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How to design smart materials for a sustainable future

By . Published on 23 October 2017 in:
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This article is a republication from the Chalmers university of Technology.

The new and unique soft matter electron microscopes at Chalmers pave the way for smart material design.For example, the technique can be used to develop functional food and to improve pharmaceuticals, medical implants or solar cells, explains Eva Olsson, Professor at the Department of Physics at Chalmers. Image: Mia Halleröd Palmgren

Functional food, smarter solar cells and eco-friendly fabrication processes for textiles and paper. The new soft matter electron microscopes at Chalmers can contribute to smarter materials in many ways. By using the world-unique instruments it’s now possible to examine and improve soft matter on an atomic level.

Soft microscopy gives us a deeper understanding of the structure of different materials. We can see how they store, produce and use energy. A fantastic thing is that we can even make experiments in the microscopes. That makes it possible to optimize materials and improve the effects on our health and environment. The new technique paves the way for sustainable and smart products”, says Eva Olsson, Professor at the Department of Physics at Chalmers University of Technology, and a driving force within the Area of advance for material science.

Chalmers has invested in three state of the art electron microscopes for soft matter. Two of them have arrived recently and the third one will be delivered at the end of the year. In total, the equipment costs about 6,9 million euros, of which half the amount was sponsored by Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.

Hopefully, the new technique will promote the field of material science and result in better products and fabrication processes in the industry. For example, it can be used to develop functional food and to improve pharmaceuticals, medical implants or solar cells. By designing the microstructure in a better way, it could also be possible to manufacture pulp and paper products in a more environmentally friendly way.

 

To implement the new possibilities, Chalmers invites the industry to different collaborations. On the 5th of May, the first workshop with the new microscopes was arranged. Soft Microscopy Centre hosted the event. The centre is a cooperation between Chalmers’ area of advance Material Science and Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE). The aim is to create opportunities for smart materials for the future and to promote collaborations between academia and the industry.

“I’m proud that we can develop smart materials that contribute to a more sustainable society. For example, we can take out poisonous material or make a fabrication process more energy-efficient”, says Eva Olsson.
She hopes that many scientists and specialists will take the opportunity to discover the new possibilities with soft microscopy.

Facts: Electron microscopy

An electron microscope is a microscope that uses a beam of accelerated electrons as a source of illumination. It can reveal the structure of smaller objects and makes it possible to study single atoms. A soft electron microscope is based on the same method, but the energy of the electrons is lower. That makes it possible to study soft organic materials, such as food, textiles or tissues, without destroying the structure of the material. There are different kinds of electron microscopes, for example transmission electron microscopes (TEM), scanning transmission electron microscopes (STEM), scanning electron microscope (SEM) and a combinations of focused ion beam microscope and SEM (FIB-SEM).

Soft microscopy workshop at Chalmers:

On the 5th of May, Soft Microscopy Centre hosted an industrial workshop aimed for industrial scientists, specialists, and research managers, and academic scientists with an interest in applied science and soft microscopy. The purpose of the workshop was to establish new collaborations, strengthen the applied research in the field of soft materials structures and properties based on industrial needs and to start joint projects.

The workshop was comprised of lectures by leading industrial and academic scientists, presentations of the different environments, guided tours to the microscopes and a good occasion for networking.

Read more about the workshop.

More information:
Eva Olsson, Professor, Department of Physics, Chalmers University of Technology, +46 31 772 32 47, eva [dot] olsson [at] chalmers [dot] se,
Niklas Lorén, Adjunct Professor, RISE Agrifood and Bioscience, +46 10 516 66 14, niklas [dot] loren [at] ri [dot] se



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