Tag Archives: Andre Geim

Graphene not so impermeable after all

I saw the news last week but it took reading Dexter Johnson’s Dec. 2, 2014 post for me to achieve a greater understanding of why graphene’s proton permeability is such a big deal and of the tensions underlying graphene research in the UK.

Let’s start with the news, from a Nov. 26, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Published in the journal Nature (“Proton transport through one-atom-thick crystals”), the discovery could revolutionise fuel cells and other hydrogen-based technologies as they require a barrier that only allow protons – hydrogen atoms stripped off their electrons – to pass through.

In addition, graphene membranes could be used to sieve hydrogen gas out of the atmosphere, where it is present in minute quantities, creating the possibility of electric generators powered by air.

A Nov. 26, 2014 University of Manchester news release, which originated the news item, describes the research in greater detail,

One-atom thick material graphene, first isolated and explored in 2004 by a team at The University of Manchester, is renowned for its barrier properties, which has a number of uses in applications such as corrosion-proof coatings and impermeable packaging.

For example, it would take the lifetime of the universe for hydrogen, the smallest of all atoms, to pierce a graphene monolayer.

Now a group led by Sir Andre Geim tested whether protons are also repelled by graphene. They fully expected that protons would be blocked, as existing theory predicted as little proton permeation as for hydrogen.

Despite the pessimistic prognosis, the researchers found that protons pass through the ultra-thin crystals surprisingly easily, especially at elevated temperatures and if the films were covered with catalytic nanoparticles such as platinum.

The discovery makes monolayers of graphene, and its sister material boron nitride, attractive for possible uses as proton-conducting membranes, which are at the heart of modern fuel cell technology. Fuel cells use oxygen and hydrogen as a fuel and convert the input chemical energy directly into electricity. Without membranes that allow an exclusive flow of protons but prevent other species to pass through, this technology would not exist.

Despite being well-established, fuel-cell technology requires further improvements to make it more widely used. One of the major problems is a fuel crossover through the existing proton membranes, which reduces their efficiency and durability.

The University of Manchester research suggests that the use of graphene or monolayer boron nitride can allow the existing membranes to become thinner and more efficient, with less fuel crossover and poisoning. This can boost competitiveness of fuel cells.

The Manchester group also demonstrated that their one-atom-thick membranes can be used to extract hydrogen from a humid atmosphere. They hypothesise that such harvesting can be combined together with fuel cells to create a mobile electric generator that is fuelled simply by hydrogen present in air.

Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo, a PhD student and corresponding author of this paper, said: “When you know how it should work, it is a very simple setup. You put a hydrogen-containing gas on one side, apply small electric current and collect pure hydrogen on the other side. This hydrogen can then be burned in a fuel cell.

“We worked with small membranes, and the achieved flow of hydrogen is of course tiny so far. But this is the initial stage of discovery, and the paper is to make experts aware of the existing prospects. To build up and test hydrogen harvesters will require much further effort.”

Dr Sheng Hu, a postdoctoral researcher and the first author in this work, added: “It looks extremely simple and equally promising. Because graphene can be produced these days in square metre sheets, we hope that it will find its way to commercial fuel cells sooner rather than later”.

The work is an international collaboration involving groups from China and the Netherlands who supported theoretical aspects of this research. Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo is funded by a PhD studentship programme between the National Council of Science and Technology of Mexico and The University of Manchester.

Here’s more about the research and its implications from Dexter Johnson’s Dec. 2, 2014 post on the Nanoclast blog on the IEEE (Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers) website (Note: Links have been removed),

This latest development alters the understanding of one of the key properties of graphene: that it is impermeable to all gases and liquids. Even an atom as small as hydrogen would need billions of years for it to pass through the dense electronic cloud of graphene.  In fact, it is this impermeability that has made it attractive for use in gas separation membranes.

But as Geim and his colleagues discovered, in research that was published in the journal Nature, monolayers of graphene and boron nitride are highly permeable to thermal protons under ambient conditions. So hydrogen atoms stripped of their electrons could pass right through the one-atom-thick materials.

