Author Profile: Andrew Grimsdale

Andrew Grimsdale talks to Russell Johnson about his research into materials for energy conversion and storage, and how he hopes materials can solve some of the problems facing society.

Andrew GrimsdaleAndrew Grimsdale was born in Waiouru, New Zealand in 1963 and received his Ph.D. from the University of Auckland, in 1990 under the supervision of Prof. R. C. Cambie. After postdoctoral research into materials for optoelectronic applications with Prof. Andrew Pelter at University of Wales, Swansea, and Prof. Andrew Holmes at the University of Cambridge, he was project leader in charge of research into conjugated polymers in the group of Prof. Klaus Müllen at Mainz from 1999-2005. After working again with Prof. Holmes at University of Melbourne, he joined the faculty of Nanyang Technological University in November 2006, as an Assistant Professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering. His current research interests are the synthesis of materials for optoelectronic applications and on the formation of functional nanomaterials by self-assembly. He is the author of over 100 publications (>6800 citations, h-index 35) including some major reviews on the synthesis and applications of conjugated polymers and organic nanomaterials.

1. Which research projects are you working on at the moment?
I am working on a number of projects related to energy storage and conversion, which is a major focus of research here in Singapore, as it is a country currently almost totally dependent upon imported energy supplies. I am involved in one industry funded project on developing new materials for organic solar cells. I am collaborating with two projects on batteries including new types of batteries and new materials for existing types. I am also part of a big project on trying to understand the working principles of and optimise the design of light-harvesting systems, which has obvious implications for organic photovoltaic devices and also to related areas such as solar fuels. In relation to these projects I am not just interested in making classical polymers and oligomers but also in investigating the use of self-assembly to make functional materials including nanocomposite materials. Finally I am part of a project on developing new anti-fouling coatings for ships – it is amazing how much fuel can be saved by preventing things like barnacles from growing on the sides of ships, and it is fascinating to think that an understanding of how mollusc proteins bind to surfaces could be useful for fighting global warming.

2. What motivated you to focus on materials for organic electronics?
To be honest I got into the area almost by accident (same is true of a number of others in the field, including Andy Holmes). I started out as a natural products chemist during my PhD, then when I went looking for a postdoc position I got offered one on photochromic polymers at Swansea, which first got me interested in functional materials. While I was doing that some friends from Auckland who were at Cambridge (including one who was working for Andy Holmes at the time) told me about the work being done there. It sounded interesting so I applied to join Andy’s group, and I sort of got hooked on the field as there were some fascinating and challenging problems to solve. The rest as they say is history.

3. What are the hot topics in materials chemistry at the moment?
Energy generation and storage is still the most important issue we face – the need for new sources of energy generation and the need to find better ways to store energy are the most important issues we collectively face just now. Our entire economic and social systems will depend upon whether we can solve these problems as the days of cheap oil come to an end, and the reality of climate change sinks in. Other areas I think are or should be hot are better methods for purifying water and for removing toxic or recovering valuable elements from waste. Greater efficiency in the use of resources implies better recycling and better ways of dealing with waste.

4. What current problem would you like to see science provide a solution to?
How to predict the solid state properties of a material from its structure. At the moment a calculation can tell you a lot about the properties of an isolated molecule in gas phase or in solution, but they can’t say anything certain about its properties in the solid phase – and of course devices will use the material as a solid film. Once we have a picture of the packing from X-ray experiments or from microscopy, we can rationalise the experimental results, perhaps with help from models, but what we need when trying to design an efficient material, e.g. for a transistor or a solar cell, is to be able to say: this molecule will pack like so and as a result it should have a charge carrier mobility in this range. And currently we can’t.

5. What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of your career?
Two things – coming up with solutions to vexing problems, and inspiring younger people to take up research and go off to solve problems of their own. These both make on feel one has achieved something of value to society as a whole.

6. What’s the secret to being a successful scientist?
Widespread curiosity and a retentive memory are probably my most notable features. Combine them with an ability to link together pieces of information in a creative way and you have the makings of a good scientist. A willingness to persevere is also crucial I think as research is often frustrating, especially in chemistry as the molecules often seem to have minds of their own. Finally the ability to spot an opportunity and the willingness to follow up an unexpected result are often the things that distinguish the successful from the also-rans in science. I always remember hearing how the first man to make nylon threw it away as he wasn’t interested in polymers – the second man to do it was interested in fibres and the result was the explosive growth of an entire industry.

7. Which scientist past or present do you most admire?
Not sure how to answer this. As a Kiwi I suspect I had better nominate Rutherford – they might not let me go home if I don’t – though nationalism aside he is probably the most important experimentalist of the last century, and the one whose work has had (indirectly) the greatest impact on our lives. Of those scientists I have personally interacted with Klaus Muellen is the one who has done most to stimulate me and inspire me to investigate new areas and generally to help me develop as a scientist. But of all history’s scientists the one whose conduct I most admire is Galileo who showed great courage in standing up for the principle of truth in the face of officially decreed untruth. As the controversies in the US and elsewhere over global warming and evolution show, the battle between scientific truth and religious or ideological dogma goes on, and his example is one we should all look to for inspiration.

8. If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?
I’ve never really considered any career other than science. If I wasn’t doing research then teaching science is the only alternative that seems plausible for me.

If you’d like to learn more about Andrew Grimsdale’s research you can read some of his articles below:

  1. New 3D supramolecular Zn(II)coordinated self-assembled organic networks: Z. B. Lim, H. Li, S. Sun, J. Y. Lek, A. Trewin, Y. M. Lam, A. C. Grimsdale, J. Mater. Chem., 2012, 22, 6218.
  2. Substituent effect on the electronic properties of pyrazino[2,3-g]quinoxaline molecules: T. L. Tam, F. Zhou, H. Li, J. C. Y. Pang, Y. M. Lam, S. G. Mhaisalkar, H. Su, A. C. Grimsdale, J. Mater. Chem., 2011. 21, 17798.
  3. Carbazole-Based Polymers for Organic Photovoltaic Devices: J. Li, A. C. Grimsdale, Chem. Soc. Rev., 2010, 39, 2399.
  4. Poly(2,7-carbazole) and Perylene Tetracarboxydiimide: A Promising Donor/Acceptor Pair for Polymer Solar cells: J. Li, F. Diesrchke, J. Wu, A. C. Grimsdale, K. Müllen, J. Mater. Chem., 2006, 16, 96.
  5. New Carbon-Rich Materials for Electronics, Lithium Batteries, and Hydrogen Storage Applications: A. C. Grimsdale, J. Wu, K. Müllen, Chem. Comm., 2005, 2197.
  6. Combining 1-, 2-, and 3-Dimensional Polyphenylene Nanostructures: J. Wu, A. C. Grimsdale, K. Müllen, J. Mater. Chem., 2005, 15, 41.

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