Ep 27. Hastalex® and BioHastalex® – Groundbreaking new Nanocomposite Materials Exclusive to Goodfellow

Carbon-based materials Hastalex® and BioHastalex® are Goodfellow's latest additions to the catalogue range. In this episode, we talk to their inventor, Professor Alexander Seifalian. He talks about his career, his inventions, and the exclusivity agreement between Goodfellow and his company, NanoRegMed. We are also joined by Goodfellow expert Lidia Wolanicka to talk about Carbon in a broader sense.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

Lidia, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Goodfellow.

Lidia Wolanicka

I assist customers and colleagues worldwide with technical related queries. As we stock a vast range of materials from polymers and ceramics through to metals and alloys, as well as state of the art materials such as nanomaterials, biopolymers, and perovskites - I do learn something new every day. We also regularly do webinars and podcasts to keep our customers and colleagues engaged. We regularly visit scientific conferences and exhibitions to make sure we can interact with our customers and stay on top of innovation. Part of my role as a technical specialist is also looking out for new innovative products with a perspective of broadening the Goodfellow product range. My background is in materials science and my specific area of expertise is in carbon and carbon nanomaterials. My history with carbon started during my bachelor’s degree at the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, University of Cambridge, where I had the unique opportunity to produce state of the art multiwalled carbon nanotubes. I continued my adventure with carbon nanomaterials during my Master of Philosophy degree.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

At the university you specialized in CVD carbon nanomaterials synthesis during your MPhil. Could you please tell us a little bit more about your studies during this time?

Lidia Wolanicka

I had a unique opportunity to work on the optimisation of synthesis methods of carbon nanotubes. It was fascinating to see the actual nanotubes in high resolution yet looking so inconspicuous when assessed with a bare eye. Then during my MPhil project, I worked on highly conductive carbon nanotube metal matrix composites, and I have developed a method for incorporating carbon nanomaterials in highly conductive nanocarbon metal composites for electrical applications, there is a huge potential for these types of composites in next generation electronics and high-performance materials.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

Is carbon the most abundant element on the planet? What are the most common forms of carbon?

Lidia Wolanicka

Carbon is a nonmetallic chemical element, often regarded as the common element of all known life. It is actually the 15th most abundant element in the Earth's crust, and the fourth most abundant element in the universe by mass. Carbon can be found in many forms known as allotropes, the most common natural crystalline forms of carbon are graphite and diamond, each with its own separate crystal structure and properties.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

What is an allotrope?

Lidia Wolanicka

Put simply, an allotrope is just another physical form in which an element can exist. For example, diamond and graphite are both naturally existing forms of carbon. They are both made of carbon, but have different molecular structures, and therefore also different physical characteristics. Other allotropes of carbon include fullerene carbon nanotubes, graphene, or even amorphous carbon.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

We know that all known life is based on carbon. What does that actually mean?

Lidia Wolanicka

Wherever there is life on earth, there is carbon. Carbon is present in all known life, and it is a primary component of every biological molecule. This is particularly attributed to the carbon atoms’ unique ability to bond with up to four other atoms, and therefore being able to form a long chain of molecules, such as proteins, lipids, DNA, and carbohydrates. Moreover, carbon to carbon bonds are very stable and very strong. Furthermore, carbon bonds in biomolecules can be broken down and formed through chemical reactions in our body, which is another important aspect in making carbon a molecule in all known life.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

Would you say that carbon and its allotropes are the most versatile material ever discovered?

Lidia Wolanicka

Potentially. There are other elements that can form allotropes. Take an oxygen molecule as an example, it can form the O2 molecule that we breathe, and all three atomic oxygen ozone molecules present primarily in the Earth's upper atmosphere. Another example is sulfur, sulfur can form up to 22 sulfur allotropes, not all of them stable. Other known elements that exist in different forms include tin and phosphorus.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. We know that diamonds can be used for jewelry, but what other applications can diamonds be used for?

Lidia Wolanicka

When we think about diamonds, we usually think about jewelry, but there are so many more applications. Over 70% of diamonds are used for industrial applications and demand for raw materials is growing. Diamond is the hardest naturally occurring known material. Applications include cutting tools and ware components due to diamonds hardness, strength, low thermal expansion, and chemical resistivity. Diamond can be used for drillings bits, rock drill cutters, wire drawing, extrusion dies, or even ball bearings. Another application that is worth mentioning is thermal management such as heat spreaders and heat sinks. Diamond provides high thermal conductivity and at the same time it is an electrical insulator. The use of diamond enables higher operating speed as devices can be more tightly packed without overheating. Diamond is also used in optical components, particularly as a protective coating for infrared optics in harsh environments. A thin layer of CVD ground diamond can protect infrared windows made from zinc selenite and zinc sulfide which are brittle and easily damaged. Another application is for semiconductor devices, the electronic structure of diamond has a wide bandgap giving you the potential for use as a semiconductor. Therefore, we can use diamond in high power transistors, high temperature integrated circuits, or even piezo electric devices. We can also apply diamonds in high performance applications because of its excellent properties and potential to improve performance in many applications. For example, metal wires can be CVD coated with diamond, increasing the modules close to that of diamond and opening the possibility of stronger and stiffer composites.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

So we can use diamonds not only for jewelry, but for so many other applications. What is the difference between graphite and graphene? They're both allotropes and I would like to know more about it.

