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Eco-friendly conductive ink promises to revolutionize the production of soft stretchable electronic circuits

Researchers at the Faculty of Science and Technology of Universidade de Coimbra (FCTUC) and Carnegie Mellon University, including CMU Portugal Dual Degree Ph.D. student Manuel Reis Carneiro, developed a water-based conductive ink tailored for producing flexible electronic circuits.

The technique, developed with CMU Portugal’s support, sidesteps the necessity of employing conventional organic solvents, renowned for their detrimental environmental impact due to pollution and toxicity. The results have been published in the scientific journal Advanced Science.

By being water-based, this ink is more sustainable and ecological and significantly reduces the environmental impact of existing solutions. On-skin bio stickers to monitor patients’ health or recyclable smart packages with integrated sensors for monitoring the safe storage of perishable foods are among the possible uses. 

Manuel Reis Carneiro, a CMU Portugal doctoral student in Electrical and Computer Engineering, is part of the team led by Mahmoud Tavakoli, which already has extensive experience developing stretchable electronic circuits efficiently, quickly, and cheaply.  They are now taking a new step by creating an ink that is sustainable and eco-friendly.

Manuel Reis Carneiro with Portuguese Minister Elvira Fortunato at CMU

Manuel Reis Carneiro explains: «Using a water-based ink for printing and producing flexible electronic circuits brings numerous advantages. On the one hand, it radically reduces the ecological footprint of production because it does not use polluting materials. On the other, it makes recycling and subsequent reuse of circuits much easier, which previously consisted of a complex procedure. Here, it is enough to place the circuit in alcohol. The components and metallic particles separate and are ready to be reused».

Unlike its predecessors, this innovative ink does not require refrigeration, facilitating storage and markedly reducing ecological footprints and maintenance costs. These advancements hold transformative potential in the medical and food industries. In healthcare, biomonitoring sensors and stickers can capture patient data like muscle activity, breathing, body temperature, heartbeat, brain activity, and emotions. The advent of this ink, enabling easy and affordable recycling, is especially impactful in combating electronic waste (e-waste) generated by single-use medical devices.

This innovation finds its place in the food industry’s next era of smart packaging. Applying this ink on plastic-based sensors affixed to packages of perishable goods enables real-time temperature monitoring, guaranteeing preservation and quality assurance. This approach empowers consumers by identifying storage issues and informing decisions.

Manuel Reis adds: «These “smart stickers” currently incorporate a temperature sensor that alerts users to contamination risks. The solution’s low production cost foreshadows future inclusion in perishable goods packaging to assure quality. While the focus is presently on temperature and exposure to unfavorable conditions, in the future, we hope to be able to monitor other factors such as pressure, humidity, position, or location».

These advancements exemplify the development of sustainable solutions, marrying technology and environmental consciousness. As the world leans into electronics, merging functionality and environmental stewardship emerges as a beacon of progress.

In the Media: LUSA, Observador, Sapo, LUSAObservador, SapoRTP OnlineVisão OnlineNotícias ao MinutoPC GuiaDiário de CoimbraSapo Tek

In the media: PocketQube – small and low cost cubic satellites that can go into space

CMU Portugal Exploratory Research project PROMETHEUS was featured in the online and printed edition of Exame Informática, a Portuguese Magazine on the latest technology advancements. The project was also highlighted on the TV show Exame Informática, transmitted in the Portuguese TV Channel SIC Notícias.

The project, led by Alexandre Ferreira da Silva at Universidade do Minho in collaboration with Instituto Superior Técnico (NanosatLab) and Carnegie Mellon University, is developing 5cm cubic satellites to provide easy access to space for the research and education community. According to the project PI, Alexandre Ferreira da Silva from Universidade do Minho, “These small cube-shaped satellites measuring 5 cm, called PocketQubes, are made with simple and low-cost materials, making it an accessible tool for teaching and research.”

Paulo Fisch, a Carnegie Mellon University researcher currently working under the project, was in Portugal in July to support the development of these mini satellites that are designed to be used in the classroom, from high school to college, but are also prepared to go into space. 

Even if they are only 5cm large, they have all the necessary elements to function effectively: a camera (from a mobile phone), an orientation sensor, actuators to position it in space after launch, a solar battery and a radio communication system. It also has antennas, made with measuring tape, attached to the base with fishing line that will be attached to the base, inside the rocket. 

According to Paulo “Given the simplicity of the entire process, it is easier to assemble and disassemble than many Lego toys that are offered to children,” so researchers predict that they will probably be possible to use in the classroom from high school onwards. The total cost does not exceed 500 euros and all plans are available for consultation on the open-source platform GitHub. 

