive TMR+ news alerts by joining our mailing list. It’s easy to sign up, just look for the “subscribe to email alerts” box on the journal’s companion blog, TMR+.

Related articles from the journal Translational Materials Research (TMR) –

An interview with board member R. Stanley Williams
An interview with board member Zhenan Bao
An interview with board member Peter Littlewood
An interview with board member Om Nalamasu

Online graphene course educates engineers in 2D materials

Materials MOOC: Introduction to Graphene Science and Technology (course preview)

Chalmers University of Technology, which coordinates the European Commission’s EURO 1 billion Graphene Flagship initiative, is launching a series of MOOCs – massive open online courses – beginning with an “Introduction to Graphene Science and Technology“.

Spread over 10 weeks, the graphene primer will be presented by Jie Sun of the Quantum Device Physics Laboratory, which is part of the Department of Microtechnology and Nanoscience at Chalmers.

“At the end of the course, an engineer should be able to determine if graphene is suitable for the company’s products, and a student should be able to decide if the subject is of interest for continued studies”, he explained.

To enrol, visit the edX platform, which also features online material from MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, Delft University, EPFL, The University of Tokyo and many other institutions.

The course is “free of charge and accessible to anyone with a computer” and starts on 23 March 2015.

Update [24 March 2015]
It looks like plenty of people want to know more about graphene. The Chalmers’ MOOC now has 5000 learners signed up, according to the organizers. For more updates, follow @GrapheneMooc on Twitter.

Related stories on TMR+

Video highlights from Graphene Week 2014 (Gothenburg, Sweden)

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

Hauser review recommends expansion in translational infrastructure

In a highly-awaited review of the UK’s Catapult network, Hermann Hauser – serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist and adviser to the UK Government – has updated conclusions on the UK’s ability to foster translational research that fills the void between early-stage publicly funded studies and industrially supported commercialization.

Back in 2010, Hauser highlighted the need for the UK to close the critical gap between research findings and their subsequent development into commercial propositions, and proposed a network of technology and innovation centres to “deliver a step change in the UK’s ability to commercialise its research.” Specifically, the centres would provide hubs of technical expertise, infrastructure, skills and equipment.

Fast-forward to today and seven of these centres or “Catapults” are now in operation –

With two more in the pipeline for 2015 –

In his 2014 report, Hauser is largely positive about the progress made since 2010, and recommends that Innovate UK should grow the network of Catapults at a rate of 1-2 centres per year, with a view to having 30 Catapults by 2030.

Full details can be found on GOV.UK

Related stories on TMR+

Show report: Metal additive manufacturing 2014 (Sheffield, UK)
Innovation in Europe: an update on Horizon 2020

Nanofabrication expert wins IOP award for translational physics research

A guest post for TMR+ by Douglas Paul, professor of semiconductor devices at the University of Glasgow and director of the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre

Douglas Paul was awarded the President’s Medal at the Institute of Physics (IOP) awards dinner on 15 October, in recognition of his achievements in translating physics research into advanced technology.

Acceptance speech

Madam President, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, colleagues

I am extremely honoured to be standing here and accepting the President’s medal from the Institute of Physics.

After seeing past recipients have included Brian Cox, Tim Berners-Lee, Michael Atiyah and Lord Dainton you are probably all wondering who is Douglas Paul and why is he getting the President’s Medal?

I have always modelled my career on Louis Pasteur – undertaking research to solve major problems that at some level benefit society. This has not always got publications in the high impact journals that is required to advance ones career, but it has allowed me to interact with an enormous number of UK and international companies.

My PhD at Cambridge and my first funded research grant were both about finding ways to reduce the power consumption of the transistors in microchips. This work on strained-Si MOSFETs is now in every major microprocessor being produced today. I was one of the first to suggest straining channels but lost the race to be first to deliver high performance devices. The experience taught me a lot!

The EC funding for the work press-ganged me into compiling the Technology Roadmap for European Nanoelectronics in 1999. I had little idea it was going to be taken into the industrial International Technology Roadmap of Semiconductors forming the first Future Emerging Technologies chapter in 2005.