Lidia Wolanicka

That’s right, graphite and graphene are both allotropes of carbon. Graphene is basically a single atomic layer of graphite. Graphite molecule structure consists of very tightly bonded carbon atoms organized into a hexagonal lattice forming layers aligned parallel to each other. The graphitic layers are loosely linked together by weak Vander Waals forces. This molecular structure makes graphite a great lubricant as the carbon layers can easily slide against each other. Graphite is also a source of graphene, one of the graphene production methods is graphite exfoliation. And on the other hand, under high pressures and temperatures, graphite converts to diamond.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

You have mentioned fullerenes, what are fullerenes? And why might people not have heard of them and what can they be used for?

Lidia Wolanicka

Fullerenes are carbon atoms with hollow shapes, such as spheres or ellipsoids. Their structures are based on hexagonal rings of carbon atoms joined by covalent bonds. Some fullerenes include rings of five or seven carbon atoms and some up to 60 carbon atoms. Some applications for fullerenes are organic photovoltaic, portable power, medical applications, antioxidants, and even biopharmaceuticals and dentistry. They can also be used as lubricants and as catalysts, they can act as hollow cages to trap other molecules, for example, to remove dangerous substances in the body, or to deliver drugs.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

Does a slight change in atomic structure in carbon make a vast difference in properties?

Lidia Wolanicka

The atomic structure and how carbon atoms are bonded with each other has a huge impact on the properties of the material. For example, diamond is extremely hard. Each carbon atom in a diamond structure is joined to four carbon atoms by covalent bonds. The carbon atoms have a regular lattice arrangement and there are no free electrons. It is a strong, rigid, three-dimensional structure that results in diamond being very hard. With graphite, each carbon atom is joined to three other carbon atoms by covalent bonds, which then form hexagonal layers loosely held together by vulnerable forces. This makes graphite a good lubricant. Each carbon atom has one non-bonded outer electron, which becomes delocalised. The delocalised electrons can move freely through the structure. Therefore, graphite is a good electricity conductor. Graphene has a very high melting point and is very strong because of its large arrangement of carbon atoms joined by covalent bonds. Just like graphite, graphene has delocalized electrons that are free to move through its structure and therefore conducts electricity very well.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

What makes graphene, the state-of-the-art material, so special?

Lidia Wolanicka

Since its discovery in 2004, graphene has had a huge amount of attention amongst researchers and industry all around the world. This is due to the extraordinary properties of graphene, which result from its unique structure. Graphene is basically a one atom fake, which translates to 1/3 of a nanometer thickness. It is made up of very tightly and strongly bonded carbon atoms organized into a hexagonal lattice. What makes graphene so special is it's SB2 hybridization and very thin one atom thickness.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

Here at Goodfellow we are following the pace of innovation and research. We have a lot of forms of graphene. Could you tell us which forms and grades we have available in our catalogue range, and what are the benefits of each.

Lidia Wolanicka

We generally divide graphene in two main categories, monolayer graphene, and bulk graphene, depending on the production method used. Monolayer graphene is typically a single layer graphene on a substrate or freestanding. It is often produced by a chemical deposition method in a sheet form. Bulk graphene on the other hand, refers to a material typically in the form of a powder. It is usually a multi-layer material up to 10 layers but includes predominantly one-layer flakes as well. Bulk graphene is usually produced by exfoliation, sonication, and plasma treatment methods and includes graphene nanoplatelets, graphene oxide, or other powdered forms. Depending on the application, certain forms of graphene might be better suited than the other. It is important to identify which properties of the material matter as well as how it can be implemented into the final product to choose the most suitable form of graphene. For example, monolayer graphene might be more suited for electronics for sensors and semiconductors, whereas bulk graphene might be better suited as an additive in composites coatings or paints. Goodfellow provide both monolayer graphene films, as well as graphene powder and powder turned into graphene ink. We are also working on the introduction of more graphene-based materials into our catalogue, such as graphene-based composites. We try to stay on top of innovation, and I believe our next guest, Professor Alexander Seifalian will tell you more about this exciting news.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

Alexander, would you tell me something about NanoRegMed, what you do, and what your company offers?