The surprising discovery that protons could breach these materials means that that they could be used in proton-conducting membranes (also known as proton exchange membranes), which are central to the functioning of fuel cells. Fuel cells operate through chemical reactions involving hydrogen fuel and oxygen, with the result being electrical energy. The membranes used in the fuel cells are impermeable to oxygen and hydrogen but allow for the passage of protons.

Dexter goes into more detail about hydrogen fuel cells and why this discovery is so exciting. He also provides some insight into the UK’s graphene community (Note: A link has been removed),

While some have been frustrated that Geim has focused his attention on fundamental research rather than becoming more active in the commercialization of graphene, he may have just cracked open graphene’s greatest application possibility to date.

I recommend reading Dexter’s post if you want to learn more about fuel cell technology and the impact this discovery may have.

Richard Van Noorden’s Nov. 27, 2014 article for Nature provides another perspective on this work,

Fuel-cell experts say that the work is proof of principle, but are cautious about its immediate application. Factors such as to how grow a sufficiently clean, large graphene sheet, and its cost and lifetime, would have to be taken into account. “It may or may not be a better membrane for a fuel cell,” says Andrew Herring, a chemical engineer at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.

Van Noorden also writes about another graphene discovery from last week, which won’t be featured here. Where graphene is concerned I have to draw a line or else this entire blog would be focused on that material alone.

Getting back back to permeability, graphene, and protons, here’s a link to and a citation for the research paper,

Proton transport through one-atom-thick crystals by S. Hu, M. Lozada-Hidalgo, F. C. Wang, A. Mishchenko, F. Schedin, R. R. Nair, E. W. Hill, D. W. Boukhvalov, M. I. Katsnelson, R. A. W. Dryfe, I. V. Grigorieva, H. A. Wu, & A. K. Geim. Nature (2014 doi:10.1038/nature14015 Published online 26 November 2014

This article is behind a paywall.

Graphene, Perimeter Institute, and condensed matter physics

In short, researchers at Canada’s Perimeter Institute are working on theoretical models involving graphene. which could lead to quantum computing. A July 3, 2014 Perimeter Institute news release by Erin Bow (also on EurekAlert) provides some insight into the connections between graphene and condensed matter physics (Note: Bow has included some good basic explanations of graphene, quasiparticles, and more for beginners),

One of the hottest materials in condensed matter research today is graphene.

Graphene had an unlikely start: it began with researchers messing around with pencil marks on paper. Pencil “lead” is actually made of graphite, which is a soft crystal lattice made of nothing but carbon atoms. When pencils deposit that graphite on paper, the lattice is laid down in thin sheets. By pulling that lattice apart into thinner sheets – originally using Scotch tape – researchers discovered that they could make flakes of crystal just one atom thick.

The name for this atom-scale chicken wire is graphene. Those folks with the Scotch tape, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, won the 2010 Nobel Prize for discovering it. “As a material, it is completely new – not only the thinnest ever but also the strongest,” wrote the Nobel committee. “As a conductor of electricity, it performs as well as copper. As a conductor of heat, it outperforms all other known materials. It is almost completely transparent, yet so dense that not even helium, the smallest gas atom, can pass through it.”

Developing a theoretical model of graphene

Graphene is not just a practical wonder – it’s also a wonderland for theorists. Confined to the two-dimensional surface of the graphene, the electrons behave strangely. All kinds of new phenomena can be seen, and new ideas can be tested. Testing new ideas in graphene is exactly what Perimeter researchers Zlatko Papić and Dmitry (Dima) Abanin set out to do.

“Dima and I started working on graphene a very long time ago,” says Papić. “We first met in 2009 at a conference in Sweden. I was a grad student and Dima was in the first year of his postdoc, I think.”

The two young scientists got to talking about what new physics they might be able to observe in the strange new material when it is exposed to a strong magnetic field.