Being affordable is one of the real advantages since “access to space is usually expensive and restricted to government agencies and big companies”, explains Rodrigo Ventura from Técnico adding “Currently with New Space, small and medium-sized companies already have access to space. With this project we want to expand it even more and have satellites in orbit built by students”. 

Paulo Fisch’s visit to Portugal started in Universidade do Minho where the satellites were first assembled with the support of Pedro Andrade, Ph.D. student at UMinho. They then visited Técnico’s Taguspark Campus, where the evaluation of the satellites communication system took place. 

In addition to the models intended exclusively for teaching, the team is also building a PocketQube destined to fly and be launched in low earth orbit (LEO), 400 kilometers from altitude. Certification to fly requires vibration tests and the so-called bake out in which the satellite is placed inside an oven at 80 degrees to release gasses on Earth and not in the void of space. The launch should take place aboard Space X, in a process handled by the company Spanish Fossa, with an estimated cost of twenty thousand euros. 

Alexandre Ferreira da Silva expects to start testing the use of the small satellite in the 2024/25 academic year at UMinho. 

Full article (in Portuguese)
Video Exame Informática

In the Media: Research Project IntelligentCare in “90 Segundos de Ciência”

Mário Gaspar da Silva, researcher under the CMU Portugal Large Scale Collaborative project IntelligentCare at Instituto Superior Técnico I INESC ID, was interviewed by the “90 Segundos de Ciência” Podcast on Antena 1. 

The project is developing a system capable of predicting the health progression of patients with multimorbidity (MM), which is characterized by the presence of multiple chronic diseases in a single patient, such as diabetes, hypertension, or heart failure.

Upon knowing the patient’s medical history in detail, this system will be able to define with greater precision the evolution of the disease.

“Our work focuses primarily on the analysis of information collected from patients and their clinical history over the past decades, which is recorded in the hospital’s clinical records. From this information, we will infer patterns that allow us to predict the clinical outcome for each patient currently under treatment,” explains Mário Gaspar da Silva. 

With this system, healthcare professionals will be able to predict how the health status of a patient who visits the emergency room or is seen in a medical appointment will evolve. 

The project’s goal is to improve the quality of life of these patients while finding solutions to contribute to the sustainability of the Healthcare System. 

The project is being led by Hospital da Luz Learning Health, in collaboration with Priberam Informática, Instituto Superior Técnico I ISR Lisboa, INESC ID and CMU Heinz College. 

More about the project here and link below to the podcast.

In the Media: 2023 Call for Affiliated Ph.D.s highlighted in Jornal Económico

The 2023 CMU Portugal Call for Affiliated Ph.D. Scholarships was featured in Jornal Económico Newspaper. The article presented an overview of the Affiliated Ph.D. Programs initiative through the perspective of CMU Portugal National Director, Inês Lynce and of two Affiliated Ph.D. candidates, Diogo Silva (FCT NOVA ) and Maria Eduarda Andrada (Universidade de Coimbra).

Diogo Silva shared that he was halfway through his Master’s thesis in Computer Engineering at FCT NOVA when he decided to apply to the Program: “I wanted the opportunity to have access to Carnegie Mellon University Professors and researchers, which is considered one of the best universities in the world for informatics and in particular in artificial intelligence applied to language, which is my research area”, explains the 24-year-old student. Under his Ph.D., Diogo expects to improve language generation approaches and help to break the human-machine gap in conversational agents. Encouraged by his supervisor at FCT NOVA, João Magalhães, a CMU Portugal supervisor and researcher, he pointed out “my scholarship allowed me to conduct research that otherwise would not be possible and has helped me to become more independent. The CMU Portugal Program opened new doors for me and facilitated the creation of new connections within my field of investigation”.

Diogo also has the opportunity to work in collaboration with the Portuguese Unicorn Company Farfetch under CMU Portugal’s large Scale project IFetch. Many of the selected students have the chance to cooperate with industry during their doctoral, which is, according to CMU Portugal National Co-Director Inês Lynce “one of the big advantages of these Ph.D. Programs”. “This initiative promotes a close connection between students and Portuguese ICT Companies. Even in the selection process we value candidates who present a work plan in collaboration with a company”, explains Inês. 

Launched for the first time in 2021, the Affiliated Ph.D. Programs was created “to increase the number of scholarships and diversify CMU Portugal’s educational offer.  Every student eligible for a Ph.D. in ICT-related areas from a Portuguese University can apply to these scholarships”, explained the Program’s Co-Director to Jornal Económico.

