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Ulster Engineers Take Up Global Electronics Challenge

21 September 2012

Engineers at the University of Ulster and AVX Ltd. are tackling one of the greatest challenges of the global electronics market - the need for high-powered, energy efficient components.

They are using ceramic materials – smaller than the eye can see – to develop powerful capacitors for use in a wide variety of applications, from automotive to satellite instrumentation. Capacitors, which were formerly known as condensers, are devices that store energy.

Employing the latest techniques in nanotechnology - one of the world’s youngest and fastest evolving sciences – the University of Ulster’s Engineering Research Institute has teamed up with components manufacturer AVX Ltd of Coleraine, in a research and development project which is backed by Invest Northern Ireland.

High-end electronics industries need components that meet stringent performance requirements and so manufacturers must devise innovative, higher specification products such as capacitors that provide greater energy storage efficiency, voltage capability, temperature dependence and reliability.

High powered capacitors can, for example, help increase the rate of acceleration in electric cars and enable portable defibrillators to produce sufficient energy to restart the heart.

The Ulster scientists are based at the Nanotechnology and Integrated Bioengineering Centre (NIBEC), which is part of the School of Engineering at the University of Ulster's Jordanstown campus.

Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating matter at the nano scale, which is one thousand millionth of a metre.

NIBEC Director, Professor Jim McLaughlin (pictured), said: “NIBEC was established 20 years ago and has a wide range of nanotechnology based expertise. We are delighted to be involved in pursuing these scientific challenges with colleagues, which involve fabricating and characterising ceramic particles at scales below 100nm.”

“New discoveries and pioneering research will evolve as we discover how these nanoparticles behave in relation to their electrical and mechanical properties. In turn, we can relate this knowledge to a wide range of new research areas that are evolving around this rich area of innovation. These include areas such as drug delivery, sensors, composites and electronics”.

Some of the project work started in 2009 and it is now maturing to deliver improved efficiencies within manufacture. An improved knowledge of the materials is allowing in house teams at AVX to deliver a higher quality product and customise devices for the ever challenging market place.