This got me my first interaction with the IOP when I ended up in the House of Lord’s giving evidence to the House of Lord’s Enquiry into “Chips for Everything” in May 2002. Later I became a member of the Science Board and helped to lobby government on science policy.

David King whilst GCSA to Tony Blair brought me into the Home Office CBRN Scientific Advisory Committee in 2004 after I had written a DTI report on security and medical imaging along with having DARPA funding for THz work.

Little did I realise when I said yes to being on this committee that it would be involved in the 7/7 bombing reviews, shoot to kill policy, airports liquids ban, Litvinenko and many other incidents not in the public domain.

I am frequently asked why a physicist is involved in so much security? National security requires technology that can detect threats – either imaging technology or sensors. The science is heavily based on quantum mechanics and electromagnetism and so physicists are essential to the National Security of the UK.

We have many examples of physicists in security in this room. Our President Francis Saunders, a physicist ended up as the Chief Executive of the UK’s Defence Scientific Technology Laboratory and Peter Knight who is also here tonight and a former president has chaired the MOD’s Defence Scientific Advisory Council (DSAC).

Indeed it was Peter who interviewed me when I became a member of MOD’s DSAC and we walked around Warminster with full body armour and a half pack to understand the problems dismounted solders were facing in Afganhistan. I have pushed with others trying to get a modern science and engineering capability around MOD and DSTL that can provide the UK with the scientific capability to meet the threats of tomorrow.

In 2007 I moved to Glasgow so that I could get access to a far better cleanroom for research than any of the ones in Cambridge. Three years later I became the Director of that cleanroom, the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre and within 2 weeks of landing the job had to develop a strategy and business plan to drive it forward.

It has been a delight to be Director and publicise some of the original research of my colleagues including the first directed STEM cell growth using nanopatterns – now in clinical trials for self-repairing hip-joint replacements, lab-on-a-pill (now spun out into a prostate cancer probe start-up) and the development of 10 nm III-V CMOS which may well be in everyone’s computers in 2019.

In the last 10 years, the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre has collaborated with over 288 companies in 28 countries worldwide including 12 of the top 20 semiconductor companies and 48 of the international universities in the Times Higher Education Top 100 International Universities list. We have also become two national facilities, one for EPSRC and one for STFC plus we are now a strategic partner of DSTL and have been a major supplier to NPL in a range of areas including their atomic clock work. Indeed most of the pretty pictures of magneto-optical traps and Penning traps from NPL published in the FT and elsewhere have been devices made in the cleanroom at Glasgow.

The UK has been particularly poor at translating research into products. At present, most UK academics get far better rewards from the Research Excellence Framework and their universities for a Nature or Science publication than for transferring IP into a UK company. Until this is changed and translating IP has a larger value than publications then Great Britain will only be great at science and will not be great at translating the science into products that help the British companies and the British economy that actually funds the research in the universities.

Studying Physics has been a great enjoyment and allowed me to pursue research, but also provide a service to society by advising Government Ministers about National Security. But research is my first love and at the moment I am still having great fun playing with phonon and electron bandgaps to engineer improved thermoelectrics to harvest waste heat from cars to reduce CO2 emissions and trying to detect utilities under the street through making gradiometers with MEMS and Si photonics technology to reduce roadwork delays.

As I stand between everyone and dinner, I will stop here but leave you with a poem that I have had on the wall of my office for many years and has really been the vision and inspiration to keep me going, especially on those difficult days when it appears none of the research seems to be moving forward.


Not to say what everyone else was saying
not to believe what everyone else believed
not to do what everybody did.
then to refute what everyone else was saying
then to disprove what everyone else believed
then to deprecate what everybody did,

was his way to come by understanding

how everyone else was saying the same as he was saying
believing what he believed
and did what doing.

