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).
Project highlights of NRP 62: http://www.snf.ch/docs/projecthighlights_e.pdf
President of the Steering Committee NRP 62
Phone: 079 337 33 60
Head of Science Communication
Swiss National Science Foundation
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: http://www.snf.ch > Research in Focus > Media > Press releases
Daniel Saraga | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
How Humans and Machines Navigate Complex Situations
19.11.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung
A gene activated in infant and young brains determines learning capacity in adulthood
13.11.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.
Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
23.10.2018 | Event News
19.11.2018 | Science Education
19.11.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
19.11.2018 | Life Sciences