LONDON – The universities of Cambridge and Manchester will both host graphene research centers as the U.K. looks to spend more than £85 million (about $140 million) bringing the two-dimensional form of carbon to real-world applications.
Graphene is a one-atom thick layer of graphite that is exceptionally strong, yet also lightweight and flexible and enables electrons to flow faster than in silicon and functions as a transparent conductor. Often referred to as a "wonder material" it is expected to have an impact in both the electronic and mechanical domains.
The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2010 was awarded "for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene" to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, two scientests who began their academic careers in Russia but who are both now installed as professors at the University of Manchester. It was announced in February 2012 that the University of Manchester would host the UK's National Graphene Institute.
The University of Cambridge has now announced that it has obtained government and industrial support to open the £25 million (about $40 million) Cambridge Graphene Centre (CGC). The center begins work on Feb. 1 and plans to move into a dedicated facility by the end of the year. The CGC has an objective of bridging academia and industry and will included state-of-the-art equipment, which any scientist researching graphene will have the opportunity to use.
The university has been awarded a £12 million grant from the U.K. government which is being matched by industrial support worth £13 million from over 20 partners, including Nokia, Dyson, Plastic Logic, Philips and BAe Systems.
"Graphene has amazing fundamental properties but at the moment we cannot produce it in a perfect form over large areas," said Professor Bill Milne, who will be part of the center's management group. "Our first aim is to look at ways of making graphene that ensure it is still useful at the end of the process." One project will look at the manufacturability of graphene using chemical vapor deposition.
The CGC will have particular researchers focused on such applications as flexible electronics, connectivity, optoelectronics, supercapacitors and batteries.
Meanwhile the £61 million (about $100 million) National Graphene Institute in Manchester will be housed in a purpose-built laboratory with two cleanrooms. Funding for the NGI will come from £38 million from the Government, as part of £50 million allocated for graphene research, and the University has applied for £23 million from the European Research and Development Fund. The NGI will operate on a "hub and spoke" model, working with other UK institutions involved in graphene research.
The NGI building in Manchester is expected to be completed early in 2015.
Every week we read about another technology center or consortium starting up. By the time the buildings are built (which cannot be moved), much of the money and kick-off energy have been consumed. How efficient are such centers for getting research done? Is it better just to fund promising projects and allow the investigators to pool resources and share expensive capital equipment?
So let me make sure I understand the argument - the only thing standing between graphene and some mind boggling new chips is that " at the moment we cannot produce it in a perfect form over large areas". Wake me up when that pipe dream ends.