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MRS Press Release

Sir Richard H. Friend to Receive the Materials Research Society's Highest Honor

November 11, 2015
Press & Public Relations Contact:

Ryan Rebholz
Communications Manager
Materials Research Society

WARRENDALE, PA—The 2015 Von Hippel Award, the Materials Research Society’s (MRS) highest honor, will be presented to Sir Richard H. Friend, Optoelectronics Group, Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. Friend is being recognized “for pioneering research on highly original materials phenomena and device concepts, enabled by polymeric semiconducting materials, and imprinting an indelible influence on contemporary materials science and the new field of plastic electronics.” The MRS Von Hippel Award includes a $10,000 cash prize, honorary lifetime membership in MRS, and a unique trophy—a mounted ruby laser crystal, symbolizing the many faceted nature of materials research. The award recognizes those qualities most prized by materials scientists and engineers—brilliance and originality of intellect, combined with vision that transcends the boundaries of conventional disciplines, as exemplified by the life of Arthur von Hippel.

Friend will accept the honor during the Awards Ceremony of the 2015 MRS Fall Meeting in Boston on Wednesday, December 2, at 6:30 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton Boston Hotel. There, he will also present his award lecture, Organic Semiconductors for Optoelectronics.

Friend’s research has had a major scientific and technological impact on important areas of contemporary materials science, with the centerpiece being his pioneering research on the materials physics of highly original device concepts based on polymeric semiconductors. His work has changed how materials scientists, chemists, physicists, and device engineers think about the properties and technology prospects of “plastic electronics.”

In the mid-1980s, Friend initiated a research program in the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge to investigate the electronic properties of so-called “conducting polymers.” Chemically doped π-conjugated polymers such as polyacetylene had been shown to behave as metallic conductors, and this work was later recognized by the Chemistry Nobel Prize awarded to Heeger, MacDiarmid, and Shirakawa in 2000. However, with remarkable insight, Friend realized that the more interesting and technologically useful science would lie in the use of such macromolecules as semiconductors, particularly in functioning diodes and transistors. Thus, in 1988, Friend and his student Jeremy Burroughes showed for the first time that polyacetylene, prepared by a synthetic route developed by James Feast at the University of Durham, could demonstrate clean operation as a true field effect transistor.

In 1990, Friend and his group published a paper in Nature showing that other polymers, coming from a new collaboration with Andrew Holmes and his student Paul Burn in the Cambridge Chemistry Department, could function as light-emitting diodes. The paper proved to be seminal, attracting more than 8000 citations, and placing it in the top 20 most-cited papers in this journal. Friend, Burroughes, and Donal Bradley filed a patent ahead of the Nature letter, and this proved to be valuable, leading to the founding of the successful nearby spin-off company, Cambridge Display Technology Ltd.

Friend assembled and led the very talented Optoelectronics Group in the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge. Their goal was to explore and develop the many basic science challenges that can be accessed through polymer semiconductor devices. In an amazingly short period of time, they conceived, fabricated, and demonstrated a number of “firsts” including:

  • The bulk heterojunction organic solar cell, 1995,(also developed independently by Heeger at the University of California–Santa Barbara), and with Henning Sirringhaus
  • Inkjet printed organic transistor circuitry, 2000
  • Light-emitting polymer transistors, 2005

Friend’s work on organic transistors included important new insights into the relationship between semiconductor microstructure, processing, and carrier mobility—necessary to optimize organic transistor performance—and a detailed new understanding of how the semiconducting material interacts with the proximate gate dielectric. This successful work led to the founding of another Cambridge spin-off company—Plastic Logic Ltd.

More recently, Friend’s group has focused on the understanding-based development of high-efficiency polymer solar cells. Through studies of the relationship between polymer architecture, processing, morphology, and carrier dynamics, they have established the basic principles needed to create practical, low-cost plastic solar energy materials and devices. They have also shown that the fission of photogenerated spin-singlet excitons can produce pairs of spin-triplet excitons that can be harvested in solar-cell structures that can, in principle, exceed the Shockley–Queisser power-conversion efficiency limit. In addition to this university-centered research, Friend was involved in the founding of the Cambridge spin-off company Eight19 Ltd., which is commercializing printed organic solar cell technologies. One focus of the company is to provide cheap, clean, off-grid power for people in remote locations.

What is especially remarkable in all of the previous examples is that Friend’s work transcends fundamental science alone, and also enables technologies such as more cost-effective and energy-efficient solar cells, flexible and transparent printable transistors for portable information processing and sensing, advanced high-speed optical communications, and organic light-emitting diodes for displays and energy-efficient indoor lighting.

Friend has approximately 900 publications and numerous awards, including election to the US National Academy of Engineering as a Foreign Associate (2013); the International Medal for Materials Science and Technology, MRS of India (2013); the Harvey Prize of the Technion/Israel Institute of Technology (2011); and Laureate, the Millennium Prize of the Finnish Academy of Technology (2010).

About the Materials Research Society

MRS is an organization of over 12,000 materials researchers from academia, industry and government worldwide, and a recognized leader in promoting the advancement of interdisciplinary materials research and technology to improve the quality of life. MRS members are students and professionals hailing from physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and engineering—the full spectrum of materials research. Headquartered in Warrendale, Pennsylvania (USA), MRS membership now spans 90 countries, with approximately 45 percent of members residing outside the United States.

MRS serves and engages members across generations to advance their careers and promote materials research and innovation. The Society produces high-quality meetings and publications, assuring that members of all career stages can present and publish their most important and timely work to an international and interdisciplinary audience. MRS continues to expand its professional development portfolio, as well as promote diversity and inclusion in the scientific workforce, with career services for researchers worldwide. The Society advocates for the importance of scientific research and innovation to policymakers and the community. And the MRS Awards program honors those whose work has already had a major impact in the field, as well as those whose work shows great promise for future leadership.

For more information about the Materials Research Society visit mrs.org and follow @Materials_MRS.