Emerging Technologies

Interdisciplinary research,
education and capacity building


CoLab Emerging Technologies program off to a running start

Emerging Technologies Report of Activities (January - May 2014)


Brian Korgel
Director, Emerging Technologies
Professor of Chemical Engineering, UT Austin
+1 512-471-5633
Brian Korgel Research Group

Paula Vilarinho
Director, Emerging Technologies
Associate Professor, Department of Materials and Ceramic Engineering, U.Aveiro
+351 234 370259 (office)
+351 234 370354 (secretary)
Paula Vilarinho Research Group

Paulo Ferreira
Co-Director, Emerging Technologies
Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, UT Austin
+1 512-471-3244
Paulo Ferreira Research Group

In the current global economy it is critical to develop research projects in strategic and emerging areas to create high-tech added-value products, and to foster interdisciplinary and international collaborations. In this context, nanoscience and nanotechnology have already demonstrated that they will have a tremendous impact in such diverse areas as health, the environment, energy, transportation, and information technology. This potential has been recognized by most of the industrial world, as confirmed by the growth of government funding allocated to nanotechnology in Portugal. In view of these investments and the innovations that expectably will arise from them, nanoscience and nanotechnology may well transform and revolutionize life as it is currently known.
The UTEN program has already seeded initial discussions between nanotechnology researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and several Portuguese universities, the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL), and the Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (IN). In addition, there are ongoing research collaborative projects between UT-Austin faculty members and Portuguese faculty members in the area of nanotechnology, outside the scope of the UTEN program.
These aforementioned projects and the deep and broad pool of talent in the field of nanotechnology at UT-Austin and Portugal represent a tremendous opportunity to enhance research and training efforts in nanotechnology with a close partnership and especially to foster nanotechnology commercialization for job and wealth creation.
Although the present plan is centered in nanotechnology, the development of research activities in other emerging technological areas with strong ties to industry is foreseen. This is the case of petroleum engineering, a particular field where UT-Austin plays a leading role in the world.
The main idea of the UT-Austin|Portugal program in nanotechnology and nanoscience is to advance a collaborative vision in nanotechnology research, education, and training, as well as to explore common interests in technology commercialization. Of special interest is promoting the transfer of new nanotechnologies to industry in Portugal and nurturing the formation of new companies located in Portugal to exploit the latest scientific and technological advances. The program will be coordinated by UT-Austin and Portugal and has two goals:
(1) Enhance Portugal’s graduate programs and research in nanotechnology by creating seamless exchange opportunities for faculty and students to share new knowledge, ideas, experience, and capabilities;
(2) Foster economic development in Portugal by bridging UTEN with state-of-the-art nanotechnology researchers, with the aim of creating and instituting new best practices for transferring new nanotechnology to the private sector to target global markets.
Areas of Strategic Interest
The UT-Austin|Portugal program will concentrate efforts around four thematic areas with particularly exciting possibilities for commercial impact, considering the expertise at UT-Austin and in Portugal. The following thematic areas have been identified:
  • Advanced Lithium-ion Batteries: UT-Austin has considerable expertise in the area of lithium-ion batteries, and new nanomaterials are promising batteries with unprecedented high energy density, storage capacity, and low cost. Next generation lithium-ion batteries are now being developed for large-scale energy storage (i.e., on the grid for storing electricity from renewable, yet intermittent, energy sources like solar and wind) and battery-powered vehicles. The market potential for these products is tremendous and there is a race to develop the nanomaterials that will enable the development of these batteries. This is a unique target opportunity for commercial development and UTEN will seed collaborative research in this area. Additionally, there is the potential for interfacing with the University’s Emerging Frontiers Research Center (EFRC) funded by the Department of Energy (DOE).
