EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Plastic Electronic Materials

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Physics

Abstract

Plastic Electronics embodies an approach to future electronics in their broadest sense (including electronic, optoelectronic and photonic structures, devices and systems) that combines the low temperature, versatile manufacturing attributes of plastics with the functional properties of semiconductors and metals. At its heart is the development, processing and application of advanced materials encompassing molecular electronic materials, low temperature processed metals, metal oxides and novel hybrids. As such it constitutes a challenging and far-ranging training ground in tune with the needs of a wide spectrum of industry and academia alike.

The general area is widely recognised as a rapidly developing platform technology with the potential to impact on multiple application sectors, including displays, signage and lighting, large area electronics, energy generation and storage, logistics, advertising and brand security, distributed sensing and medical devices. The field is a growth area, nationally and globally and the booming organic (AMOLED) display and printed electronics industries have been leading the way, with the emerging opportunities in the photonics area - i.e. innovative solid-state lighting, solar (photovoltaics), energy storage and management now following.

The world-leading, agenda-setting UK academic PE research, much of it sponsored by EPSRC, offers enormous potential that is critical for the development and growth of this UK technology sector. PE scientists are greatly in demand: both upstream for materials, process and equipment development; and downstream for device fabrication and wide-ranging applications innovation. Although this potential is recognised by UK government and industry, PE makes a major contribution to the Advanced Materials theme identified in Science Minister David Willet's 'eight great technologies', growth is severely limited by the shortage of trained scientists and engineers capable of carrying ideas forward to application. This is confirmed by industry experts who argue that a comprehensive training programme is essential to deliver the workforce of scientists and engineers needed to create a sustainable UK PE Industry.

The aim of the PE-CDT is to provide necessary training to develop highly skilled scientists and engineers, capable both of leading development and of contributing growth in a variety of aspects; materials-focused innovation, translation and manufacturing. The CDT brings together three leading academic teams in the PE area: the Imperial groups, with expertise in the synthesis, materials processing, characterisation, photonics and device physics, the Oxford team with expertise in ultrafast spectroscopes probes, meso and nano-structured composites, vacuum processing and up scaling as well as the material scientists and polymer technologists at QMUL. This compact consortium encompasses all the disciplines relevant to PE, including materials physics, optoelectronics, physical chemistry, device engineering and modelling, design, synthesis and processing as well as relevant industrial experience. The programme captures the essentially multidisciplinary nature of PE combining the low temperature, versatile manufacturing attributes of plastics with the functional properties of semiconductors and metals. Yet, to meet the needs of the PE industry, it also puts in place a deep understanding of basic science along with a strong emphasis on professional skills and promoting interdisciplinary learning of high quality, ranging across all areas of plastic electronics.

Planned Impact

The primary beneficiaries of the proposed training programme will be the plastic electronics (PE) industry (both UK and international) and relevant disciplines within UK academia, all of which suffer from a critical need for trained postdoctoral scientists to work in the science and application of plastic electronic materials. The need to address this skills shortage and for comprehensive training in this area is evident through recent government reports specifically identifying the field and associated technologies, the TSB Enabling Technologies Strategy 2012-2015 specifically flags plastic electronics under its Materials and ESP themes. In addition, PE makes a major contribution to the Advanced Materials theme identified in Science Minister David Willet's 'eight great technologies' and further evidence is detailed in the letters of support for this proposal.

This well-identified need for such personnel is linked to the rapid growth of PE, nationally and globally. It is predicted to become critical in the next decade through the rapidly expanding organic display market, and the growth of the nascent industries of printed electronics, organic photovoltaics and lighting, with their enormous market potential. Skilled researchers are in demand both upstream by materials suppliers, and downstream by device and equipment manufacturers. Many of the companies working in PE are SMEs with a relatively narrow focus, who are therefore unable to provide the comprehensive, multidisciplinary graduate training needed to support innovation and growth. The proposed cross-disciplinary programme aims to produce post-doctoral researchers with a multidisciplinary background and a comprehensive view of the field, who are capable of carrying ideas forward to application. In addition to the companies, research institutes and universities that will employ graduates of the CDT, the programme stands to benefit those organisations (both UK and international) that will work in collaboration with the CDT either through co-supervision of projects, hosting student placements, or by collaborative research visits to the CDT.

Until now, UK research in PE, much of it sponsored by EPSRC, has been world-leading. In order to continue the excellent links between UK academic research and the PE industry, the supply of trained doctoral graduates needs to increase in response to the growth of the area. The CDT will provide long-term collaborations and a lasting structured training programme between the project partners yielding long-term, sustainable impact in research and education.

Finally, the students themselves stand to benefit from the integrated training environment, where PE focused academic learning is combined with practical skills training, exposure to latest research via invited lectures, and interactions with industrial and international collaborators via research projects. A wider pool of non-CDT students will be incorporated and similarly benefit from the training programme. External organisations and institutions will benefit by sending staff to the condensed format courses and advanced training courses that will be run by the CDT, these offered externally through continuing professional development programmes. Learning is widely transferable to other advanced functional materials, low-energy electronics and photonics, manufacturing and energy areas. In addition, the training extends beyond developing scientific knowledge and skills. The programme of generic and discipline specific transferable skills training and the supportive and stimulating postgraduate research environment is intended to offer the students a greatly enhanced postgraduate experience, and provide students with clear pathways and motivation for their future careers. Awareness and capability in relation to these will be established through the overall programme and enable the UK to maintain a supply of much needed researchers.

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