Nurturing new materials with nanotechnology
Operating at the level of atoms and molecules, the work of nanotechnology is invisible to the naked eye. But its ability to modify materials or develop new ones – in sectors as diverse as healthcare and industry – means it can have a big impact. An emerging regional R&D centre in Brno in the South- East of the Czech Republic is pushing the envelope of this technology, developing new applications and educating tomorrow's experts in the subject.
Nanotechnology can be used to develop materials with unique features. These materials can replace those in current production procedures, which may be environmentally unfriendly and not economically efficient. As a result, research into nanotechnology is a growing priority in the Czech Republic and across the EU.
The 'Regional R&D Centre for low-cost plasma and nanotechnology surface treatment' is based in Brno, the country's second city. The project, partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund, aims at creating a centre to meet the growing demand from innovative industrial companies for production processes that require the development and use of state-of-the art nanotechnology – but with minimal investment and operational costs and minimal intervention in current manufacturing procedures.
Changing surface properties
“We're able to call on over 50 years of experience and research at the Institute of Physical Electronics of the Faculty of Natural Sciences of Masaryk University,” says Jan Čech, a member of the project implementation team.
He notes that plasma technologies currently being developed enable the adjustment and modification of surfaces of materials. Examples include stronger glued joints, improved inks or colour prints, or thin veneers that ensure a material is more resistant to abrasion, is biocompatible or has antibacterial attributes. “This is done with cold electric plasma generated under atmospheric pressures,” he says, adding that plasma is often called ‘the fourth state’ of substance, as it is not solid, liquid nor gas.
Turning theory into practice
Technologies being developed at the Brno Centre can be applied in traditional Czech industries such as textile, glass or automotive, as well as in electronic industry worldwide. In a near future, nanotechnologies are likely to affect almost all industrial sectors worldwide.
The Centre also offers training opportunities to young professionals seeking a career in the nano and plasma technologies sector. The training programme is an opportunity not only to develop new technologies from scratch, but it also enables young professionals to apply them in practice. Jen Čech believes the investment of EU Structural Funds in research and innovation “will substantially enhance competitiveness in the Czech Republic.”
“Never in the history of the Czech Republic, has so much money been invested in scientific facilities as it is happening today. However, the current situation, as I see it, is challenging in terms of education and acquisition of top scientists who must become a priority of Czech research centres and higher education institutions,” he adds.
Total and EU funding
The project “R&D Centre Developing Nanotechnologies in Brno” has a total eligible budget of EUR 10 706 000, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 7 581 000 for the 2007 to 2013 programming period.