​Illustration by: Ella Marushchenko and Alex Tokarev

Plasmonic Plastics worth 30 million

Christoph Langhammer and colleagues at Chalmers University of Technology have received close to 30 million Swedish Kronor from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research to develop a new class of materials, called plasmonic plastics. The idea is to embed ”plasmonic” metal nanoparticles in polymer matrices that can easily be shaped and mass-produced.

Why is this material needed?
Plasmonic nanoparticles have many fantastic properties. Among other things they can be used for optical sensing. But to integrate them into devices like sensors, today, one needs to use quite complex and expensive methods such as nanolithography to make surfaces covered with plasmonic metallic nanoparticles. An alternative route is to make the nanoparticles by colloidal synthesis in solution, in a process that is cheap and scalable. However, it is then difficult to assemble these colloidal nanoparticles on surfaces in a controlled way, in order to be able to integrate them in a device. So our idea is to overcome these limitations by mixing wet-chemically synthesized metallic nanoparticles with polymers, which also can be chemically tailored to meet different needs. In this way, by combining the polymers with the nanoparticles, we will obtain plasmonic materials that, for example, can be 3D printed into different shapes and thus efficiently integrated into devices.

What kind of applications can this be used for?
In this project our activities will span all the way from basic science based on first-principles calculations to actually developing a plasmonic gas sensor prototype using our new material. In the end of this 5-year project we will 3D print small sensors, which are designed in such a way that they can detect different substances such as hydrogen or NOx in air. Such devices can be used to measure air quality and detect toxic emissions from traffic or large industrial point sources such as factories. Particularly in megacities in Asia, which suffer from severe air pollution, but also in Europe and the US, it is important to be able to measure air quality in real time. Today the systems used for air quality measurements are big and expensive. For example in Mumbai, an Indian megacity with more than 20 million inhabitants, there are only two air quality measurement stations. Using our plasmonic plastics in miniaturized sensor devices, we think it eventually will become possible for individuals to have these kinds of devices in their pockets.

What does it mean to receive this grant from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research (SSF)?
I think this is a very exciting project and I look very much forward to realising it together with my colleagues. Therefore I also want to highlight that this really is going to be a team effort. We are a group of young researchers from Chalmers’ Physics and Chemistry Departments with different and very complementary backgrounds. We are all are very goal-oriented, and we also get along on a personal level. For me personally it is the third large grant in a short time, so it gives me confidence that I am on the right track in terms of developing my own career as a research leader. This project, however, is not directly related to the other two, which focus mostly on studies of individual nanoparticles. I am sure I will enjoy this “Plastic Plasmonics” endeavour a lot as it more of a Materials Science type project, which for me is back to the roots.

All participants in the project:
Christoph Langhammer, Department of Physics, Chalmers University of Technology
Kasper Moth-Poulsen, Department of Chemistry, Chalmers University of Technology
Christian Müller, Department of Chemistry, Chalmers University of Technology
Paul Erhart, Department of Physics, Chalmers University of Technology
Anders Hellman, Department of Physics, Chalmers University of Technology

Pressrelease from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research
Langhammer Lab
Studies of individual nanoparticles can be the key to future catalysis
Nanoparticles - small but unique

Published: Tue 03 May 2016. Modified: Mon 30 May 2016