Maria Eduarda, an Affiliated Ph.D. candidate from Brazil in Electrical and Computer Engineering hosted at Universidade de Coimbra, shared her experience and reasons for choosing this Program “I applied because I believed that the partnership between a national university and one from the United States would provide me acomplete training in terms of soft skills and technical knowledge”. According to Maria “this Ph.D. already gave me a broad range of opportunities to connect with qualified professionals in my area of ​​expertise, which I would not have had if only enrolled at the University of Coimbra.”

Link to the News article and pdf

The 2023 Call for 12 Affiliated Ph.D. Scholarships is open until March 31. 

More information here.



In the Media: CMU Portugal Project IntelligentCare highlighted in Público

The CMU Portugal Large Scale Collaborative project IntelligentCare (Intelligent Multimorbidity Management System) was featured in Público Newspaper. The article introduced the work being led by Hospital da Luz Learning Health to improve the quality of life of patients with multimorbidity (MM) who have at least two chronic diseases while finding solutions to contribute to the sustainability of the Healthcare System. 

Interviewed by Público, Francisca Leite, Director at Hospital da Luz Learning Health and the project promoter, explained that “the goal is to have in this platform all the patient’s information, including suggestions for medical interventions, and even create a score that evaluates the hospitalization risk of each patient that comes to our Hospital.”

Francisca added, “if we have more data on each patient, that will allow us to act preventively and manage their health instead of the disease. That would help to take some pressure off the health system and direct resources to where they are needed, that is, to people who are sick.”

To achieve that goal, the project uses artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to develop a patient-centric solution to help manage the MM condition and contribute to better diagnoses, and deliver more effective patient outcomes. This patient-centric solution expects to use analytical methods to explore data from the electronic health records (EHR) and the measures reported remotely by the patients, related to outcomes (PROMs) and to life events/quality of life/physical activity, named as additional value variables (AVVs), using smart sensors and mobile solutions.

The IntelligentCare consortia will soon launch a pilot with around 80 patients with at least two chronic diseases. The research will be supported by the information available on patients’ clinical records and data registered through Smart sensors or smartwatches to monitor each patient’s health (physical activity, sleep patterns, etc.). According to Plínio Moreno, one of the researchers from Instituto Superior Técnico involved in the project, “in this pilot, we use smartwatches to monitor physical activity, and we also have a mat, which is placed under the mattress, to measure sleep status and also heart rate during the night – and this is information that throughout time can support the doctor in making better-informed decisions.”

José Santos Victor, who leads the project at Instituto Superior Técnico, adds “we took advantage of this technology [smartwatches] and developed a study to detect falls based on the sensors. In the elderly population, falls are an important event and often have complex consequences. We’ve developed algorithms to detect and process that information. And it is very interesting because it shows that this common sensor can help us monitor people’s well-being.”

The IntelligentCare project, supported under the CMU Portugal Program, will end by June 2023 but has established the groundwork for further research. According to José Santos Vitor, if the pilot test works, there’s the possibility to integrate the project into the Grupo Luz Saúde and continue the work developed under this collaboration that, in addition to Hospital da Luz Learning Health and Técnico/ISR Lisboa, includes Priberam, INESC ID and the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University.

Público article

New techniques to reduce e-waste introduced under CMU Portugal project WoW

E-waste is one of the fastest growing toxic waste in recent years. Rapid increase in the production of electronics and batteries is draining scarce metals and other mineral resources. Now, researchers from the University of Coimbra (UC) have developed and tested a novel architecture of materials and fabrication techniques that allow us to reverse this reality and apply a new version of 3Rs policy (reduce, reuse and recycle) in the electronics area. That is 3R electronics (resilient, repairable, and recyclable). The results were published in the journal Advanced Materials.

The research, funded under the scope of CMU Portugal project WoW, represents a breakthrough toward overcoming technological pollution. Currently, the production of electronic waste has reached an alarming level of 7 kg/person/year. Only 20% of e-waste is sent for recycling, and only a small percentage of precious metals, mainly gold, are recovered.

Mahmoud Tavakoli, the lead author of the scientific article, explains that soft electronics based on novel polymers will be the best response to the problem of the e-waste. But despite the advances in soft electronics, the 3R electronics is only possible “if we can demonstrate new manufacturing techniques that, on the one hand, are based on resilient, repairable and recyclable materials and, on the other hand, can compete with existing PCB manufacturing techniques in terms of patterning resolution, multi-layer implementation, microchip integration and autonomous manufacturing”.

