Let NANO fly!

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Div of Electrical Systems and Optics


The principle objective of this CDFA is to perform the highly speculative research needed to allow nanotechnology to contribute to the future of aerospace. Nanotechnology has huge potential for aerospace applications, for instance by providing stronger, lighter and safer materials for the construction of lighter, more aerodynamic and more fuel aircraft.There are key problems to be overcome before the aerospace industries can adopt nanotechnology such as: how to make an aerospace sized part out of billions or trillions of nano size components or how do you inspect a nanoengineered component when it can't be cut it up to fit it in an electron microscope? These problems fall somewhere between the traditional discipline boundaries of aerospace and nanotechnology. The concerns and demands of these different disciplines are vary different. This CDFA addresses this problem by uniting academicsand industrialist from both sides in order to realise the potential that nanotechnology offers aerospace.Nottingham is a research leader in the fields of aerospace and nanoscience and this CDFA proposal works across the interface between the two disciplines. It brings together academics and industrialist from across the boundaries to tackle its central themes:* Fabrication of large scale nanoengineered components: from the molecule level up to the size of a complete airframe. Techniques are needed to not only produce large volumes of nano materials but also to ensure the structure is coherent at many different scales and that the properties of the macroscale match the promise of the nanoscale.* Non destructive testing of nanoengineered components, this represents a huge challenge, aircraft are continually inspected for serviceability and safety, critical components that cannot be inspected can't be flown. The pull from the aero industry will come from the high-value, high-performance applications where nanotechnology offers the most gains. These applications are necessarily mission critical and inspectability is crucial to their adoption.* Ubiquitous sensing: using multitudes of nanosensors incorporated into components and the environment. These can be used for detecting, measuring and reporting performance, mechanical, chemical and environmental information in service. For instance the presence of fatigue or damage (such as micro / nano particulate damage). This concept offers revolutionary potential across many sectors including aerospace, food, health and security.We will use the funding to run a range of short proof of concept projects and micro-fellowships. The funding for these will be allocated competitively using an internal peer review process with involving key industry representatives. The most promising of these projects will have the opportunity to take the research further through our business plan competition. We have support from a wide range of industries and the Nano KTN who will participate in our events bringing the various academic disciplines and industry sector together.

Planned Impact

The central theme of this CDFA is nanoscience in aerospace and direct beneficiaries of activities undertaken will be the nanoscience and aerospace industries who will benefit from new materials and components. The environment and public will also benefit from a more sustainable aerospace industry with lighter, leaner and more fuel efficient aircraft leading to lower emissions. This project is very future looking and will continue to have an impact in 5-25 years time because it not only addresses the problems associated with fabricating nanotechnology on a large scale but also the crucial issues concerning safety and inspectability. The initial pull for nanotechnology will come through high value, high performance components. However, the range of applications for these technologies is far broader with almost every aspect of aerospace capable of benefiting from nanotechnology. These high value components are necessarily mission and safety critical and any technology which cannot be shown to be serviceable to CAA/FAA/EASA standards cannot be flown. Developing the technology to build a fan blade sized lump of nanoengineered material is only part of the problem, developing the technology that proves it is airworthy is a significant barrier that also needs to be overcome. Unless these problems are address the development of nanotechnology will be significantly slowed and the impact of this revolutionary technology will be limited. If these problems can be overcome then the impact of nanotechnology in aerospace will be huge, not just in high value, high tech components but across the sector. This proposal specifically targets nanoengineering for aerospace applications and takes a holistic view of the problem by imagining the widespread use of nanotechnology and reversing the steps to adoption to identify key barriers. In addition other market sectors are also expected to benefit as we expect results to spin off in many directions and deliver science in areas other than aerospace, for instance medicine, food or security. While the fundamental technological problems must also be solved before they can be deployed. Importantly, the scope for crossdisciplinary training in this proposal should not be underestimated. The researchers that will be redeployed to carry out projects arising from the planned activities will have a unique opportunity for a hands-on experience across disciplines. Thus, our account will also have impact in the form of human resources who could later be employed in challenging interdisciplinary projects in industry.


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Fuentes-Domínguez R (2018) Super-resolution imaging using nano-bells. in Scientific reports

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Mezil S (2017) Active chiral control of GHz acoustic whispering-gallery modes in Applied Physics Letters

Description This support 11 small projects with various outcomes as well as a significant public engagement.
Exploitation Route Many projects pump primed high adventure research projects which are being pursued by various teams.

The public engagement lead to an exhibit aimed at school children in the Nottingham Contemporary Gallery with over 500 visitors.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Other

Description Flights of Fancy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Major public engagement event held at the Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery.

Over 500 visitors to a dozen interactive nanoscience and aerospace exhibits mainly targeted a school children.


Beneficiaries: Public

Contribution Method: It provided the exhibits and the basis for the exhibits

It provided the exhibits and the basis for the exhibits
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011