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Flexible electronic devices

The RMIT scientist behind stretchy UV sensors has the chance to work with international partners and turn her flexible electronic devices into commercial products, after winning a Victoria Fellowship.

With a fascination for flexible electronic devices, Dr Madhu Bhaskaran has dedicated her research to bringing science fiction gadgets closer to real life.

“My research focus has been to design flexible electronic devices with highly functional characteristics while being optically transparent,” Bhaskaran, co-leader of the RMIT Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group, says.

Her concepts and designs have been rewarded with a life-changing opportunity – a prestigious Victoria Fellowship awarded by the Victorian Government.

The fellowship recognises innovation and skill in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Bhaskaran is one of 12 Victorian Fellows in 2015, who each receive a travel grant of up to $18,000 for a short-term overseas study mission to assist in developing a commercial idea or to undertake specialist training or career development not available in Australia.

Together with Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation and Vice-President, Professor Calum Drummond – who won the Victoria Prize for Science and Innovation in the Physical Sciences – Bhaskaran represented RMIT at last week’s Victorian Endowment for Science, Knowledge and Innovation awards ceremony.

“I am thrilled to have won this fellowship as it is a wonderful way for me to expand my collaborative network and learn new aspects of my field of research,” she says.

“The state-of-the-art equipment at the MicroNano Research Facility at RMIT has made this research a possibility.”

Earlier this year, together with PhD researcher Philipp Gutruf, Bhaskaran made her mark in the media internationally with her incredible wearable sensor patches, which detect harmful UV radiation known to trigger melanoma and dangerous toxic gases such as hydrogen and nitrogen dioxide.

Much like a nicotine patch, the sensor can be worn on the skin and, in the future, will be able to link to electronic devices to continuously monitor UV levels and alert the user when radiation hits harmful levels.

The sensors are cheap and durable – attributes which could see flexible electronics and sensors eventually become an integral part of everyday life.

“This new class of electronics is promising for designing novel systems such as in vitro pH sensors, transient and printable electronic devices, sensory robotic skin, and wearable flexible electronic devices,” Bhaskaran says.

Functional oxides, or metal oxides, used in electronic devices, are known for their versatility and high performance, but are notorious for their fragility and high temperature synthesis.

“With the demand for flexible electronics, the challenge remains in the integration of these functional oxides with polymeric plastics like in bank notes,” Bhaskaran says.

“I have developed a unique transfer process which would help overcome this challenge, and with this process, I have also created gas and UV sensors.”

Bhaskaran says the Victoria Fellowship would give her a valuable opportunity to gain international exposure at leading research institutions in the US, UK, Switzerland, and would lead to discussions with industry partners to potentially commercialise the product.

“The insights gained by visiting these research groups and industries will enable me to realise practical technology and open up more opportunities for research funding and industry linkages benefitting RMIT and Victoria,” she says.

Flexible electronic devices
Bhaskaran was presented the 2015 Victoria Fellowship in Physical Sciences by Victorian Minister for Industry, Lily D’Ambrosio.

Be true to you: Applications are open to study the Master of Engineering (Micro-Nano Engineering) in July 2016.

– Chanel Bearder

This story was originally published by RMIT University on 19 October 2015. Read the original story here.