Flexible Plastic Industrial-Scale Photonic Crystals for Functional Colour

Lead Research Organisation: University of Surrey
Department Name: Advanced Technology Institute


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.


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Description computational simulations based on non-equilibrium molecular dynamics schemes allowed to un-cover the mechanism for the formation of regular photonic crystal structures
Exploitation Route manufacturing of polymer based photonic crystals
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)



including Industrial Biotechology

Description developing a route to large-scale photonic crystal realisation
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Education,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic