Western Mail Profiles: Dr Mohammed Mabrook

‘Clothes that could monitor your health’

Mohammed Mabrook is a lecturer in the school of electronic engineering at Bangor University, where he teaches microelectronics and his research interest is in the field of organic electronics and nanotechnology.

SILICON is the main active material in most electronic gadgets such as TVs, laptops and iPads.

There are many drawbacks associated with silicon technology, in particular the high manufacturing costs and high temperature processing (well over 1000°C for long periods).

This not only makes the technology expensive but also has harmful effects on the environment.

For these reasons scientists and engineers started to look at new sources for manufacturing electronic components.

The breakthrough came when Alan J Heeger, Alan G MacDiarmid and Hideki Shirakawa discovered and developed conductive polymers in 1977. They were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the year 2000, and after that many scientists followed their work to start what we call now plastic (or organic) electronic technology.

Organic electronics is a relatively new field of electronics in which the structures of electronic components, such as diodes, capacitors and transistors, are based on organic materials.

The main interest in this technology is the possibilities it offers for manufacturing electronic circuits at low cost, with environmentally friendly manufacturing processes.

Although there is much research and development in this field, organic electronics has not yet achieved the quality you get from silicon based devices.

However, the technology has reached the market in the form of the flexible display films used in some mobile phones and a few other applications.

For organic electronics to realise its full potential, it is essential a key basic circuit element is developed – the memory cell.

In my research at Bangor University we focus on the development of new types of organic memory devices that can combine the properties of high speed, high density, low power and low cost with non-volatility.

Non-volatile memory is also-called “flash memory” and can keep hold of information for a long time after electrical power has been switched off.

Flash memory transistors are used in many devices such as MP3 players and individual flash memory sticks. In fact, these devices are the building blocks of future flexible circuits and computing devices.

They can be used as part of more complex circuitry for large display (screens and monitors), intelligent packaging and many more things.

We make those devices from organic semiconductors, to replace silicon. Also, other layers such as insulators and conductors are made of organic materials.

We always look at state-of-the-art organic materials that can be processed at low temperature and patterned with low cost techniques.

The market of plastic electronics is expected to reach over $300bn by the year 2030 (according to IDTechEx).

Some of the applications we can see by that year include illuminated paints or wallpapers for lighting, windows made of solar cells to replace our expensive energy supply, TVs and computers that can be folded up and clothing that changes colour according to your feelings (which could be used to monitor medical problems).

These are not fictional stories, and if you imagined these applications then you are close to the reality of the near future.

That is just a little bit of what plastic can do for our lives.

Dr Mohammed Mabrook is member of Plastic Electronics Research Centre at Bangor University. You can contact him at m.f.mabrook@bangor.ac.uk

This article first  appeared in the Western Mail‘s Health Wales supplement on 21st January 2013, as part of the Welsh Crucible series of research profiles.