“We decided we wanted to model the material,” says Papić. They’ve been working on their theoretical model of graphene, on and off, ever since. The two are now both at Perimeter Institute, where Papić is a postdoctoral researcher and Abanin is a faculty member. They are both cross-appointed with the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo.

In January 2014, they published a paper in Physical Review Letters presenting new ideas about how to induce a strange but interesting state in graphene – one where it appears as if particles inside it have a fraction of an electron’s charge.

It’s called the fractional quantum Hall effect (FQHE), and it’s head turning. Like the speed of light or Planck’s constant, the charge of the electron is a fixed point in the disorienting quantum universe.

Every system in the universe carries whole multiples of a single electron’s charge. When the FQHE was first discovered in the 1980s, condensed matter physicists quickly worked out that the fractionally charged “particles” inside their semiconductors were actually quasiparticles – that is, emergent collective behaviours of the system that imitate particles.

Graphene is an ideal material in which to study the FQHE. “Because it’s just one atom thick, you have direct access to the surface,” says Papić. “In semiconductors, where FQHE was first observed, the gas of electrons that create this effect are buried deep inside the material. They’re hard to access and manipulate. But with graphene you can imagine manipulating these states much more easily.”

In the January paper, Abanin and Papić reported novel types of FQHE states that could arise in bilayer graphene – that is, in two sheets of graphene laid one on top of another – when it is placed in a strong perpendicular magnetic field. In an earlier work from 2012, they argued that applying an electric field across the surface of bilayer graphene could offer a unique experimental knob to induce transitions between FQHE states. Combining the two effects, they argued, would be an ideal way to look at special FQHE states and the transitions between them.

Once the scientists developed their theory they went to work on some experiments,

Two experimental groups – one in Geneva, involving Abanin, and one at Columbia, involving both Abanin and Papić – have since put the electric field + magnetic field method to good use. The paper by the Columbia group appears in the July 4 issue of Science. A third group, led by Amir Yacoby of Harvard, is doing closely related work.

“We often work hand-in-hand with experimentalists,” says Papić. “One of the reasons I like condensed matter is that often even the most sophisticated, cutting-edge theory stands a good chance of being quickly checked with experiment.”

Inside both the magnetic and electric field, the electrical resistance of the graphene demonstrates the strange behaviour characteristic of the FQHE. Instead of resistance that varies in a smooth curve with voltage, resistance jumps suddenly from one level to another, and then plateaus – a kind of staircase of resistance. Each stair step is a different state of matter, defined by the complex quantum tangle of charges, spins, and other properties inside the graphene.

“The number of states is quite rich,” says Papić. “We’re very interested in bilayer graphene because of the number of states we are detecting and because we have these mechanisms – like tuning the electric field – to study how these states are interrelated, and what happens when the material changes from one state to another.”

For the moment, researchers are particularly interested in the stair steps whose “height” is described by a fraction with an even denominator. That’s because the quasiparticles in that state are expected to have an unusual property.

There are two kinds of particles in our three-dimensional world: fermions (such as electrons), where two identical particles can’t occupy one state, and bosons (such as photons), where two identical particles actually want to occupy one state. In three dimensions, fermions are fermions and bosons are bosons, and never the twain shall meet.

But a sheet of graphene doesn’t have three dimensions – it has two. It’s effectively a tiny two-dimensional universe, and in that universe, new phenomena can occur. For one thing, fermions and bosons can meet halfway – becoming anyons, which can be anywhere in between fermions and bosons. The quasiparticles in these special stair-step states are expected to be anyons.

In particular, the researchers are hoping these quasiparticles will be non-Abelian anyons, as their theory indicates they should be. That would be exciting because non-Abelian anyons can be used in the making of qubits.

Graphene qubits?

Qubits are to quantum computers what bits are to ordinary computers: both a basic unit of information and the basic piece of equipment that stores that information. Because of their quantum complexity, qubits are more powerful than ordinary bits and their power grows exponentially as more of them are added. A quantum computer of only a hundred qubits can tackle certain problems beyond the reach of even the best non-quantum supercomputers. Or, it could, if someone could find a way to build stable qubits.

