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UK team helps develop ‘world’s lightest watch’

UK team helps develop ‘world’s lightest watch’. Science & Technology World Website

Unveiled at Geneva’s annual gathering of watchmakers, the Salon International De La Haute Horologie, the 40 gram RM 50-03 watch (which was produced in collaboration with Mclaren F1) features a graphene-based composite in the lightweight case which houses the watch’s mechanism. Graphene is also used in the device’s rubber strap.

Graphene is the world’s first two-dimensional material at just one-atom thick. It was first isolated at The University of Manchester in 2004 and is thought to have great potential across a variety of applications including high-performance composites for the automotive and aerospace industries, as well as flexible, bendable mobile phones and tablets and next-generation energy storage.

The graphene composite used in the watch – known as Graph TPT – is claimed to weigh less than similar lightweight materials previously used in watchmaking.

Commenting on the university’s involvement in the project, Robert Young Professor of Polymer Science and Technology at the University, said: “We evaluated the effect of including graphene in both the watch case and strap. We helped in the fabrication of the different components and analysed their microstructures using x-ray computed tomography and Raman spectroscopy, along with a detailed evaluation of their mechanical properties. We have shown that the incorporation of graphene into the watch case can have major implications for improved performance of the component in service and also enable further weight reduction in future designs.”

Graphene technology enables fully flexible NFC antennas

Graphene technology enables fully flexible NFC antennas Science & Technology World Website

As well as being the thinnest, strongest and lightest known material, graphene is flexible, impermeable and extremely electrically and thermally conductive. All properties well suited for next generation NFC antennas.

Graphene is currently one of the most extensively studied materials in the world, both on a scientific and industrial level. The world's first two-dimensional material, this single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice has a series of unique and outstanding properties. As well as being the thinnest, strongest and lightest known material, graphene is flexible, impermeable and extremely electrically and thermally conductive. All properties well suited for next generation NFC antennas.

Near-field communication (NFC) is a set of communication protocols that enables two electronic devices to transfer data. The most distinctive characteristic of NFC is the fact that it can transmit small amounts of data wireless only within a close range while other methods, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, have a wide transmit range of up to 10 or even 100m. The reason why NFC technology is used to identify objects is that, with such a close transmitting range, it is more secure and less vulnerable to data hijacking. Application areas are tracking and managing inventories, assets, people, animals, contactless payment systems, security cards and social networking.

The Graphene Flagship Italian partner CNR-ISOF's research shows that it is possible to use graphene to produce fully flexible NFC antennas. By combining material characterization, computer modelling and engineering of the device, the Graphene Flagship researchers designed an antenna that could exchange information with near-field communication devices such as a mobile phone, matching the performance of conventional metallic antennas. The graphene-based NFC antennas are chemically inert, highly resistant to thousands of bending cycles and can be deposited on different standard polymeric substrates or silk tissues.

Vincenzo Palermo, Graphene Flagship leader of the Polymer Composites research area and group leader of the Nano-Chemistry laboratory in the Institute for Organic Synthesis and Photoreactivity of National Research Council (CNR) says: "A key target for modern technology is to replace metals with lighter, cheaper, less energy-consuming and better recyclable materials. Due to its unique combination of superior properties, graphene can be used to produce fully flexible NFC antennas."

"The possibility to produce fully flexible graphene based NFC antennas showcases future applications such as wearable NFC tags interacting with smartphones and other devices. We have developed a NFC antenna with different graphene derivatives. Several designs, materials and configurations were studied and tested. The graphene antennas was laminated on different substrates like PET, PVC, Kapton, furthermore a silk/graphene paper wearable antenna was prepared. This technology could be developed further within the field of flexible electronics and communication technology."

The fully flexible graphene NFC device demonstrators were tested with a smartphone through the NFC reader App by the Graphene Flagship partner STMicroelectronics, showing good functionality whether flat or fixed on curved objects.

"We demonstrate that, if this approach is performed in the right way, the graphene antennas can be used directly in working devices, with no additional tuning of, for example, software or hardware of the interacting devices. Finally, some fully working graphene smart cards were prepared in order to be used as electronic keys, business cards and other typical NFC applications. We are exhibiting at the Composite Europe 2016 to find new industrial collaboration partners to develop the graphene based NFC antennas into large scale production," says Vincenzo Palermo.

Silly Putty smartens up, with a dash of graphene

Silly Putty smartens up, with a dash of graphene. Science & Technology World

Graphene, which consists of carbon atoms linked together to form a one-atom-thick sheet, could certainly be described as a wonder material – among other things, it's highly electrically conductive, chemically stable, and is the world's strongest material. Silly Putty, on the other hand … well, it's an old-school kids' toy. Scientists recently combined the one with the other, however, to create sensors capable of unprecedented sensitivity.

Silly Putty is actually a type of polymer known as a cross-linked polysilicone. It has a gooey, viscous consistency when handled, yet also bounces like an elastic solid when thrown against hard surfaces.

In collaboration with Prof. Robert Young of the University of Manchester, an AMBER team led by Prof. Jonathan Coleman added a relatively small amount of graphene flakes to some of the putty (AMBER is an Irish materials research center, hosted by Trinity College Dublin). The resulting material, called G-putty, is electrically conductive.

Silly Putty smartens up, with a dash of graphene. Science & Technology World

What's particularly interesting about it, though, is the fact that its electrical resistance increases noticeably in response to even the tiniest deformation or impact. When Coleman and postdoctoral researcher Conor Boland (seen above) placed it against the chest or neck of test subjects, for instance, it was easily able to measure breathing, pulse and blood pressure. It could even detect the footsteps of small spiders walking across its surface.

According to the researchers, it is hundreds of times more sensitive than traditional sensors used in applications such as medical devices.

"The behaviour we found with G-putty has not been found in any other composite material," says Coleman. "This unique discovery will open up major possibilities in sensor manufacturing worldwide."



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