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11 April 2016

Call for proposals: Smart Materials

Mistra is starting a research programme on smart materials. The hope is that new materials of this kind can improve our environment. Mistra’s Board has therefore decided to initiate a programme in the area, and the funding call has just opened.

The concept of ‘smart materials’ is tricky to define, not least because, over time, what they are actually seen as being changes. Liquid crystals and thus pocket calculators, which came into being a few decades ago, are one example. These were then the height of ‘smartness’, but today anyone who calls calculators intelligent will presumably be met with indulgent smiles.

‘What’s initially regarded as smart becomes something utterly mundane with time. But things can change, and today liquid crystals are topical again — not least in windows, where they’re used to shut out or let in light, as necessary,’ says Mistra Programmes Director Christopher Folkeson Welch.

There are many more examples of existing smart materials, while demands for new ones — in terms of both properties and performance — are proliferating. What is more, they are expected to be adapted to various physical requirements and to be resource-efficient, sustainable and, in particular, reliable. And when their period of use ends, they must be recyclable.

‘When we look at the materials surrounding us today, we see that many of them could work better than they do — notably by improving our environment instead of creating problems.’

Mistra’s Board has therefore decided to start a new programme tasked with developing the smart materials of the future. And not only their scientific aspects are to be investigated. How to handle them from safety and regulatory points of view is equally important.

Before taking its decision, Mistra’s Board appointed an international group of experts to compile a background report. The group’s definition of ‘smart materials’ is that they possess characteristics that can be modified or adapted as required. This enables them to become effective tools for solving environmental problems while also having the capacity to improve our quality of life and boost Sweden’s competitiveness.

However, this interpretation is not set in stone. Instead, Mistra is letting the applicants themselves present their own comprehensive dossiers on the materials they want to study. Nevertheless, the programme is expected to be characterised by a high level of innovation, which may call for a somewhat higher degree of risk-taking than normal.

The call addresses research groups working at Swedish higher education institutions, research institutes and companies, and also stakeholders from the business and public sectors and civil society. Scientists and organisations working outside Sweden may take part, but the principal applicant and planned programme host must be a Swedish institution.

‘Sweden has good prospects of being successful in this area, not least because of our advanced skills in chemistry, materials science and nano. Combining these areas can be a recipe for success,’ Folkeson Welch thinks.

The call will close on 1 September 2016 and the group that, in December, is given the task of running the new programme will receive a total of SEK 51 million from Mistra over four years. Combined with the co-funding, the total programme budget will be SEK 60 million.

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