RMIT researcher Associate Professor Madhu Bhaskaran has won the prestigious 2017 Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher.
Presented annually since 1990, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are Australia’s biggest science awards and recognise excellence in the fields of research and innovation, leadership, science engagement and school science.
The award is for Bhaskaran’s use of stretchable oxides to develop unbreakable and transparent devices that could be worn like “electronic skin”.
Bhaskaran’s research has seen her combine brittle oxide coatings, like the touchscreen on your smart phone, with soft silicone rubber to create her electronic devices.
The electronics, in some cases as thin as a sticker, could help in the fight against skin cancer, detect dangerous gases in mines, and eventually become an integral part of daily life and healthcare.
Bhaskaran’s breakthrough could also revolutionise wearable electronics, making them more lightweight, cost less, and provide better conformity. Her patented work could also deliver new technologies like flat optical devices and smart contact lenses.
RMIT’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation Professor Calum Drummond said Bhaskaran’s win was a result of her dedication to making a positive difference.
“RMIT research is about delivering tangible benefits to Australia and the world,” said Drummond.
“Madhu’s work is a wonderful example of this. It not only points to a new future for electronic devices but can dramatically improve people’s lives.
“Her exceptional research and incredible breakthrough is testament to the profound positive impact that RMIT researchers can have on the world.”
Professor Peter Coloe, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Science, Engineering and Health at RMIT, said Bhaskaran has worked tirelessly to earn this recognition.
"Her work in nano-materials and wearable electronic devices has enormous applications in both preventative healthcare and treatment," Coloe said.
"Madhu has helped established a groundbreaking research facility at RMIT exploring a new frontier of science and technology in nanoscience.
"In turn, Madhu's work in microfabrication, flexible devices, and stretchable electronics is inspiring other early career researchers to develop innovations in these areas."
Bhaskaran said that winning a Eureka Prize was the icing on the cake in an already remarkable career at RMIT – where she also completed her master’s and PhD.
“As an RMIT researcher, every day you strive to shape a better world by delivering innovations that benefit Australian and international communities,” Bhaskaran said.
“My work on stretchable oxides carries clear environmental, health and community benefits.
“It is an honour and humbling to have my work and its potential benefits for people and societies across the globe recognised this way.”
The Eureka Prize is not the only award Bhaskaran has taken home this year. In June she was named as one of Australia’s most innovative engineers for 2017 – a prestigious honour given to only 30 people by Engineers Australia annually.
Wearing the future: making science fiction reality with stretchable oxides
All electronics rely on oxide materials, which often take the form of ultra-thin coatings prepared at extremely high temperatures.
The integration of thin, multifunctional oxide layers in flexible devices would create enhanced functionality and performance.
However, integration has been limited by the brittle nature of oxides and high temperature required to produce them. That is until now.
Bhaskaran has combined oxide materials with elastic and plastic materials, ushering in new possibilities for electronic devices.
“Transforming the way we imagine, use, and interact with electronic devices is the focus of my work,” Bhaskaran said.
“I have developed a transfer process that for the first time combines oxide materials with rubber-like membranes to enable transparent, stretchable and wearable electronic devices.
“The ability to create light-weight, non-obtrusive sensors in the form of wearable patches creates significant opportunities in health and performance monitoring.
“These devices could track health parameters and diagnose ailments such as cardiac function or sleep disorders in a wireless manner -- significantly enhancing basic and chronic health management and improving people’s standard of life.”
Bhaskaran's research on stretchable oxide electronics is funded by a three-year ARC Discovery Early Career Award, Flexible transparent oxides -- the future of electronics is clear.
Story: James Giggacher