This research work, which is being carried out at the Institute of Systems and Robotics (ISR) of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (DEEC) of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC), introduces a new architecture for scalable, autonomous, and high-resolution production of 3R electronic devices.

The ISR team has introduced a new architecture for soft materials such as conductive composites and substrates that satisfy 3R goals. They developed autonomous manufacturing techniques, including high-resolution digital patterns and one-step microchip welding, as well as supporting technologies for recycling materials and components.

According to Mahmoud Tavakoli, ISR researcher and professor at FCTUC, another differentiating factor is that the manufacturing process is entirely performed at room temperature, an essential step for green electronics: “everything is done at room temperature, including the deposition, patterning, and microchip soldering. Eliminating the temperature from the sintering process (as is common in printed electronics) and from the soldering process considerably reduces energy consumption, and is a step toward the use of green polymers, that were not possible before due to their heat sensitivity”.

This research presents a paradigm shift toward a more sustainable future and provides the foundation for the next generation of recyclable electronic devices. The team has shown the application of this architecture for wireless biomonitoring patches, and smart textiles that integrate state of the art microchips, for monitoring body temperature, electrocardiogram, respiration frequency, and detection of human motions such as swallowing, or classification of sport activities through wearable sensors.

However, when it comes to industrial level PCBs, such as the ones we see in mobile phones, these developed techniques still require further technological development “to reach the same maturity as the current printed circuit technology. We are rapidly making steps toward industrial-level maturity. We hope in less than 5 years we can start the process for substitution of some the current electronics circuits.,”, concludes Mahmoud Tavakoli.

The paper is available here. 

In the Media: SIC Notícias, Observador, Público, Eco Sapo, Notícias ao MinutoDiário Online (Região Sul), Notícias UC, Sapo Tek

In the Media: Research Project led by Isabel Trancoso in “90 Segundos de Ciência”

Isabel Trancoso, CMU Portugal Faculty member at Instituto Superior Técnico/INESC ID, was interviewed by the “90 Segundos de Ciência” Podcast on Antena 1 about CMU Portugal’s Exploratory Research Project “Privacy in speaker diarization” (Privadia). The project’s main mission is to develop a speech recognition system that ensures the privacy of the speaker’s data.

The growing number of Machine Learning as service applications has caused an increased awareness of their potential to compromise users’ privacy, as shown by the intense debate around the GDPR. Among other data types, a large amount of information may be extracted from speech going far beyond linguistic contents.

“Speech contains a lot of information about the speaker, not only his identity but also his gender, his age group, his emotional state, and above all, several diseases that can affect speech”, says Isabel Trancoso. This implies that one should regard speech as “Personally Identifiable Information”.

Current machine learning models can remotely transcribe speech recordings, identify speakers, and perform “diarization”, often referred to as the problem of determining “who spoke when” in a conversation. However, there is not a lot of research regarding privacy in speech processing and that is where the Privadia project comes in.

“The fact that data can now be extracted implies possible transgressions of the speaker’s privacy, and it also implies that we may be able to modify what the speaker said and make him say things that he never did, the so-called deep fakes applied to speech. We plan with this project to develop technologies that prevent all these misuses of speech”, refers the researcher.

The main challenge will be combining state-of-the-art speaker representations or embeddings with cryptographic techniques. The project also explores alternative approaches to privacy based on deep learning speech manipulation techniques.

Privadia is a CMU Portugal Exploratory Research Project developed in partnership with INESC ID, Instituto Superior Técnico and the Language Technologies Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

Podcast available online at 90 Segundos de Ciência website.
More on the project website.


Cientistas da Universidade de Coimbra criam material altamente promissor para nova geração de dispositivos eletrónicos

Uma equipa de cientistas da Universidade de Coimbra (UC)) desenvolveu um novo material, um nanocompósito de metal líquido revestido de grafeno, que terá aplicação na próxima geração de dispositivos eletrónicos e painéis solares.

Em comunicado, a UC frisou que o novo material é “altamente promissor para a nova geração de dispositivos eletrónicos”, explicando que pode ser usado “como condutor transparente, com aplicações na próxima geração de dispositivos eletrónicos e painéis solares”.

A investigação – desenvolvida no âmbito do projeto WoW do programa Carnegie Mellon Portugal e do MATIS – Materiais e Tecnologias Industriais Sustentáveis, financiado pelo Portugal 2020 – foi tema de capa da última edição da revista científica Advanced Materials Technologies.