News story: Innovative materials on display during Science Week

The University of Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) is conducting work with graphene-based materials, using funding by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) as part of its Defence and Security PhD Programme.

Dstl is keen to promote the development of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects within universities and build relationships with centres of excellence in academia. It therefore funds a number of PhDs in subjects which might provide future defence capabilities.

In this instance, it has funded University of Surrey PhD student Chris Smith to look at how graphene can be manipulated, perhaps providing more flexible and longer lifetime plastic solar cells or light emitting materials. It also grows the relationship between Dstl and the ATI, a centre of excellence in nanotechnology.

Prof. Ravi Silva, director of the Advanced Technology Institute commented:

The nano-carbon heritage of the group, of which this work is a part, includes diamond like carbon hard disc coatings, VANTA Black and de-coupled graphene layers which are all part of the rich diversity of nano-materials in the ATI.

Chris’s work has also uncovered some potential civilian applications. One is a revolutionary way to mop up after oil spills, which can be catastrophic to ecosystems and have a lasting impact on public health and the local economy.

Traditionally, oil spill recovery involves physically skimming the oil from the surface of the water, and then using often toxic detergents to disperse what remains. However, researchers from the University have discovered how a new magnetic carbon based sponge could help.

Chris said:

The carbon sponges, which are cheaply synthesised from a material known as graphene oxide, utilise minute iron nanoparticles to make the sponges magnetic and use a mechanism similar to a water filter absorbing pollutants, such as petrol, while allowing water to pass through unhindered. This allows the pollutant filled sponge to be removed from water using an everyday magnet.

The work is being demonstrated at Innovate Guildford, Science and Arts Festival, at Guildford’s GLive venue on 12 March 2016 with exhibitors from across the technology, science and arts industries contributing to the line-up for the event, targeted specifically at young people to inspire the scientists, engineers, artists and innovators of tomorrow.

Prof. Ian Youngs of Dstl said:

The Defence and Security PhD programme affords Dstl the opportunity to fund exciting research prospects, and subsequently develop a higher standard of STEM graduates. We hope that the interactive demonstration of this research can go some way to inspiring a future generation of problem solvers. We also look forward to working further with the ATI on this and other projects to come.
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