Materials science: How new materials shape our future
Tiny tubes, huge potential
Carbon nanotubes are only visible under a strong microscope, but the ultra-thin material packs a punch: A thousand times more conductive than copper, extremely strong and surprisingly flexible, it could soon revolutionise industries from microelectronics to medicine.
Nanotechnology in the spotlight
From nano-capsules that transport cancer medications directly to a tumour to “biosilicon” that releases active ingredients slowly over time: Even the tiniest inventions can “make it big” at the European Inventor Award.
The sail-shaped European Inventor Award trophy is crafted with different materials every year. Previously, the trophy has been 3D printed, crafted from sustainable wood, blown from Venetian glass, or moulded from concrete.
British material scientists Richard Palmer and Philip Green developed a material which is flexible but stiffens on impact. The unusual properties of dilatant liquids that absorb and disperse energy made this invention perfect for a wide range of protective applications. The inventors were finalists in the SME category at the European Inventor Award 2019.
Irish product designer Jane ní Dhulchaointigh and her team developed a malleable multi-purpose glue that combines the strength of a super glue with the pliability of rubber. Named after the Irish word for play, Sugru opens up new possibilities to repair everyday items, helping reduce the waste generated when we simply discard and replace them.
Having seen how mushroom mycelia bind organic waste in nature, US entrepreneurs Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre invented a new class of degradable biomaterial that can be used as an alternative to plastic packaging.
Dutch chemist Gert-Jan Gruter solved a problem that had baffled chemists for nearly 150 years. His solution helped develop a plant-based bioplastic that requires no petrochemicals, is completely recyclable and cuts associated CO2 emissions by up to 70%.
A touch of science fiction: Vitrimers are a completely new class of polymer. When heat is applied, they become mouldable and self-healing – and can even act as “organ glue” to close wounds. Their inventor, Ludwik Leibler, received a European Inventor Award in 2015.
Concrete can start to crumble over time, transforming buildings, streets and bridges into danger zones. Microbiologist and European Inventor Award 2015 finalist Hendrik Marius Jonkers developed an innovative solution: He mixes concrete with limestone-producing bacteria.
Buckminsterfullerenes – miniscule geodesic carbon structures – look like tiny footballs. Their unique and valuable physical characteristics make them true “champions” of science – and helped them score a European Inventor Award.
The number of European applications filed for nanotechnology-related inventions has more than tripled since the mid-1990s. This brochure introduces the disciplines where nanotech is used and helps identifying and researching relevant patents.