The Electronic Materials Research Institute (eMRI) at Northeastern University has signed a three-year cooperative research agreement with the United States Army Research Laboratory at Adelphi, Md., to design graphene-based technology for use in low-cost infrared imaging applications for the military.

The project is in collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Distinguished Professor of Physics Srinivas Sridhar, director of the eMRI, and Assistant Professor of Physics Swastik Kar — both in the College of Science — will collaborate on the project with Dr. Nibir Dhar of DARPA and Dr. Madan Dubey of the Army Research Laboratory.

The project dovetails with Northeastern’s focus on use-inspired research that solves global challenges in health, security and sustainability. “Graphene-based technology can potentially revolutionize infrared cameras used in a variety of military and civilian applications,” Sridhar said.

Graphene, which is known for being a superior thermal and electric conductor, is composed of carbon atoms arranged in tightly bound one-atom-thick hexagons. Two physicists won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for their groundbreaking experiments with the so-called “miracle material of the 21st century,” which they say is “some 200 times stronger than structured steel.”

The Northeastern team, which has developed novel approaches toward synthesizing the nanomaterial, will help design graphene-based bolometers, which measure heat generated by objects or people. The military, Sridhar said, may use the bolometers in night vision goggles or for thermal body imaging and may eventually incorporate the technology into smart phones.

The long-term goal, he noted, is to license and mass-produce the novel technology for low-cost infrared cameras.

“Providing a thermal camera to each soldier requires affordable and low SWaP (size, weight and power) cameras,” said Dhar, Program Manager at DARPA Microsystems Technology Office. “DARPA has a program to address both these attributes. Innovation is needed to increase the sensitivity of bolometers while maintaining these attributes. Nanostructured materials such as graphene may provide a low-cost and low-SWaP alternative.”

“A low-cost, graphene-based thermal sensor technology could be very beneficial to the Army,” noted Dr. Paul Amirtharaj, the Electronics and RF Division Chief of the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Md.

The mission of the eMRI is to synergize and catalyze research and education in materials for nano-, bio– and info-technologies, with a particular focus on nanomaterials for energy, medicine and electronic and photonic nanostructures.