To learn more about each of the ACES research programs click on the name tabs above or below.
Electromaterials underpin modern society. Electromaterials are materials where charge can move within the materials or between materials. Electromaterials conduct electricity and power many appliances we use today such as cameras and phones. The battery provides the energy through the ability to move electrons.
ACES works with electromaterials and are also developing the nanoscience through nanotechnology. The movement of electrons is strongly dependent on the size of the materials used; macro(mm range) through the micro (similar to the size of human nerve cells) and into the nanodomain (1000 times less than the diameter of a human hair). The rate of transfer to/from and the rate of transport of electrons through materials increases in the nanodomain.
Our challenge is to make materials at these nanodimensions and assemble them into larger structures (micro or macro) that retain the special characteristics of the nanocomponents, resulting in improved functionality.
Our aim is now to move from laboratory bench top scale synthesis to large scale synthesis.
ACES has been developing a range of improved electromaterials to apply in energy harvesting systems and highly efficient energy storage systems in an attempt to tackle the challenge of renewable energy (namely solar and hydrogen). The program also looks to improve battery and supercapacitor electrodes and electrolytes, make lightweight batteries and electronic textiles.
Many devices need power to function – conventional battery technology may not be the most appropriate. Our research into new biological sources of power is therefore critical. We are creating new biologically driven structures that can power the next generation of bionic implants.
New developments in nanoscale materials offer the potential for groundbreaking improvements in charge generation and transfer, which can be used to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing society; including medical bionics. Research in this area has led us to investigate drug delivery, nerve and muscle regeneration and cell communications.
We have found that certain nanostructured electromaterials (those based on conducting polymers) have very dynamic properties. We can provide an affinity for certain liquids or to make the surface repel these liquids using electrical stimulation. This same electrical stimulation can be tuned to cause localised release of biomolecules at an interface nerve growth of living cells is to be encouraged using a different polymer composition electrical stimulation can be used to induce movement. We can therefore tune a surface to reject or accept cellular interactions providing an exciting new platform for biomedical bionic devices.
For example, the Cochlear Implant invented by Professor Graeme Clark relies on electrodes to transmit electrical stimuli from an external microphone to living nerve cells. Sound is transformed into electrical impulses delivered to nerve cells and on to the brain. As we decrease the size of the electrodes, we can provide more sites of electrical stimulation and more effective bionic hearing.
A number of diseases and of course trauma can lead to muscle loss and therefore there is a need for muscle regeneration. we are making electromaterials that provide an environment for muscle cell growth, directing their assembly into muscle fibres and tissue. We envisage that this regrown tissue can be transplanted into an environment where muscle regeneration is needed.
Our aim is now to move from laboratory bench top scale to fabrication of working prototypes.
The Ethics program of ACES is conducting research on ethical issues associated with bionics. In the development of new applications for medical bionics, it is important, ultimately, that the devices are well-tested to determine whether they are safe, effective and provide a realistic solution to a clinical problem.
The rapid development of nanoscience has seen the use of bulk materials (such as carbon), which are re-structured in novel ways to reveal new properties of the same material. These novel properties are then taken up and the nanomaterials rapidly integrated into applications such as bionics (and other technologies). It would be impossible for regulatory authorities to have established well-tested standards for some of the basic materials used in bionic devices in advance of the clinical trials of the device, because of the vast array of variables involved (material, scale, shape, application).
This fact has a direct impact on the ethical responsibilities of researchers involved in the development of bionic devices and their robust testing prior to clinical trials (for example through in vitro testing of the materials as well the devices for biocompatibility) as well as an increased ethical responsibility on researchers to provide honest assessments about the limitations of the knowledge about the safety of the device when recruiting participants onto clinical trials as part of the information on which participants decide whether to consent to the trial.