+ Facts and figures

Theme leader
Prof David Wright

01392 723614

Total investment*

Research income*

PhD students*

*Total University and external investment.

Theme leader Prof David Wright has collaborated with leading technology companies including IBM.

Functional Materials

Invisibility screens for radar, artificial bone, solar panels, computer memories and novel sensors; all rely on functional materials, whose properties derive from and are controlled by their underlying design.

Research focuses on three major sub-themes:

  • Nanoscale materials,
  • structured metamaterials and
  • photonic materials.

REF case studies

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the new system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.

Exeter came 16th in the REF 2014. A number of case studies are submitted on which the University is assessed: below are those we submitted related to the Functional Materials theme.

Case studyDescription
Creating on of the UK's fastest growing companies
Exeter researchers, and the work they undertook during the 1990s, led to the formation of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency’s (now QinetiQ) first spinout company: ZBD Displays Ltd. Achieving revenue growth of 17,910 per cent between 2008 and 2013, ZBD’s unique electronic retail signage and shelf-edge labelling technology is used by major retailers all over the world.
Diagnosing malaria using magneto-optic sensors
Malaria is endemic in more than 100 countries but its rapid and accurate diagnosis in locations remote from clinical laboratory facilities remains challenging yet desperately needed. This case study describes how scientific discoveries made in the field of digital data storage have been developed and applied to deliver a rapid, reliable and low cost malaria diagnosis sensor suitable for field application.
Driving innovation at QinetiQ
The manipulation of electromagnetic radiation using novel materials by Exeter physicists has given rise to new technologies for military stealth applications, anti-counterfeiting measures and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) of pharmaceuticals, machinery and perishable goods.
Inspiring the successful sales strategy of a global healthcare company
Natural photonics research by Professor Pete Vukusic was responsible for shaping the successful global communications strategy of Bausch & Lomb, a world-leading supplier of eye health products.
Optimising networks and developing agility strategies
Professor David Zhang’s research into agility strategies and the analysis and optimisation of complex supply chain networks in the manufacturing sector has led to significant economic impact. Reductions have been made in inventory and cost of goods sold for CIFUNSA, one of the world’s largest engine block and head manufacturers.

Our impact


We have made advances in developing invisibility cloaking through our research into metamaterials. Dr Matt Lockyear is using a foam from inside surfboards to make materials that can manipulate light.

Parts production

Producing strong, lightweight parts has become cheaper thanks to a new method for making three dimensional aluminium parts developed by our Engineering staff. The team have discovered that they can mix together three relatively inexpensive powders to make aluminium composite parts.

Wearable devices

The development of wearable electronic devices, such as clothing containing computers, phones and MP3 players, has been revolutionised by the creation of the transparent and flexible material GraphExeter by the Centre for Graphene Science team. The group have developed the most transparent, lightweight and flexible material ever for conducting electricity. At just one-atom-thick it is very flexible and is one of the strongest known materials.


We have contributed to significant developments in storing and processing computer data simultaneously through our research into brain like computing. This new technique could revolutionise computing by making computers faster and more energy-efficient, as well as making them more closely resemble biological systems.

A CD sized disc that could contain all the information held in the British Library could become a reality thanks to Professors David Wright and Rob Hicken's research in nanoscale materials.

Advances for the security industry

The security industry has benefited from our blast-proof curtains, for use in buildings under threat from terrorists. The curtain becomes thicker, not thinner, when stretched and is designed to remain intact and capture debris such as flying glass when windows are blown in.

A paper led by Prof Roy Sambles on squeezing millimeter waves into microns led to the creation of the Very Thin Radar Absorbing Material (VTRAM), a microwave absorber. It is believed to the world's thinnest practical radio frequency (RF) absorber. The technology benefited security and defence company QinetiQ. They were able to utilise VTRAM to create new products and create two successful spin-out companies.

Photonics research

Photonics is just one the areas covered by functional materials. In this video Prof Pete Vukusic discusses how our photonics research could revolutionise the paper manufacturing industry.


Functional Materials staff at the University have received prestigious fellowships.

Prof Geoffrey Nash received the first ever fellowships in manufacturing from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). During his fellowship he will work with commercial partners Procal, QinetiQ and Oclaro to carry out research in the field of disruptive optoelectronic manufacture using graphene.

Prof Gino Hrkac received a Royal Society University Research Fellowship investigating the fundamentals of spin-torque induced magnetisation dynamics.

Guest lectures

We have attracted the attention of world renowned functional materials experts. Nobel Prize winner Konstantin Novoselov came to talk about the discovery of Graphene.

Jani Kinaret of Chalmers University of Technology discussed the boundary between physics and electronics.