  • Next Generation Photovoltaics: UT-Austin will leverage its NSF-sponsored Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) on Next Generation Photovoltaics to help support collaborative research between the University and Portugal in developing new solar cell technology. NSF offers funding to I/UCRC’s for international collaboration and the University director, Professor Brian Korgel, will seek this funding to support these efforts. There is a strong effort in Portugal as well for developing photovoltaics. There is the potential for Portugal to become a manufacturing hub, for Europe especially, in photovoltaics, and this represents a significant commercial opportunity for Portugal. By developing the next generation technology within Portugal and controlling the critical intellectual property, new industries can be developed. The I/UCRC is also composed of several member companies, some based in Europe, and UT-Austin will bring these commercial connections to the table through the collaborative research projects in Portugal. The UTEN program will seed preliminary experiments and collaborative work between UT and Portugal that will grow into larger projects with larger sustained funding from NSF, FCT, and industry.
  • Nanomaterials for Medicine: UTEN will seed collaborative research projects between UT-Austin and Portugal in the area of nanomaterials for medicine. There is deep expertise in this area at UT-Austin and significant interest and expertise in Portugal. This is an emerging research area with tremendous opportunity for new fundamental discoveries that will have a significant economic impact. Research will initially focus on the use of nanoparticles for disease detection and therapy. For example, new biocompatible nanoparticles like silicon can be functionalized with biologically relevant molecules like peptide fragments, aptamers, and DNA strands. Ongoing work at UT-Austin in this area in various collaborations between engineers and clinicians will provide seeding of new collaborative projects in Portugal. One of the goals of this program will be to make connections between researchers in science and engineering and medical doctors.
  • Smart Nano-Based Fabrics and Textiles: Research at UT in the creation of new nanomaterials like semiconductor nanowires and nano-cellulose that can form fabrics with unique combinations of materials properties will provide the focus of this research theme. There is a strong tradition of textiles manufacturing in Portugal and this research area will play to those strengths by introducing materials with new and unique properties that could provide unprecedented functionality in fabrics. For example, clothing that has built-in sensing capability, energy generation and storage, as well as more advanced anti-wetting and anti-bacterial properties could be developed with these materials. Fabrics with extremely high strength-to-weight ratios and new environmentally friendly nanocomposite fibers will be developed. This focus area will play off the strengths of UT-Austin faculty members in their development of these new materials, nanomaterials researchers in Portugal and their expertise, and the deep expertise of textiles processing and research within Portugal. There is tremendous opportunity in this research area for economic revitalization in the textiles industry in Portugal, and this is one of the goals of the CoLab program.
The UT-Austin|Portugal program in nanoscience and nanotechnology will catalyze commercialization and economic growth of Portuguese industry. Seed funding will be provided by the program to kick-start collaborative research projects of benefit to both UT-Austin and Portugal in fundamental research areas that have a direct connection to economic impact. Seed funding will be used to support research that will demonstrate the fundamental potential of new research ideas, which will then create new opportunities for interaction with industry, as well as opportunities for the creation of new companies in Portugal.
The program aims to achieved five goals: 1) build capacity for undertaking interdisciplinary research and graduate education in nanotechnology by cultivating high caliber graduate programs in Portugal and creating collaborative United States-Portugal research opportunities; 2) cultivate a critical mass of activities, opportunities, test beds and expertise in Portugal in nanotechnology by uniting and sharing efforts among several universities; 3) bring international recognition to Portugal as a country where cutting edge research and exploration occur in nanotechnology and especially nanotechnology commercialization; 4) foster rapid commercialization of new nanotechnology developments, especially those made at academic institutions and 5) work with industry in Portugal to explore new products and the creation of new nanotechnologies. To achieve these goals, the program foresees the following implementation tools.
