Swinburne scientists investigating potential of “atomaterials”

Photo: Professor Baohua Jia and Dr Han Lin from Swinburne University's Centre for Translational Atomaterials

Researchers at Swinburne University are using “atomaterials” to create new functionalities, which they believe will change everyday products.

“Atomaterials” is a term coined by Professor Baohua Jia, a nanotechnology expert and director of Swinburne’s new Centre for Translational Atomaterials.

“It’s a synthesised word from ‘atomic materials’ which are the next generation of nanomaterials,” Professor Jia said.

Nanomaterials enable small, fast and powerful make devices and technologies, while atomaterials are the building blocks of nanomaterials. The atomic arrangement in atomaterials – tiny bricks made of atoms, about one millionth of a human hair in size – decide the properties of nanomaterials.

The rapid progress in nanomaterials over the past 30 years has enabled miniaturisation and drastic performance improvement in many areas, including electronics, communications and manufacturing.

“But we will soon reach the limits of nanotechnology. For example, the property of silicon cannot sustain once it is pushed smaller than five nanometres.”

“Atomaterials however, can be reconstructed in intelligent ways to create new materials that outperform the old ones with functionalities never seen before,” Professor Jia said.

Using atomaterials, Swinburne researchers are creating new functionalities and products, including:

  • A supercapacitor energy-storing device: This super battery made from graphene will charge devices in seconds and electric vehicles in minutes. It has a lifetime of millions of cycles because it doesn’t rely on a chemical reaction to work. It is also safer than current batteries, which are toxic to the environment.
  • Ultrathin graphene solar heating:A material that can rapidly heat up to 160 degrees Celsius under natural sunlight in half a minute in an open environment. It could be used for solar energy harvesting, distilling sea water into clean drinking water for immediate consumption or to create more efficient hot water systems.
  • Self-cooling film:A film that prevents the absorption of heat and can cool down the environment by up to 10 degrees without electricity. It could have applications for buildings or clothing and would reduce the use of electricity by 35 per cent, lessen the number of electricity blackouts in summer and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Smart, sensory surfaces: Many atomaterials are sensitive to temperature, touch and other parameters. This team are exploring sensors that can be integrated into devices or immersed into environments to make them ‘intelligent’ when they are link to other technologies. For instance, it could be for the floors of aged care facilities to monitor if residents fall over or integrated into steering wheels to assess the driver’s grip of the wheel and prevent crashes.