The proposal is devoted to a research and educational collaboration between groups from MIT (Prof. John Hart, Mechanical Engineering) and Skoltech (Prof. Albert Nasibulin, Photonics and Quantum Materials). The main goal of the proposal is scalable manufacturing of carbon nanomaterials for future electronic applications. Specifically, Nasibulin and Hart wish to develop a shared platform for the science and engineering of tailored carbon nanomaterials and creation of their hybrid structures, enabling atomic-level control of key characteristics of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and graphene such as diameter, conductivity, doping level, and chemical functionality. These characteristics will, in turn, be tailored to realize breakthrough printed flexible and stretchable electronic components for strain sensors, actuators, and transparent electrodes through scalable 3D and ink-jet printing and dry transfer technique. The unified expertise of the researchers will enable them to create novel reactors for tailored nanomaterial synthesis, hybridize the nanomaterials into uniform structures, and understand the link between the synthesis, fabrication and properties of carbon nanomaterials. The faculty, graduate students, and researchers will make extended visits to the partner institution to further the collaboration, create and develop the connections with industry, and to establish spin-off companies. The team will also propose a joint course on additive nanomanufacturing, leveraging the complementary education activities of Nasibulin and Hart, and the digital framework of the edX/MITx platform.
The proposed project aims to educate Skoltech and MIT graduate students, to promote collaboration between Hart and Nasibulin research groups, to advance crucial and impactful materials and manufacturing research, and to create innovative technology that will be commercialized by startups and in partnership with industry. The anticipated impact of the project in each of the areas is briefly discussed below.
The program will also leverage and extend the team’s experience in entrepreneurship. Both Prof. Hart and Prof. Nasibulin have founded innovative companies. Prof. Nasibulin’s Canatu, based in Helsinki, Finland, is an industry leader in manufacturing large-scale high-quality films of single-walled carbon nanotubes. Prof. Hart is a co-founder of Desktop Metal and Vulcan Forms, new Boston-based companies that are focused on 3D-printing of metals, and also a consultant/advisor to several companies in the nanomaterials and advanced manufacturing sectors.
Prof. Hart and Prof. Nasibulin also have a record of successful collaboration in education. Skoltech M.Sc. student Andrey Vyatskikh was co-advised by Hart and Nasibulin, and defended his thesis in June 2015. His work on designing an improved roll-to-roll CVD furnace was awarded an A (with distinction) grade by the thesis committee.
There are limitless potential applications for electronic devices on flexible as well as stretchable substrates, including skin-like sensors, integrated circuits, wearable electronics, implantable medical devices, electronic paper, and flexible displays. These devices not only promise a revolution in how consumers interact with electronics, but also can radically change the process of medical and health data acquisition and processing.
Various materials have been investigated for use in flexible and stretchable electronics, including amorphous silicon, poly-silicon, conductive polymers, metallic nanoparticles and nanoscale carbons (carbon nanotubes (CNTs), graphene and fullerenes). Among these materials, CNTs and graphene are exceptionally promising for high-performance electronics due to their excellent flexibility, environmental stability and high carrier mobility. As opposed to traditional materials, they allow for decoupling of mechanical and electrical properties; their conductivity almost does not degrade with stretching or bending, and they can be bonded to polymers ranging from soft elastomers to rigid thermoplastics and epoxies.
Successful commercialization of nanocarbon-based flexible and stretchable electronics requires materials and production methods that allow for low-cost fabrication of highly uniform large-area films. Moreover, the synthesis and post-synthesis processes have to be environmentally safe and non-hazardous. The proposed project will be focused on investigating direct printing methods for fabrication of flexible and stretchable devices.
The goal of the proposed research project is to synthesize the materials, to elaborate production processes and device architectures that would enable a new generation of interactive products leveraging the unique and diverse capabilities of carbon nanomaterials, particularly with regards to electrical and mechanical properties and capability for printing. The research groups at Skoltech and MIT will:
Synthesize CNTs and graphene using state-of-the-art as well as novel synthesis methods (Fig .1):
Fabricate and test innovative demonstration devices, including RF-coupled strain sensing ‘stickers’ and 3D printed prosthetics with embedded tactile sensing electronics.