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Smart packaging that monitors the cold chain

An ICMAB project explores a new type of time-temperature indicators based on organic semiconductors to provide visual signals of unwanted exposure to elevated temperatures and verify the cold chain. They are especially thought for pharmaceutical, medical and food industry products.

Mariano Campoy-Quiles and Alex Perevedentse, member of the VERITASCAN project | ICMAB-CSICMariano Campoy-Quiles, a researcher in the Nanostructured Materials for Optoelectronics and Power Conversion (NANOPTO) group, has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) for the project "The cold-chain challenge: on-chart time-temperature colour in organic semiconductors" (VERITASCAN).

In this project, he and his team will explore a new type of time-temperature indicators based on organic semiconductors to provide visual signals of unwanted exposure to high temperatures to verify the cold-chain. The technology is especially intended for pharmaceutical, medical and food industry products, which require shipping and handling at specific temperatures.

“Specifically, we will deliver a versatile indicator design based on vivid patterned structural colour in organic semiconductor films that is erasable on-demand by selection of molecular ‘solvents’. We aim to validate and optimize the commercial viability of the technology via comprehensive field-tests with our industrial partners” explains Campoy-Quiles.

Mariano Campoy-Quiles was granted the ERC Consolidator Grant “Finding a needle in a haystack: efficient identification of high performing organic energy materials” (FOREMAT) in 2014. Within this project, the group developed a high throughput platform to enable the ultrafast identification of promising organic materials for photovoltaics and thermoelectric generators.

VERITASCAN taps into the advanced processing toolkit developed in the framework of parent project ERC CoG FOREMAT, but instead of using it for energy devices, will develop it further for advanced labelling applications.

“The key idea of FOREMAT was to structure the active layer of thin films with gradients in the parameters of interest to perform ultrafast combinatorial screening and optimization of materials for solar cells and thermoelectrics. During the process, we developed a fast and versatile method to pattern thin films, and we realized that the applicability of the patented technology is much broader. We would like to explore now a completely different application” adds Alexander Perevedentsev, researcher in Mariano Campoy’s team.

The European Research Council (ERC), established by the European Union in 2007, is Europe's leading funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age to carry out projects across Europe. The ERC offers four main types of grants: Starting Grants (Starting), Consolidator Grants (Consolidator), Advanced Grants (Advanced) and Synergy Grants (Synergy), in addition to Proof of Concept (PoC).

In total, around 1576 PoC projects have so far received funding since 2011. With the additional money, ERC grantees can, for example, verify the practical viability of scientific concepts, explore business opportunities, or prepare patent applications. According to a recent survey, more than half of the researchers awarded PoC grants have either created companies or transferred the results of their research to pre-existing companies.