Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Smart materials, smart researchers


Targeted drug delivery, medical devices and new electronic components: in the past five years, the National Research Programme “Smart Materials” (NRP 62) has explored the potential of a new generation of materials that react to external stimuli. The emphasis was on future applications.

Twenty-three industrial collaborations, twelve patents and two start-ups: the National Research Programme “Smart Materials” (NRP 62) has succeeded in encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit among scientists active in basic research.

For the first time, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) officially collaborated in a research programme with the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) to encourage researchers to take their discoveries out of their labs and develop concrete applications. The lessons learned during the last five years will help in planning new types of collaboration between the two institutions. The goal is to accelerate the transfer of scientific results into practical applications that are sufficiently advanced to awaken the interest of various industries.

Many medical applications

The 21 projects of the programme fabricated – and used – new types of smart materials, new kinds of responsive materials that can change their properties when exposed to different stimuli. For instance, they become porous when heated, change shape when illuminated or twist like a spiral when immersed in water.

A number of projects looked at potential engineering applications, ranging from energy-harvesting devices to radically new types of electronics (see “Project highlights”).

The majority of the proposals submitted by the researchers deal with medical applications, in particular targeted drug delivery, where therapeutic molecules are precisely unloaded where and when desired, with the benefit of greatly reducing the required doses and thereby the side effects. Other researchers invented new medical devices, such as a sugar sensor for premature babies or elastic scaffolds for bone regrowth.

“We were surprised to see so many good medtech project applications,” says Louis Schlapbach, President of the Steering Committee of NRP 62. “Smart materials have a lot of potential in various disciplines. Fascination in science originates in the fact that you can never predict what you’ll find. In retrospect, our experience has shown that both medtech SMEs and larger companies are very open to original approaches coming from basic research.”

A recipe for innovation

NRP 62 was the first official collaboration programme of the SNSF with the CTI aimed at boosting technology transfer. “The idea was to create the right environment to inspire researchers to think from the start about possible applications,” says Louis Schlapbach.

CTI experts, who maintain close links to the industry, were included in the Steering Committee of the programme. Training and networking events helped young researchers to consider the practical potential of their discoveries and familiarised them with entrepreneurship issues, such as intellectual property and launching start-ups.

In the middle of the five-year programme, the Committee selected eleven projects for further funding (from the original 21) that had made good progress both scientifically and in developing industry contacts. At least seven projects will continue after the closure of NRP 62 as CTI projects.

“The focus on knowledge and technology transfer within NRP 62 was very profitable for the young researchers in my team,” says Dominique Pioletti from EPFL, who developed a targeted drug delivery system for damaged knee cartilage. “To transform my research into something directly useful is what drives me in science,” adds Martin Wolf from University Hospital Zurich, the inventor of a portable glucose sensor for premature babies. “Helping others can be an incredible motivation.”

Based on the experience gained from NRP 62, the SNSF and the CTI are jointly developing new instruments to boost innovation in Switzerland by filling the gap between basic research and prototypes.

National Research Programme “Smart Materials”

NRP 62 was launched in 2010 with a budget of CHF 11 million to support research in smart materials. This new generation of materials can modify their properties (such as mechanical, thermal, electrical or magnetic) when exposed to different stimuli. Their responsiveness could give rise to applications in many domains, from medicine to electronic sensors and energy efficiency.

A second goal of the programme was to encourage technology transfer from basic science into prototypes advanced enough for industrial or medical application. It is the first National Research Programme, an instrument of the Swiss National Science Foundation, to be conducted in collaboration with the Commission for Technology and Innovation.

NRP 62 in numbers:

- 174 scientific publications
- 79 PhD students and postdocs
- 73 industrial contacts
- 23 industrial collaborations
- 21 projects
- 14 videos
- 12 patents
- 7 CTI projects
- 2 start-ups

Closing event of NRP 62: Berne, 19 March 2015

On 19 March 2015, the closing event of NRP 62 in Berne will bring together researchers of the programme and high-level speakers: Mauro Dell’Ambrogio (State Secretary for Education, Research and Innovation), Walter Steinlin (President of CTI), Martin Vetterli (President of the SNSF Research Council) and Louis Schlapbach (President of the Steering Committee of NRP 62).

Additional information

Project highlights of NRP 62:


Louis Schlapbach
President of the Steering Committee NRP 62
Phone: 079 337 33 60

Daniel Saraga
Head of Science Communication
Swiss National Science Foundation
Wildhainweg 3
CH-3001 Berne
Phone: 076 465 21 72

The text of this press release as well as a press picture for downloading can be found on the web-site of the Swiss National Science Foundation: > Research in Focus > Media > Press releases

Weitere Informationen:

Daniel Saraga | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Science Education:

nachricht Studying outdoors is better
06.02.2018 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Classroom in Stuttgart with Li-Fi of Fraunhofer HHI opened
03.11.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Nachrichtentechnik, Heinrich-Hertz-Institut, HHI

All articles from Science Education >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Physicists made crystal lattice from polaritons

20.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

20.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Thawing permafrost produces more methane than expected

20.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>