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Sirringhaus Lab


Originally published on

The new EPSRC Programme Grant will investigate and tackle some fundamental research challenges that could lead to a new generation of soft functional materials for applications in photodetection and photovoltaics, photocatalysis, thermal energy harvesting, energy storage and bioelectronics.

As a joint project, the EPSRC Programme Grant brings together a team of 10 researchers from different departments at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford and will be funded with £6.7 million for five years by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation.

The world faces large and urgent challenges in transitioning to a zero-carbon, sustainable energy economy and in addressing global health needs of ageing and highly connected populations. While many of the required technological solutions already exist, new energy and bioelectronic materials offer great opportunities for improving the performance, reliability, cost, and sustainability of these technologies and new solutions to problems that remain difficult to address.

While most existing functional materials are based on crystalline inorganic solids that are held together by strong, covalent bonds and are as a result mechanically “hard”, there are several interesting classes of “soft” emerging functional materials that are more structurally disordered and in which the bonding often involves weak van der Waals or ionic bonds between molecular constituents. The physics of hard and soft functional materials differs in important, fundamental respects: in hard materials, for example in classical inorganic semiconductors such as silicon, the interaction of electrons with structural lattice vibrations is generally an undesirable effect; electrons change their direction of motion when they interact/scatter with these lattice vibrations and this degrades the resulting transport properties and electrical conductivity.

There is recent, emerging evidence that in some soft, functional materials the role of structural vibrations can be very different and highly beneficial, and the structural dynamics can mediate surprisingly fast, long-range electron transport.

“In this vibration-enhanced, rather than hindered transport regime it is possible to imagine the electrons to be “surfing” on the waves of structural lattice distortions, somewhat similar to how surfers move towards a beach”, said Prof. Henning Sirringhaus of the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge, who will lead the new programme grant.

“We will use this programme grant to better understand this fundamental, vibration-enhanced transport mechanism and exploit opportunities that it offers for enhancing the transport properties of different physical species, not just electrons, but also photo-excited electron-hole pairs and ions in a broad range of organic, hybrid organic-inorganic and inorganic soft functional materials.”

Andy Parker, Head of the Cavendish Laboratory, said: “To make progress in this challenging but exciting field requires an interdisciplinary collaboration of chemists, materials scientists, physicists and engineers, the availability of a broad range of experimental techniques that can directly probe the relevant physical processes in these complex materials and the guidance of experiments by state-of-the-art theoretical, computational methods.”

“We are delighted by the award of this new EPSRC programme grant, which will enable us to bring these different required skills and tools together in one programme and, in due course to capitalise on state-of-the-art facilities in our new Ray Dolby Centre building on the West Cambridge site and our new national facility for Physics.”