Flinders to link companies with nanotech’s potential

Professor David Lewis
Professor David Lewis with a (fake) gold bar and liquid nanoscale gold particles demonstrates the changes in colour, chemical and electrical properties that are possible with nanotechnology.

Flinders University’s Centre for Nanoscale Science and Technology is launching NanoConnect, a pilot program to demonstrate to businesses how nanotechnology could help improve their products and processes.

Professor David Lewis, the Centre’s Director, said NanoConnect is intended to introduce companies to the benefits of the latest technology research, which has potential applications for new products across a huge range of industries.

In contrast to more traditional technologies, Professor Lewis said many companies were unaware of the potential offered by the emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology.

“For a lot of companies it’s very new territory, and they don’t know enough about some of the opportunities to know what questions to ask – or to whom they should ask them”, he said.

Products don’t necessarily have to be thought of as “high- tech” to potentially benefit from the latest research.

“In fact, we have already discovered a number of opportunities in ‘old-school’ products can not only have performance enhancements, but they can also be made cheaper through the incorporation of the latest research technologies.” Professor Lewis said.

For example, unique optical effects and surface properties can be used to assure the authenticity of products, reduce dirt and grime build-up, provide environmentally friendly corrosion protection and even save water in whitegoods.

With initial funding for 12 months from the Federal Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education under the National Enabling Technologies Strategy, Nanoconnect will bring together researchers and companies to assess the feasibility of harnessing new processes and materials in commercial products.

“The first step is to initiate a conversation with a single point of contact within the scheme,” Professor Lewis said.

“The company may have an idea already, or it may simply be a case of ‘We need a product to do such-and-such – can you help?’.  If we can identify suitable capacity and capability, we will follow up with a discussion / brainstorming session involving the company and some of our researchers.

“This will lead to a brief feasibility study over a couple of weeks to see what has been done before and evaluate a few potential ideas. There is no cost to the company for this, and the company keeps the ideas and intellectual property that results.”

From the initial process, three or four proposals will be chosen as three-month proof-of-concept research projects, to which companies would be expected to make a $10,000 in-kind contribution in personnel, testing or specialised materials.

“This is primarily to ensure that the company engages in the process, which is critical to the successful implementation of new ideas,” Professor Lewis said.

NanoConnect is designed to complement existing commercialisation support programs such as Researcher in Business or Linkage grants by providing the background knowledge and confidence in the ideas, in a low risk way. Companies are free to pursue these grants at any time they wish with whomever they wish.

Professor Lewis said the program reduces the financial R&D risk for companies.

“We want to make companies aware of some of the new possibilities,” he said.  “If this program enables thinking about new products and asking ‘What if…?’, high-value manufacturing opportunities and the creation of new manufacturing jobs will follow, which is something all of us want to see.”

If successful, the program will be rolled out around Australia and used as a model to facilitate the uptake by Australian industry of other enabling technologies from university-based research – especially for the very new technologies where the knowledge base does not exist in the community.

For applications and further information, companies should go to www.flinders.edu.au/nanoconnect or email nanoconnect@flinders.edu.au

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