The drive to make qubits is part of the reason why graphene is a hot research area in general, and why even-denominator FQHE states – with their special anyons – are sought after in particular.

“A state with some number of these anyons can be used to represent a qubit,” says Papić. “Our theory says they should be there and the experiments seem to bear that out – certainly the even-denominator FQHE states seem to be there, at least according to the Geneva experiments.”

That’s still a step away from experimental proof that those even-denominator stair-step states actually contain non-Abelian anyons. More work remains, but Papić is optimistic: “It might be easier to prove in graphene than it would be in semiconductors. Everything is happening right at the surface.”

It’s still early, but it looks as if bilayer graphene may be the magic material that allows this kind of qubit to be built. That would be a major mark on the unlikely line between pencil lead and quantum computers.

Here are links for further research,

January PRL paper mentioned above: http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.112.046602

Experimental paper from the Geneva graphene group, including Abanin: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nl5003922

Experimental paper from the Columbia graphene group, including both Abanin and Papić: http://arxiv.org/abs/1403.2112. This paper is featured in the journal Science.

Related experiment on bilayer graphene by Amir Yacoby’s group at Harvard: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2014/05/28/science.1250270

The Nobel Prize press release on graphene, mentioned above: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2010/press.html

I recently posted a piece about some research into the ‘scotch-tape technique’ for isolating graphene (June 30, 2014 posting). Amusingly, Geim argued against coining the technique as the ‘scotch-tape’ technique, something I found out only recently.

‘Scotch-tape’ technique for isolating graphene

The ‘scotch-tape’ technique is mythologized in the graphene origins story which has scientists, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, first isolating the material by using adhesive (aka ‘sticky’ tape or ‘scotch’ tape) as per my Oct. 7, 2010 posting,

The technique that Geim and Novoselov used to create the first graphene sheets both amuses and fascinates me (from the article by Kit Eaton on the Fast Company website),

The two scientists came up with the technique that first resulted in samples of graphene–peeling individual atoms-deep sheets of the material from a bigger block of pure graphite. The science here seems almost foolishly simple, but it took a lot of lateral thinking to dream up, and then some serious science to investigate: Geim and Novoselo literally “ripped” single sheets off the graphite by using regular adhesive tape. Once they’d confirmed they had grabbed micro-flakes of the material, Geim and Novoselo were responsible for some of the very early experiments into the material’s properties. Novel stuff indeed, but perhaps not so unexpected from a scientist (Geim) who the Nobel Committe notes once managed to make a frog levitate in a magnetic field.

A May 21, 2014 article about Geim who has won both a Nobel and an Ig Nobel (the only scientist to do so) and graphene by Sarah Lewis for Fast Company offers more details about the discovery,

The graphene FNE [Friday Night Experiments] began when Geim asked Da Jiang, a doctoral student from China, to polish a piece of graphite an inch across and a few millimeters thick down to 10 microns using a specialized machine. Partly due to a language barrier, Jiang polished the graphite down to dust, but not the ultimate thinness Geim wanted.

Helpfully, the Geim lab was also observing graphite using scanning tunneling microscopy (STM). The experimenters would clean the samples beforehand using Scotch tape, which they would then discard. “We took it out of the trash and just used it,” Novoselov said. The flakes of graphite on the tape from the waste bin were finer and thinner than what Jiang had found using the fancy machine. They weren’t one layer thick—that achievement came by ripping them some more with Scotch tape.

They swapped the adhesive for Japanese Nitto tape, “probably because the whole process is so simple and cheap we wanted to fancy it up a little and use this blue tape,” Geim said. Yet “the method is called the ‘Scotch tape technique.’ I fought against this name, but lost.”

Scientists elsewhere have been inspired to investigate the process in minute detail as per a June 27, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

The simplest mechanical cleavage technique using a primitive “Scotch” tape has resulted in the Nobel-awarded discovery of graphenes and is currently under worldwide use for assembling graphenes and other two-dimensional (2D) graphene-like structures toward their utilization in novel high-performance nanoelectronic devices.