Clere Parsons (1908 – 1931)

Related stories

‘Work with us’, IOP president tells physics community in Awards Dinner speech (IOP)

Show report: Commercialization of micro, nano, and emerging technologies – COMS 2014 (Salt Lake City, Utah)

Through its flagship COMS event, MANCEF brings together academia and industry to promote the commercialization of micro-, nano- and emerging technologies, and encourage entrepreneurship. This year, the conference was hosted and co-organized by the Center for Engineering Innovation at the University of Utah. In his welcome address, Tom Parks, vice president for research, emphasized that spin-outs are a key part of the university landscape. “Enterpreneurship offers career development for faculty and students,” he explained. “It’s not just about the money, there are longer term benefits.”

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Opening remarks: Steve Walsh (University of New Mexico), Florian Solzbacher (University of Utah) and Maggie Janat-Amsbury (nanoUtah) welcome attendees to COMS 2014

Talking venture capital
As regular attendees to the conference will know, COMS is a practical meeting featuring a mix of talks and Q&A events designed to explore the process of taking a product to market, finding new customers and identifying development partners. Highlights on day one included the investor and venture capital panel discussion chaired by David Blivin of Cottonwood Technology Fund. In the session, funders described what they look for in a start-up and panel members included James Smith, who helped run the CIA’s venture fund dubbed In-Q-Tel.

Smith likes to see start-ups with a clear product definition and a data sheet to go with it. He’s encouraged when founders know who their customers are and have orders on the horizon, which reduces the risk for investors. Even with these points ticked off, uncertainty remains in the ability of an early-stage company to deliver. The panel agreed that a start-up’s technology lead needs to be aware of the different skill sets required for the journey beyond the lab. “It’s unlikely that a founder will take a company from cradle to grave,” commented Todd Stevens of Renewable Tech Ventures, who also sat on the panel. Like many investors he looks not just at the technology, but also at the people leading the project. “Market conditions may change and the management team needs to be able to adapt,” Stevens told the audience. Smith added that it’s important for founders to be self-aware and know their limitations. As the panel highlighted, one way for a firm to expand its expertise is by forming strategic partnerships to help with tasks such as manufacturing scale up and distribution.

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Supporting technology translation: Deborah Jackson of the National Science Foundation (NSF)

Promoting innovation
Spurred on by the theme of the morning plenary session on day two – The new age of materials: why translation matters – given by George Grüner of UCLA, attendees gathered after lunch for the sequel event chaired by the journal Translational Materials Research (TMR). Deborah Jackson of the National Science Foundation (NSF) spoke first on sizing up your innovation ecosystem and pinpointing strengths and weaknesses so that appropriate support can be provided. “We don’t try to apply the silicon valley model across the board,” she explained.

Joining Jackson on the programme were Fiona Jamieson of the Institute of Physics (IOP), who presented key findings on graphene commercialization in the UK and Europe, and Deb Newberry of Nano-Link, who updated on progress being made in upskilling workers for careers involving nanotechnology. To close the popular session, Xiao Zhang of Hitachi High Tehnologies, reported his team’s work on upgrading TEM apparatus to operate under industrially relevant conditions, which he hopes will accelerate the translation of materials discoveries into robust products and devices.

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Prize-winning technology: Bernd Vinke of Tide Microfluidics receives both audience and judges prizes at the 2014 Young Technology Award.

Show time
Evening entertainment at COMS includes the Young Technology Award where attendees get to vote on a series of 3 minute pitches given by entrepreneurs attending the conference. This year, the audience and the judging panel were in agreement as Dutch start-up Tide Microfluidics, which has developed a platform for producing highly monodisperse microbubbles for applications in medical imaging and drug delivery, won both prizes and grabbed valuable media attention along the way (see news links and tweets below).

For more information on COMS and for announcements on the 2015 event, visit the MANCEF website.

Related stories

COMS 2014 big success for local and international researchers (College of Engineering, University of Utah)

Tide Microfluidics grote winnaar van de COMS/Young Technology Award 2014 in Salt Lake City (Powered by Twente)

Related articles from the journal Translational Materials Research (TMR) –

Editorial: Welcome to Translational Materials Research (George Grüner 2014 Transl. Mater. Res. 1 010101)

From the VC desk: striking a balance on focus (Andrew Haughian 2014 Transl. Mater. Res. 1 010202)

Related news on Twitter

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+.