  • Research and Commercialization Program. This program is aimed at funding joint interdisciplinary research projects that are focused on the above-mentioned strategic themes, which are likely to bring a critical mass from UT-Austin and Portugal towards the projects. The projects will involve academic researchers from UT-Austin and Portugal, as well as industrial partners from Portugal. Funding from the UTEN program will seed research projects that lead to much larger streams of funding from NSF, FCT, and other government agencies. The goal is to leverage the UTEN funding to bring in more significant research funding. In parallel, the program will foster commercialization of novel discoveries by involving the UT-Austin Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) as well as private investment from the United States to understand and foster start-up company creation and university spin-offs.
  • Education Program. This program will include short-term (3-6 months) and medium-term (6 months – 1 year) visits at UT-Austin, as well as long-term (2 year) academic programs at the graduate level. During their visits, Portuguese researchers will be involved in nanotechnology-based courses as well as commercialization and entrepreneur-based courses.
  • Student and Faculty Exchange Program. This program will support student travel between UT-Austin and Portuguese universities to participate in research projects, training programs, or to attend courses. The exchange of students will be complemented by the exchange of faculty members who may travel to teach a module in a course or an entire course, or participate in research activities.
Preliminary work
In November, 2010, Professor Brian Korgel of UT-Austin’s Center for Nano- and Molecular Science and Technology (CNM) helped organize a 2-day workshop on nanotechnology commercialization held at the University of Minho as part of the UTEN program, “Portugal’s 1st Annual National Workshop on Nanotechnology: Fostering Industry Involvement in Sustaining Nanotechnology Research and Valorization.” This workshop brought together researchers from Portugal, Europe, the United States, and Asia, with venture capitalists and representatives from major companies. The program focused on creating strategies for connecting progress in fundamental research with commercialization, technology transfer and job creation. The UT-Austin|Portugal program will expand on these efforts to bridge fundamental research to the commercial sector and will be a fundamental part of the program.
In August, 2011, Professor Paulo Ferreira started a two-year research project in lithium-ion batteries with the Portuguese nanotechnology company “Innovnano.” This project highlights the direct connection between the fundamental research that will be seeded by the UT-Austin|Portugal program and industrial development within Portugal.
In September, 2011, Professor Brian Korgel attended and presented a paper in Lisbon at the 4th UTEN Workshop 2011: Research Collaboration & Network Building for Commercialization: Nanotechnology and Life Sciences.
In February, 2012, an NSF-sponsored nanotechnology research collaboration planning meeting was held at INL. The grant from the NSF was sparked by the commercialization workshop held in Braga in 2010 and illustrates how the UT-Austin|Portugal program seed funding will be leveraged into larger, fully-funded programs, with funding provided by NSF and other government agencies in the United States.
Actions 2013-2017
1. Organize a 2-day workshop in Portugal with the participation of UT-Austin and Portuguese researchers and professors. The idea underlying the workshop is to identify research areas and themes as well as educational programs of interest to both parties.
2. Provide a “Call for Proposals” document, wherein the specific areas of research between UT-Austin and Portugal are listed. One research call will be conducted every year for 4 years. The proposals should be able to fund five doctoral students per year as well as five other students for varied periods of time.
3. Start funding collaborative, quality research on cutting edge problems in nanotechnology. The research will unite UT-Austin and Portugal-based faculty members around topics defined jointly by program participants. The funds will support graduate students and post docs, as well as research expenses associated with equipment usage.
4. Develop and support graduate training in nanotechnology, in parallel with the research programs. This involves designing a) Ph.D. programs in Portugal with collaborating educational opportunities with UT-Austin programs; b) a UT-Austin-based certificate, which may include “practice-based” research activities at UT- Austin in nanotechnology equivalent to a 1-year masters degree, which might serve as the first or second year of a Ph.D. at a Portuguese institution; c) a nanotechnology masters degree in Portugal that is jointly taught and encourages students to enroll at UT-Austin for one semester, where the focus would be on the application of nanotechnology and entrepreneurship.
5. Link graduate students and faculty, particularly Ph.D. students in Portugal, to Portuguese industry and entrepreneurs to foster technology transitioning and economic development. A workshop involving faculty, students and members of the private sector will be organized.
6. Institute a regular program of faculty exchanges. The exchanges will enable sharing of teaching techniques and research ideas.