The simplicity of this method has initiated a booming research on 2D materials. However, the atomistic processes behind the micromechanical cleavage have still been poorly understood.

A June 27, 2014 MANA (International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectoinics) news release, which originated the news item, provides more information,

A joined team of experimentalists and theorists from the International Center for Young Scientists, International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectonics and Surface Physics and Structure Unit of the National Institute for Materials Science, National University of Science and Technology “MISiS” (Moscow, Russia), Rice University (USA) and University of Jyväskylä (Finland) led by Daiming Tang and Dmitri Golberg for the first time succeeded in complete understanding of physics, kinetics and energetics behind the regarded “Scotch-tape” technique using molybdenum disulphide (MoS2) atomic layers as a model material.

The researchers developed a direct in situ probing technique in a high-resolution transmission electron microscope (HRTEM) to investigate the mechanical cleavage processes and associated mechanical behaviors. By precisely manipulating an ultra-sharp metal probe to contact the pre-existing crystalline steps of the MoS2 single crystals, atomically thin flakes were delicately peeled off, selectively ranging from a single, double to more than 20 atomic layers. The team found that the mechanical behaviors are strongly dependent on the number of layers. Combination of in situ HRTEM and molecular dynamics simulations reveal a transformation of bending behavior from spontaneous rippling (< 5 atomic layers) to homogeneous curving (~ 10 layers), and finally to kinking (20 or more layers).

By considering the force balance near the contact point, the specific surface energy of a MoS2 monoatomic layer was calculated to be ~0.11 N/m. This is the first time that this fundamentally important property has directly been measured.

After initial isolation from the mother crystal, the MoS2 monolayer could be readily restacked onto the surface of the crystal, demonstrating the possibility of van der Waals epitaxy. MoS2 atomic layers could be bent to ultimate small radii (1.3 ~ 3.0 nm) reversibly without fracture. Such ultra-reversibility and extreme flexibility proves that they could be mechanically robust candidates for the advanced flexible electronic devices even under extreme folding conditions.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the research paper,

Nanomechanical cleavage of molybdenum disulphide atomic layers by Dai-Ming Tang, Dmitry G. Kvashnin, Sina Najmaei, Yoshio Bando, Koji Kimoto, Pekka Koskinen, Pulickel M. Ajayan, Boris I. Yakobson, Pavel B. Sorokin, Jun Lou, & Dmitri Golberg. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 3631 doi:10.1038/ncomms4631 Published 03 April 2014

This paper is behind a paywall but there is a free preview available through ReadCube Access.

Graphene Flagship experiences an upsurge in new partners

Almost doubling in size, from 78 partners to 140 partners, the European Union’s Graphene Flagship is doing nicely. From a June 23, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

To coincide with Graphene Week 2014, the Graphene Flagship announced that today one of the largest-ever European research initiatives is doubling in size. 66 new partners are being invited to join the consortium following the results of a €9 million competitive call. [emphasis mine]

While most partners are universities and research institutes, the share of companies, mainly SMEs [small to medium enterprises], involved is increasing. This shows the growing interest of economic actors in graphene. The partnership now includes more than 140 organisations from 23 countries. [emphasis mine] It is fully set to take ‘wonder material’ graphene and related layered materials from academic laboratories to everyday use.

A June 23, 2014 Graphene Flagship news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the partners and the call which attracted them,

The 66 new partners come from 19 countries, six of which are new to the consortium: Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Israel.

With its 16 new partners, Italy now has the highest number of partners in the Graphene Flagship alongside Germany (with 23 each), followed by Spain (18), UK (17) and France (13).

The incoming 66 partners will add new capabilities to the scientific and technological scope of the flagship. Over one third of new partners are companies, mainly SMEs, showing the growing interest of economic actors in graphene. In the initial consortium this ratio was 20%.

