There’s a huge buzz around graphene. Why is it so exciting?
Graphene is the start of a revolution
in multifunctional 2D materials technology.
Graphene itself is a single
atom-thick crystal extracted from graphite - a very familiar, every day
material we use every time we pick up a pencil. Before 2004, it wasn’t thought
possible to isolate graphene as a stable, stand-alone material, but in 2004,
that’s exactly what scientists Novoselov and Geim demonstrated right here at The
University of Manchester [they went on to win the Nobel Prize in 2010 for their
The isolation of graphene was just
the beginning. It allowed scientists to explore the properties of this
extremely thin material. It’s unusually electro-conductive, extremely flexible,
stretchable and lightweight, but a single layer is 200 times stronger than
steel. Graphene can be layered on top of graphene, or added to enhance other
materials. Just imagine its potential.
Most exciting, this has paved the
way for researchers to isolate other 2D materials, which can then be combined
with graphene and each other. That’s where innovation that can seem the stuff
of science-fiction lies!
So where is graphene in terms of its development?
Is it currently being
At this point, graphene isn’t new
but it’s still only a teenager in terms of its development. It’s been around 14
years since its discovery and while some potential has been explored, it
usually takes around 25 years to develop viable, marketable products.
Graphene innovations are already
enhancing existing products. For example, layers of graphene are being applied
to training shoes and mountain bike tyres, improving grip and longevity.
The National Graphene Institute in
Manchester is all about exploring this early, innovative science and developing
prototypes in wide ranging areas. It’s looking at how composites can be applied
to the aerospace industry, while at the same time applying waterproof and
conductive 2D to wearable tech. In the near future, we’ll be expanding into
electronics and medical applications.
Laing O’Rourke is about to handover the Graphene Engineering and
Innovation Centre (GEIC). What does this mean for Graphene and 2D innovation?
Alongside the National Graphene
Institute, the GEIC houses Graphene@Manchester, a £121m research and
development campus in Manchester. The GEIC element will combine laboratory
research with space for manufacturing and industry to take 2D to the next
level, far quicker than our global competitors.
The innovation process is like a
game of snakes and ladders: ideas build up through painstaking work over time,
but can suddenly reach a point where they fail, taking you right back to square
one. The GEIC will be an accelerator for this: a place where we can quickly
take “blue sky” ideas to the factory floor, test them out, gauge repeatability
and interrogate how they work. We find out what does and doesn’t work, at speed.
Like California’s Silicon Valley
has been for tech start-ups, we see Manchester as an innovation hub for
graphene and 2D innovation. The GEIC will provide a collaborative environment
for academics and businesses of all sizes to work together. More than just
buildings, it’s about partnerships, PhD research, projects that will disrupt
industry. It’s creating a Graphene City, here in Manchester.
James Baker joined
the University in 2014, having spent 25 years in industry where, most recently,
he was Vice-President of Technology Collaboration Programmes and Managing
Director of the Advanced Technology Centres for BAE Systems in the UK.