Dr Nacho Martin-Fabiani

UKRI Future Leaders Fellow and Senior Lecturer, Materials Science and Engineering

Nacho Martin-Fabiani leads an experimental research group that is investigating soft materials and surfaces for application in paints, coatings, inks and cosmetics. In April 2020, he received a £1.4 million UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship to create a platform technology for the development of next-generation coatings to enhance products across a range of industries. Nacho has also secured an EPSRC Strategic Equipment Grant. These honours provide state-of-the-art microscopy equipment – key to developing the research – and support for seven years’ work.

A bioinspired platform technology for next-generation functional paints and coatings, to reduce bacteria and virus transmission and other benefits

Ever-tightening legislations to reduce the release of volatile organic compounds have driven major advances in water-based paints and coatings, making them equal or sometimes superior to their solvent-based counterparts. However, a new manufacturing approach to enhance their performance is needed to tackle global challenges such as clean energy demand, healthcare-associated infections, and antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Healthcare-associated infections kill more than 5,500 NHS patients and cost the NHS more than £2.3 billion per year, becoming both a deadly threat and an economical burden to the system. Antibacterial surfaces can play a key role in reducing their transmission.

Reducing infections in the NHS

The addition of nanoparticles to soft materials – for example, polymer particles dispersed in a liquid like paint – can provide invaluable functional properties including antibacterial capabilities.

My research has advanced understanding of the fundamental science behind materials at the nanoscale, leading to the development of a new method that enhances widely-used coatings. This technology brings a specified functional property – such as an antibacterial activity – to the surface of the coating as it dries, enhancing its efficiency.

This process has exciting applications for multiple sectors. However, when industrial formulations are developed, ingredients can alter the coating’s behaviour and, for example, hinder the desired self-layering effect.

Achieving the breakthrough in the laboratory is a step change, and the UKRI and ESPRC support is enabling me to build a multidisciplinary team of researchers to rigorously test the new process across different applications to ensure replication on an industrial scale.

Our goal is to develop a new range of functional coatings, including self-cleaning, antibacterial, and anti-soiling through an innovative self-assembly process that can be tailored to add other functionalities – for example, anti-corrosive or air-purifying.

We are currently focusing on two areas – developing antibacterial coatings for healthcare and anti-soiling coatings for solar panels. In both cases, the potential economic and societal impact is significant.

More effective antibacterial coatings are urgently needed to prevent infections in healthcare. Meanwhile, solar panel efficiency is dramatically reduced when dust and pollen accumulate on panels, particularly in arid regions.

We are working with leading paint and coating manufacturers as well as international academics, and world-class research institutions so that the novelty of the self-assembly process and development of novel functional surfaces will also lead to new research avenues.

Carrying out a large and flexible 7-year project is vital to ensure we can translate innovation from the lab to deliver industrial processes and products with real-world impact. I hope that our work will help make the UK a world leader in functional coatings, and help reduce the incidence of bacterial infections, increase solar panel efficiencies, lower carbon footprint and volatile organic compound emissions.

AFM-FLIM facility at Loughborough University

My research journey

I completed my undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Madrid. In 2014, I joined the University of Surrey as a Research Fellow and moved to Loughborough in 2016 where a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellowship provided the opportunity to start my independent research career – and dive into the world of functional coatings.

In 2019, I gained international recognition with the Institute of Physics and the American Physical Society’s Polymer Lecture Exchange Award.

The Future Leaders Fellowship is a golden opportunity – I have the time, funding, and career development support to continue my research, raise my profile in the field, and access an invaluable network of researchers and innovators.

Dr Nacho Martin-Fabiani

Dr Nacho Martin-Fabiani

UKRI Future Leaders Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Materials Science

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