Big Interest in Joining the Initiative

The €9 million competitive call of the €54 million ramp-up phase (2014-2015) attracted a total of 218 proposals, representing 738 organisations from 37 countries. The proposals received were evaluated on the basis of their scientific and technological expertise, implementation and impact (further information on the call) and ranked by an international panel of leading experts, mostly eminent professors from all over the world. 21 proposals were selected for funding.

Prof. Jari Kinaret, Professor of Physics at the Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, and Director of the Graphene Flagship, said: “The response was overwhelming, which is an indicator of the recognition for and trust in the flagship effort throughout Europe. Competition has been extremely tough. I am grateful for the engagement by the applicants and our nearly 60 independent expert reviewers who helped us through this process. I am impressed by the high quality of the proposals we received and looking forward to working with all the new partners to realise the goals of the Graphene Flagship.”

Europe in the Driving Seat

Graphene was made and tested in Europe, leading to the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester.

With the €1 billion Graphene Flagship, Europe will be able to turn cutting-edge scientific research into marketable products. This major initiative places Europe in the driving seat for the global race to develop graphene technologies.

Prof. Andrea Ferrari, Director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre and Chair of the Executive Board of the Graphene Flagship commented today’s announcement on new partners: “This adds strength to our unprecedented effort to take graphene and related materials from the lab to the factory floor, so that the world-leading position of Europe in graphene science can be translated into technology, creating a new graphene-based industry, with benefits for Europe in terms of job creation and competitiveness”.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Graphene Flagship, the news release provides this backgrounder,

The Graphene Flagship @GrapheneCA represents a European investment of €1 billion over the next 10 years. It is part of the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagships @FETFlagships announced by the European Commission in January 2013 (press release). The goal of the FET Flagships programme is to encourage visionary research with the potential to deliver breakthroughs and major benefits for European society and industry. FET Flagships are highly ambitious initiatives involving close collaboration with national and regional funding agencies, industry and partners from outside the European Union.

Research in the next generation of technologies is key for Europe’s competitiveness. This is why €2.7 billion will be invested in Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) under the new research programme Horizon 2020 #H2020 (2014-2020). This represents a nearly threefold increase in budget compared to the previous research programme, FP7. FET actions are part of the Excellent science pillar of Horizon 2020.

You can find a full press kit for this announcement here, it includes,

I have long wondered how Sweden became the lead for the European Union effort. It seemed odd given that much of the initial work was done at the University of Manchester and the UK has not been shy about its ambition to lead the graphene effort internationally.

Should October 2013 be called ‘the month of graphene’?

Since the Oct. 10-11, 2013 Graphene Flagship (1B Euros investment) launch, mentioned in my preview Oct. 7, 2013 posting, there’ve been a flurry of graphene-themed news items both on this blog and elsewhere and I’ve decided to offer a brief roundup what I’ve found elsewhere.

Dexter Johnson offers a commentary in the pithily titled, Europe Invests €1 Billion to Become “Graphene Valley,” an Oct. 15, 2013 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) Note: Links have been removed,

The initiative has been dubbed “The Graphene Flagship,” and apparently it is the first in a number of €1 billion, 10-year plans the EC is planning to launch. The graphene version will bring together 76 academic institutions and industrial groups from 17 European countries, with an initial 30-month-budget of €54M ($73 million).

Graphene research is still struggling to find any kind of applications that will really take hold, and many don’t expect it will have a commercial impact until 2020. What’s more, manufacturing methods are still undeveloped. So it would appear that a 10-year plan is aimed at the academic institutions that form the backbone of this initiative rather than commercial enterprises.

