Nano Devices, Cambridge UK

The Nano Devices team collaborates closely with researchers at the University of Cambridge, focussing on nanoscience research and its application to novel solutions in such diverse areas as sensing, energy storage/harvesting, novel computing architectures, communications technology and functional materials. Advances in all these fields will drive new device concepts and enable future ambient intelligence and wearable devices. As an example, the "Morph" design concept jointly developed by the University and NRC for the "Design and the Elastic Mind" exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art suggests how such nanotechnological developments may impact future mobile device form, function and use.

Research is carried out in association with the University's Nanoscience Centre and the Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics; currently there are five joint research projects, though this is intended to expand in the future as the collaboration deepens.

Research topics

  • Stretchable electronics: This project researches thin-film electronic circuits and architectures supported on elastomeric substrates which are robust enough to allow multi-directional stretching. Such deformable structures can conform to arbitrary shapes, making them the basis for wearable, minimally-perturbative device elements. The incorporation of elements such as sensors and actuators will allow motion sensing and tracking, thus driving applications in Multi-Plane/Multi-Touch user interfaces for handsets and health/wellness portable devices as well as leading to advanced robotic and possible electronic skin implants (functional tattoos/plasters). The provision of elasticity also provides considerable design freedom.
  • Large Area Sensing Surfaces: In this work, piezoelectric nanowire structures are used as sensing and actuating elements that can be grown over large areas in an economical and facile fashion. In this way it is envisaged that touch senstive and responsive (haptic) interface devices can be produced.
  • Nanodevice Architectures: Future mobile devices will exhibit ambient intelligence and will be able to make sense of their environment to optimise their capabilities. The device architecture project is a multidisciplinary study where novel computer architectures are developed using a dual top-down and bottom-up approach which will enable such intelligent devices. The Helsinki Nanosystems research team is attacking the problem from the systems level, concentrating on the design of computationally-efficient circuit architectures in collaboration with Helsinki University of Technology, whilst work in Cambridge concentrates on implementing these designs by building up from the nanodevice elements themselves. The advantage of this approach is that the computing structures with adaptive, learning architectures that result may outcompete standard computing architectures in certain critical applications.
  • Synthesis and characterisation of biological composite materials and systems: Researchers at University of Cambridge have recently shown that peptides and proteins can be assembled into generic fibrillar structures which exploit the natural self assembly of simple building blocks into complex structures that have the potential to be functionalized thereby tuning their mechanical and optical properties. They also possess robust material properties, while being bio-degradable. Currently work studies how to make composites of these materials which retain nanoscale properties such as strength, allowing light yet durable structural materials.
  • Enhanced energy and power capacity in mobile devices: As mobile devices become ever more capable and thus power-hungry, one key issue becomes increasingly important: the storage and efficient use of energy. In practical terms, this translates as the development of energy storage media that are able to provide more energy, both more quickly (for responsive operation) and for longer (less recharging needed) whilst occupying a smaller space. In addition, what if such devices could also harvest their own power without needing mains recharging? Here too, nanotechnology has an enabling role to play; electrodes incorporating nanostructures can to be fabricated with hugely-enhanced surface areas providing significantly increased charge-storing capacity. In this project, the University of Cambridge's great strength in novel nanomaterial synthesis, and their previous work developing polymer-carbon nanotube composites with controlled conduction is used to fabricate and test nanotube-enhanced supercapacitors and nanocomposite solar cells - all essential ingredients in a coherent approach to improved energy handling.


Ermolov V., Heino M., Kärkkäinen A., Lehtiniemi, R., Nefedov N., Pasanen P., Radivojevic Z., Rouvala M., Ryhänen T., Seppälä, E., and Uusitalo M. A., "Significance of nanotechnology for future wireless devices and communications", in the 18th Annual IEEE International Symposium on Personal, Indoor and Mobile Radio Communications (PIMRC'07), Athens, Greece, September 3-7,2007.

Alan Colli, Andrea Fasoli, Simone Pisana, Yongqing Fu, Paul Beecher, William I. Milne and Andrea C. Ferrari, "Nanowire Lithography on Silicon", Nano Letters, 8 (5), 1358-1362, 2008. doi:10.1021/nl080033t
Also featured in Research Highlights in Nature 452, 916 24 April 2008.

A. Colli, A. Fasoli, C. Ronning, S. Pisana, S. Piscanec, A. C. Ferrari, "Ion beam doping of silicon nanowires", Nano Letters (In press).




Piers Andrew, Team Leader

Team members

Alan Colli | Hongwei Li | Zoran Radivojevic | Markku Rouvala | Di Wei | Richard White