Programme Justification

Main aim (as defined by Ministry of Education and Science)

“World-class knowledge of innovative and advanced materials, smart technologies that contribute to the economic challenges and opportunities to create competitive products.”

The aim of the program “Multifunctional materials and composites, photonics and nanotechnology” (as defined by Ministry of Education and Science)

“To develop innovative and advanced materials, photonics and nanotechnology knowledge base and human capital to improve the competitiveness of the economy, with emphasis on those of the European Commission key enabling technologies (Key Enabling Technologies – KET) areas where Latvian exists considerable scientific potential and demand in the economy, including the development of nano-materials and nano-technology industry commercialized supply and competitive development of the nanotechnology industry in Latvian, Latvian develop competitive knowledge produced in the field of innovative materials and production technologies and materials, initiate, develop quantum technology and bio-photonics field, developing new prototypes that can be commercialized.”

To fulfil this aim the following tasks as defined by the Ministry of Education and Science in Regulation of the competition for National Research Programmes in the period of 2014-2017 will be solved: Nr.1, Nr.2, Nr.3, part of Nr.4 (“Creating and exploring multifunctional materials and composites, including polymer hybrid Nano composite, bio-materials”), Nr.5, Nr.10, Nr.11, Nr12 and Nr13.

The tasks of the program will be realized in accordance to the European Union program “Horizon 2020” pillar “Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies” priorities and the EC-defined “Key Enabling Technologies” (KET) synergistic use.

Potential applications of the results of the program in the state economics will focus on the “societal Challenges” priorities of “Horizon 2020” pillar and research to be carried out in pursuit of the “Horizon 2020” pillar “Excellent Science”. The program is also in accordance to the EC document “Observations on the Partnership Agreement with the Republic of Latvia” where the policy makers of Latvia are urged to focus on two specific KETs – advanced materials and biotechnology – which are in accordance to smart specialization strategy (3S) of Latvia.

To solve the tasks different representatives from natural science and engineering will cooperate to create a team of multi-disciplinary professionals. It is planned to implement a unified national research program focusing thematically the tasks in four projects:

  1. Photonics and materials for photonics;
  2. Nanomaterials and nanotechnology;
  3. Nanocomposite materials;
  4. Nanomaterials and nanotechnologies for medical applications.

It is believed that in the 21st century the photonics – a multi-disciplinary science and technology sector, defined by the EC as one of the KETs – will take over the dominant role in society leaving electronics behind. The operation of photonic devices is attained by manipulation with photon flux, unlike the electronic devices in which electron currents are manipulated.

The research will be carried out in the following photonics-related areas: Light generation, with the aim to obtain highly efficient nanomaterials suitable for electroluminescent light sources; Light detection, with the aim to design new materials for sensor applications; Light manipulation by exploring and developing high photosensitivity materials applicable in holography and electron lithography. The research will also involve materials for electro-modulators with aim to increase their operation rate.

Nanotechnology is the undisputed 21st century science and technology paradigm. Nanotechnology is currently in the transition to integrated systems and fundamentally new products, ranging from passive nanostructures with stable characteristics to the active structures, including three-dimensional nano-systems. Nanotechnology is an interdisciplinary science, involving physics, chemistry, material science, biology, molecular biology, medicine, electronics, photonics and engineering.

The modern history of human development has demonstrated that fundamental science is the base of all that astonishing technological progress we witness today. Therefore in the current proposal applications-oriented research will be based on theoretical concepts, large-scale simulations of properties and computer simulation results. Multiscale modeling in combination with the first principles calculations on the atomic level, allows one to model a 3-dimensional structure of the material by minimizing the difference between the theoretically calculated and experimentally determined characteristics. Thus, the characteristics and operating parameters of a product can be obtained saving time and resources.

In addition to opportunities unveiled by the development of the National Research Center (NRC) “Nanostructured and Multifunctional Materials, design and technology” (new features, like Transmission Electron Microscopy, Scanning Electron Microscopy, Fast Ion Beam), the researchers involved in the program possess their own unique skills and genuine opportunities to access and use modern synchrotron radiation spectroscopy (Extended X-ray absorption Fine Structure, EXAFS) methods for obtaining information on the interatomic distances in the material for atomic fluctuation anisotropy of atomic motion and correlation of interatomic bonds strengths.

Nanostructured materials such as nanoparticles, oxide thin films, nanostructured ceramics and glasses with certain predictable characteristics, finds wide range of applications in electronics and photonics (including transparent electrodes), information technologies, including resistive memory elements (ReRAM, whose operation is based on a metal-insulator-metal (MIM) structure resistance change), energy applications, as photovoltaic cells (solar cells), solid oxide fuel cells (fuel cells), ceramic membranes for CO2 splitting, high-capacity lithium batteries, new structural materials for future fusion reactors, thermal, bio-materials, antiseptic materials, catalysis and elsewhere.