Just from a political standpoint the choice of Chalmers University in Sweden as the base of operations for the Graphene Flagship is an intriguing choice. …

I have to agree with Dexter that choosing Chalmers University over the University of Manchester where graphene was first isolated is unexpected. As a companion piece to reading Dexter’s posting in its entirety and which features a video from the flagship launch, you might want to try this Oct. 15, 2013 article by Koen Mortelmans for Youris (h/t Oct. 15, 2013 news item on Nanowerk),

Andre Konstantin Geim is the only person who ever received both a Nobel and an Ig Nobel. He was born in 1958 in Russia, and is a Dutch-British physicist with German, Polish, Jewish and Ukrainian roots. “Having lived and worked in several European countries, I consider myself European. I don’t believe that any further taxonomy is necessary,” he says. He is now a physics professor at the University of Manchester. …

He shared the Noble [Nobel] Prize in 2010 with Konstantin Novoselov for their work on graphene. It was following on their isolation of microscope visible grapheme flakes that the worldwide research towards practical applications of graphene took off.  “We did not invent graphene,” Geim says, “we only saw what was laid up for five hundred year under our noses.”

Geim and Novoselov are often thought to have succeeded in separating graphene from graphite by peeling it off with ordinary duct tape until there only remained a layer. Graphene could then be observed with a microscope, because of the partial transparency of the material. That is, after dissolving the duct tape material in acetone, of course. That is also the story Geim himself likes to tell.

However, he did not use – as the urban myth goes – graphite from a common pencil. Instead, he used a carbon sample of extreme purity, specially imported. He also used ultrasound techniques. But, probably the urban legend will survive, as did Archimedes’ bath and Newtons apple. “It is nice to keep some of the magic,” is the expression Geim often uses when he does not want a nice story to be drowned in hard facts or when he wants to remain discrete about still incomplete, but promising research results.

Mortelmans’ article fills in some gaps for those not familiar with the graphene ‘origins’ story while Tim Harper’s July 22, 2012 posting on Cientifica’s (an emerging technologies consultancy where Harper is the CEO and founder) TNT blog offers an insight into Geim’s perspective on the race to commercialize graphene with a paraphrased quote for the title of Harper’s posting, “It’s a bit silly for society to throw a little bit of money at (graphene) and expect it to change the world.” (Note: Within this context, mention is made of the company’s graphene opportunities report.)

With all this excitement about graphene (and carbon generally), the magazine titled Carbon has just published a suggested nomenclature for 2D carbon forms such as graphene, graphane, etc., according to an Oct. 16, 2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

There has been an intense research interest in all two-dimensional (2D) forms of carbon since Geim and Novoselov’s discovery of graphene in 2004. But as the number of such publications rise, so does the level of inconsistency in naming the material of interest. The isolated, single-atom-thick sheet universally referred to as “graphene” may have a clear definition, but when referring to related 2D sheet-like or flake-like carbon forms, many authors have simply defined their own terms to describe their product.

This has led to confusion within the literature, where terms are multiply-defined, or incorrectly used. The Editorial Board of Carbon has therefore published the first recommended nomenclature for 2D carbon forms (“All in the graphene family – A recommended nomenclature for two-dimensional carbon materials”).

This proposed nomenclature comes in the form of an editorial, from Carbon (Volume 65, December 2013, Pages 1–6),

All in the graphene family – A recommended nomenclature for two-dimensional carbon materials

  • Alberto Bianco
    CNRS, Institut de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, Immunopathologie et Chimie Thérapeutique, Strasbourg, France
  • Hui-Ming Cheng
    Shenyang National Laboratory for Materials Science, Institute of Metal Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 72 Wenhua Road, Shenyang 110016, China
  • Toshiaki Enoki
    Department of Chemistry, Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tokyo, Japan
  • Yury Gogotsi
    Materials Science and Engineering Department, A.J. Drexel Nanotechnology Institute, Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
  • Robert H. Hurt
    Institute for Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation, School of Engineering, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA
  • Nikhil Koratkar
    Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering, The Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 110 8th Street, Troy, NY 12180, USA
  • Takashi Kyotani
    Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials, Tohoku University, 2-1-1 Katahira, Aoba-ku, Sendai 980-8577, Japan
  • Marc Monthioux
    Centre d’Elaboration des Matériaux et d’Etudes Structurales (CEMES), UPR-8011 CNRS, Université de Toulouse, 29 Rue Jeanne Marvig, F-31055 Toulouse, France
  • Chong Rae Park
    Carbon Nanomaterials Design Laboratory, Global Research Laboratory, Research Institute of Advanced Materials, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Seoul National University, Seoul 151-744, Republic of Korea
  • Juan M.D. Tascon
    Instituto Nacional del Carbón, INCAR-CSIC, Apartado 73, 33080 Oviedo, Spain
  • Jin Zhang
    Center for Nanochemistry, College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China

This editorial is behind a paywall.