Professor Alexander Seifalian

NanoRegMed stands for nanotechnology and regenerative medicine. Initially, we wanted to use graphene to develop a material for medical applications and biomedical applications, especially for surgical implants and medical devices. We used to manufacture graphene, reduced graphene, and graphene oxide. But now we buy them while we functionalize graphene oxide. So, we have a product - functionalized graphene oxide. This was developed with a grant from Innovate UK and National Physical Laboratory. We developed a functional graphene oxide, but our main products are two families of graphene-based composite material, these materials are trademarked as Hastalex® and BioHastalex®. BioHastalex® is biodegradable. Both materials have been developed for biomedical applications such as medical devices and surgical implants. Both materials have been tested for biocompatibility and stem cell technology. These materials could be hydrophilic, or hydrophobic, depending on the functionalization of graphene oxide we use.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

How easy is it to combine materials science and medical applications?

Professor Alexander Seifalian

I worked for over 27 years in surgical departments. Our department was dominated by surgeons; hence they were interested in repairing and replacement organs. It could be heart fat, bypass graft, tendons, and so on. So, initially I was working on complete a biological scaffold and biological cells, then biologic scaffold wasn't as good as what they expected, so I embarked on synthetic material as a scaffold. To repair a damaged organ, maybe bone or replace the entire organ, I wanted to develop a synthetic material which can be used as a 3d scaffold and enhance it with a stem cell peptides growth factor which could then be like an organ or replace part of the organ. The future of organ replacement and development could be based on regenerative medicine, or some people call it tissue engineering. The combination of the synthetic materials and stem cells is the way forward.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

The initial driving force behind Hastalex and BioHastalex was to have a scaffold for stem cells. But could you tell us a little bit more about it?

Professor Alexander Seifalian

My dream was to develop a small diameter blood vessel, virtually a plastic tube, to replace damaged arteries. The artery in the heart is about three to four millimeter diameter, or  the artery below the knee in the leg is less than four millimeter diameter. For a heart, if you don't have a suitable blood vessel, like a vein or artery, there's no other option and previously the only option is using PTFE as a material in a bypass graft. But if they put 100 of them there, in five years 75% can block which causes a lot of amputations. So, I was trying to develop a small virtually plastic tube to replace arteries. I developed a material which could be replacing arteries which has to be biocompatible, non-toxic, and able to integrate into the surrounding tissue. So, when you attach the blood vessel synthetic material to the artery, it had to integrate together. That why I really wanted to develop the synthetic materials Hastalex® and BioHastalex®. Because they are based on functional graphene oxide, they are not toxic.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

Hastalex® and BioHastalex® are available exclusively at Goodfellow. Can you tell us how did that exclusivity agreement happen?

Professor Alexander Seifalian

Collaboration with Goodfellow started initially when I met with you. Later on, you met my colleague Victoria who is now leading the company Nanoloom which is taking these materials for use in textile applications. We also met in the US as part of the Innovate UK - Global Business Innovation Graphene Program. That’s where the positive relationship starts really, and from then on, Goodfellow had very good knowledge about the material, and so we like Goodfellow.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

We have such a good relationship with you and Victoria. It's a pleasure having your materials in our catalogue range, honestly. You said that you like Goodfellow, have you ever been involved with Goodfellow in the past? Have you ordered from us?

Professor Alexander Seifalian

Goodfellow sells materials for medical applications and industrial applications. Seven or eight years ago we bought some nanoparticles from Goodfellow, and yes, I do love Goodfellow.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

Indeed, we have a great variety of customers, from medical applications, up to aerospace and defense and research institutes. I know that you have received so many awards in your career, what would you say are your proudest achievements?

Professor Alexander Seifalian

I was awarded for my cardiovascular device from Medical Future. And this was developed for coronary artery bypass graft and transcatheter heart valve, which is a heart valve that goes through the catheter from the vein in the leg called the femoral artery. Both products have completed the GLP preclinical trial, that means the independent body tested and it passed the preclinical trial. Both products are now waiting for clinical trial. So those are my best achievements I think, a development of medical devices.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

What do you think the future holds for carbon, and graphene in particular?

Professor Alexander Seifalian

I think applications for graphene are moving really fast in every field, including biotechnology especially. An example is graphene oxide, functional graphene oxide, graphene nanoplate. Graphene is being used a lot in biosensors, a lot of people now use Graphene because of its conductivity. The pharmaceutical industry as well as in academia started using graphene nanoparticle as a delivery vehicle for drugs and vaccines. Other industries, such as aerospace, are also using Graphene in some of their applications.

Dr Aphrodite Tomou

What does the future hold for you and your company?

Professor Alexander Seifalian

Our new company, Nanoloom, manufactures fibers using BioHastalex®, which is a biodegradable graphene-based composite for textile application. So, this is a different company with nonmedical applications, but for NanoRegMed, which I’m really keen on pushing forward, we have been working with American and Japanese companies in the development of surgically implants. So, we have a number of surgical implants which can be used like tendons and pelvic mesh. I'm sure if development goes very well, we will have patent within the next three years.

Goodfellow allows us to provide our materials to a wider audience, such as researchers who like to work in the biomedical field and like to take advantage of this material, or to assess it for their applications.

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