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Smart Silicone Elastomers to integrate into high value environments

New techniques have been created to make high value smart silicone by incorporating nanocrystals and quantum dots.

There are several commercial applications for smart elastomers, according to a recent report. This includes smart bandages, which change in colour when they need changing.

Also included are soft robots for delicate surgical manipulation as well as eco-friendly paints that could control their environment by absorbing or reflecting heat depending on the season.

The Emerging Innovator project was started by a Wellington nanotechnology researcher in order to identify the beach-head application for the ‘smart silicone elastomer’ technology.

Silicone is an important material as it is biologically inert, highly elastic, optically transparent and easily moulded.

Its excellent properties lend it to widespread and diverse applications from lab-on-a-chip devices for point of care diagnostics to solar cells and holographic displays.

This silicone was taken a step further by adding nanocrystals and quantum dots to add photochromic and thermochromic characteristics.

This means that it has new high value function as it can react to heat and light.

Silicone that is functionalised with photochromic nanoparticles responds quickly to UV light as a reversible reaction darkens the film, which naturally returns to normal over time.

Because of this, thin photochromic silicone film could be used as UV and sun protectant on windows.

Thermochromic nanoparticles were added in order to create colour changing silicone that responds to changes in temperature.

Thermochromic functionalised silicone has a diverse range of potential applications including smart industrial seals that signal if a device is overheating and medical devices that give feedback as to when they need cleaning or replacing.

The work done by Dr Zeller has been assisted by a network of researchers from Victoria University of Wellington, MacDiarmid Institute and Callaghan Innovation in New Zealand.

This technology has really exciting potential. Soft, stretchy and flexible materials are coming into the spotlight for their ability to integrate into high value environments such as soft robotics, wearables and health related applications.

The next step for the researcher is to conduct further research to obtain smart silicone films even thinner than the 500 µm he has already developed.

The KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Programme is open to early career researchers based at universities and Crown Research Institutes across New Zealand.

Programme recipients receive expert legal advice from KiwiNet corporate partner MinterEllisonRuddWatts and IP advice from Baldwins, as well as funding from the Norman Barry Foundation, which owns the Quality Hotel Parnell Limited.

The Chairman of the Norman Barry Foundation, which has contributed NZ$ 475,000 to the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Programme to date, is delighted to support innovative young scientists to take their smart research idea and turn it into something that could be a commercial reality.

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