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Innovative Portuguese research centre offers material benefits

Electronic circuits are printed onto paper, which is flexible and eco-friendly. Developed as part of the EU Synergy project.Credit: i3N

Bringing together scientists from two of Portugal’s top research units, the Institute of Nanostructures, Nanomodelling and Nanofabrication (i3N) develops advanced functional materials. An official Associate Laboratory of the Portuguese government, i3N is a partnership between the Materials Research Centre at NOVA University of Lisbon and the Physics of Semiconductors, Optoelectronics and Disordered Systems Centre at the University of Aveiro. Materials scientist Elvira Fortunato has directed the institute since 1998. In 2008, she led a team that developed the world’s first paper transistor: a flexible, environmentally friendly and low-cost alternative to silicon. She is a world- leading researcher in the field of transparent electronics—thin-film transistors based on oxide semiconductors—and has received several national and international awards for her work. In 2020, Fortunato won both the European Commission’s Horizon Impact Award for her work on transparent electronics (project Invisible 2008 ERC grant), and the Pessoa Prize, a prestigious prize in Portugal granted annually for excellence in science, art or literature. This year she won the 2021 World Federation of Engineering Organization Women in Engineering Award.

Elvira Fortunato, Director of the Institute of Nanostructures, Nanomodelling and Nanofabrication (i3N)Credit: i3N

What does i3N work on?

At i3N we work in four main areas — Sustainable Micro and Nanofabrication; Green and Clean Energy Systems; Nanomaterials Engineering and Functional Interfaces; and Biomedical devices and Systems.

For most of these areas, displays are needed as an interface for us to acquire and communicate information. We are all surrounded by displays in phones, televisions, or computers. Each pixel in these displays usually relies on an amorphous silicon transistor.

Transistors for the next generation of displays will certainly be based on the metal oxides, processed at low temperatures, away from silicon, like we are developing. The technology to be used to make these new transistors will be based on eco sustainable materials, using rigid and flexible substrates and low-cost technologies, such as printing.

How will you develop this technology?

We transfer our knowledge to industry. There is a lot of interest in developing products related to paper electronics, and we have established a collaborative laboratory, called AlmaScience, that merges industry with academia to develop research in this area. We also work to ensure the scientific community and industry have access to infrastructure and equipment aiming to support creative developments at a nanoscale for which proper nanoanalysis and nanofabrication tools are required.

How is the institute organised?

We have around 280 researchers, including more than 100 PhDs. They work across the four broad research areas described above. We develop smart materials for applications across the energy, optoelectronics and electronic sectors. And we also develop innovative biomedical devices and services, which have the potential to help advance precision medicine and tailored therapies.

How does i3N engage with wider society?

This is very important. We aim to develop stronger relationships with society to foster public awareness, engagement and understanding of advanced materials and nanoscale science. We run different projects with school students, under the umbrella of the Portuguese programme “Ciência Viva”. Every year we close our activities for a week and invite pupils to meet our Masters and PhD students and to learn about advanced materials and applications. At the end they have a small project which they present to us. It’s really inspiring for us to see how interested and keen this next generation of science students are.

To learn more about i3N and its pioneering work, please visit


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