Particular attention will be paid to nanostructured thermoelectric materials to convert waste heat into electrical energy, which can be described as nano-composites with structure dependent properties: grain and dispersed particle size, nanoinclusions and atomic defects.

The progress in the development of nanotechnology designing miniature, new generation multifunctional photonic and electronic devices allows reducing consumption of raw materials and energy resources. In the view of the growing demands towards performance improvements of functional and structural materials, extensive research of nanocrystalline homogeneous multicomponent materials will be made. As the result of this research economically efficient and environmentally friendly synthesis technology of oxide nanostructures will be developed.

In recent years there has been considerable interest in development of new multifunctional polymer based composite materials for broad range of applications, including priority branches in national economy as well as EC defined KETs. Being aware of the depletion of non-renewable natural resources of the problem, especially actual is development of polymer matrix (especially recyclable and biodegradable) with improved stress-strain, barrier, adhesion, rheological and other properties for broad range of applications. Smart technologies including mechanical and chemical sensors, transparent electrodes, large area polarizers for electromagnetic radiation or for a new generation of piezooptical modulator, converters of mechanical vibrations into electrical energy will be investigated.

This program will address the quality of life related problems. Innovative technologies will be developed for a preparation of nanostructured synthetic bone graft composites as well as a creation and an exploring of new anti-bacterial and anti-osteoporotic biomaterials for regeneration of bones will be provided. Direction of the research aimed to solving the problem of an aging population, affecting people whose quality of life and mobility is dependent on musculoskeletal system diseases caused by bone dysfunction, which is the second most common cause of disability globally. Osteoporosis is a systemic skeletal disease characterized by low bone mass and loss of bone tissue that may lead to weak and fragile bones. Osteoporosis is a public health threat for an estimated 44 million people in the USA, 55% of people aged 50 or over, says the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF). It is estimated that in Latvia at present 160000 women in the age of 45 up to 80 years are suffering from osteoporosis and its side effects. Fragility of large bone fractures produces challenges in operative stabilization and treatment of osteoporotic fractures. Accordingly, new facilities directed to the synthetic bone graft substitutes are prospected. Calcium phosphates (CaP) (especially hydroxyapatite (HAp) and β-tricalcium phosphate (β-TCP)) bioceramics are the most prospective materials for bone tissue replacement and regeneration due to their unique properties – biocompatibility, bioactivity and osteoconductivity. In vivo and clinic studies of biphasic CaP bioceramic realized within the previous National Research Programs have demonstrated a fundamental dependence of materials properties on the structural condition of patient’s hard tissues as well as the dual effect of materials (increasing the reduced volume of atrophic bone through osteointegration, and the possibility of an osteoporotic bone remineralisation/reossification) into the bone tissues environment through long-term (more than five years) observations, paving the way to a novel treatment of osteoporosis locally.

The participants of the proposed program have accumulated rich experience in solving similar problems. During previous national research programs in material science (2005-2009, 2010-2013) a great number of advanced nanomaterials was obtained and various technologies were developed as evidenced by the significant number of SCI scientific papers. New methods for the synthesis of organic photonics materials have been shown; frequency conversion of light in rare-earth element ions activated nanostructures has been examined, showing the ways to increase the efficiency of the up-conversion luminescence processes to create light sources and converters of light for photonic devices; experimental and theoretical aspects of the magneto-optical signal formation in gases have been studied showing that magneto-optical effect could be used to detect very weak magnetic fields in nanoregions. Accumulated experience in nanocomposite research has shown that the performance improvements of the developed composite are restricted by nanostructured matrix and filler interaction at nano-scale.

In addition to the national research program in materials science, the successful implementation of a number of other projects with an appropriate theme, including Latvian Council of Science (LCS) project funded by the 10.0032 “Scientific and technological potential development of new nanostructured materials and related applications development”, a project funded by LSC 09.1242. “Development of bioceramic implants with differentiated composition and structure for reconstruction surgery, along with development of new fluorescent dyes” (2010); several ESF projects, for example, ”Nanomaterials for prospective energy-efficient solutions”, “Multidisciplinary Research in Biomaterials Technology of New Scientist Group” etc.

A number of large, small and medium eneterprises (SME) have shown their interest in the materials and technologies elaborated in the program Latvenergo, Sidrabe, SIA “GroGlass”, SIA “EVOPIPES”, SIA “EuroLCDs” SIA “Z-Light”, SIA “Difraks” SIA “Dardedze-Hologrāfija”, “Alpha RPAR”, SIA “Polimers”, SIA “Neomat”, SIA “Baltijas Gumija Fabrika”, SIA “Gamma-Rent” and others. Association of Mechanical Engineering and Metalworking Industries of Latvia has also expressed its interest in the results of the program as they would raise the competitiveness of the industries and export capacity. The development of enterprises will undoubtedly contribute to the creation of jobs in producing sector of the economy.