Flexible Plastic Industrial-Scale Photonic Crystals for Functional Colour

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Physics

Abstract

The use of colour in every consumer product is ubiquitous. However with increasing concern for the environment, the use of traditional dyes is becoming problematic. This has opened up new opportunities in producing colour by carving out materials at scales smaller than a millionth of a metre, built of components which are benign. In addition, the new possibilities available for structural colours (iridescent, prismatic, multi-hue, or luminescent) are universally attractive in competitive marketplaces such as mobile electronics, fashion, and automotive/airline industries.We have invented a new process for making plastic films which have appealing structural colours, that can be scaled up to industrial production levels. It is based on making periodic arrangements of stacked nano-spheres with a different optical density to their surroundings, called 3D photonic crystals. Until now, there has been no way to make industrial-scale cheap photonic crystals. Our method is based on making plastic sphere precursors which can be heated and extruded together in such a way that they slide over each other into perfectly packed arrays. By adding tiny nano-particles (hundreds of times smaller in size) in between the spheres we can make an enormous variety of new sorts of materials or fibres which have 'smart' colour. For instance, the films are elastic and they drastically change colour when they are stretched, or are bent.In order to realise the possibilities in our discoveries, we need to find out how to properly control this shearing-assembly of polymer nanoparticles, by testing out the extrusion on a reasonable scale while measuring optically how it is taking place. We also need to develop ways to extrude fibres that could be used for making iridescent fabrics. Only when we understand the mechanisms in detail will we know enough to scale up production to the level that industry wants to see before investing further in commercial manufacture. We can also make a variety of even more intriguing films, including ones which glow with different colours, or are magnetic. We also need to show how the films might decompose to see what environmental issues might be raised by releasing such material on a widespread basis. Finally we need to develop a plan for which particular applications that we should concentrate on, in collaboration with a number of large companies.Everyone who we show these rubbery iridescent films to, wants a piece to take away with them. We want to be able to provide films to everyone, by commercialising our nanomaterials research and development.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We have made films which generate colour from structure, not from dye. These can be used for security, smart textiles, building coatings to control heat, and many other applications. We recently spun-off a company based on this work.
Exploitation Route These materials can be used for sensing strain, temperature, chemicals, and also chaning thermal heat load for buildings, as well as in medical sectors.
Sectors Creative Economy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Retail

URL http://www.np.phy.cam.ac.uk/research-themes/polymer-opals
 
Description We have used these films in many activities, and they are highly in demand by textiles designers, science museums, and many other institutions. They have been showcased in the Paris Fashion Show.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Creative Economy,Energy,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

 
Description EPSRC
Amount £123,369 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/H027130/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description Impact Accelaration Award EPSRC (opals)
Amount £58,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 12/2015
 
Description Merck KGaA, 
Organisation Merck
Country Germany 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2008
 
Description Merck Speciality Chemicals Ltd 
Organisation Merck
Department Merck Speciality Chemicals Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2008
 
Description Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History exhibit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact built polymer opal exhibit for Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

good feedback from museum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Paris fashion show 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Working with a London fashion designer who developed our polymer opals nanomaterials into clothes, these were shown at the Paris Fashion show.

Many designers asked us for sample material to use.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Trash Fashions exhibit at Science Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Trash Fashions, showcased new ideas for clothers based on technologies. We provided an exhibit based on our polymer opal materials.

Many schools and clothers designers asked us for sample materials to test and create new clothes with. It caught the imagination well.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010