£50,000 graphene enterprise competition at the University of Manchester

The Feb. 28, 2013 news item on Azonano about the University of  Manchester’s latest graphene initiative notes, rather unusually (these things are usually announced at press conferences), the announcement about a £50,000 graphene award was made at a staff event,

The University of Manchester launched an £50,000 enterprise competition for students with new graphene ideas at a staff event attended by more than 500 people.

The Eli and Britt Harari Graphene Enterprise Award will help establish further enterprises in graphene at the University. The £50,000 award aims to encourage the development of an entrepreneurial culture across the University’s doctoral and postdoctoral research base.

The competition is co-funded by the North American Foundation for The University of Manchester, through the generous support of one of the University’s former students, Dr Eli Harari, and his wife Britt, and the UK Government’s Higher Education Innovation Fund. The award judging panel will be chaired by Andre Geim, Holder of the Langworthy Chair and Regius Professor.

The University of Manchester Feb. 27, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, lists some of the criteria for entering the competition,

The 2013 competition is open to final year PhD students and Postdoctoral Research Associates at the University. It will be awarded to the candidate who can demonstrate outstanding potential in establishing a new enterprise related to graphene and who now wishes to embark on an entrepreneurial career in innovation and commercialisation.

Applications will be judged on the strength of their business plan to develop a new graphene-related business. The award then becomes seed funding to allow the candidate to take the first steps towards realising this plan.  It recognises the role that high-level, flexible early-stage financial support can play in the successful development of a business targeting the full commercialisation of a product or technology related to research in graphene.

Further details of the award can be found at www.graphene.manchester.ac.uk or by emailing Ivan Buckley at [email protected]

I did check the website but was not able to find any additional information so you might want to email Ivan Buckley first.

The race to commercialize graphene as per the University of Manchester (UK)

The University of Manchester (UK) has a particular interest in graphene as the material was isolated by future Nobel Prize winners, Andre Gheim and Kostya (Konstantin) Novoselov in the university’s laboratories. There’s a Feb. 18, 2013 news item on Nanowerk highlighting the university’s past and future role in the development of graphene on the heels of the recent research bonanza,

The European Commission has announced that it is providing 1bn euros over 10 years for research and development into graphene – the ‘wonder material’ isolated at The University of Manchester by Nobel Prize winners Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov.

The University is very active in technology transfer and has an excellent track-record of spinning out technology, but some think that the University has taken a different view when it comes to patenting and commercialising graphene. Others have expressed a broader concern about British Industry lagging behind in the graphene ‘race’, based upon international ‘league tables’ of numbers of graphene patents.

A recent interview with Clive Rowland (CEO of the University’s Innovation Group) addresses the assumptions about the University’s approach and reflects more generally about graphene patenting and about industry up-take of graphene. The interview is summarised below.

Question: Has the University set up any commercial graphene activities?

Answer: The University owns a company, called 2-DTech Limited, which makes and supplies two-dimensional materials and has an interest in another, Graphene Industries Limited, which sells graphene made by a different technique to 2-DTech.

Question: Is the University falling behind in graphene?

Answer: The University is the world’s leading university for graphene research and publications. It led the charge for UK investment into the field and has been awarded The National Graphene Institute, which will be a £61m state-of-the art centre. This Institute will act as a focus for all sorts of commercial graphene activity in Manchester, from industrial research and development laboratories locating “alongside” the Institute, developing new processes and products, to start-up companies. The University championed the major flagship research funding programmes that have been initiated in the UK and Europe and has been awarded a number of prestigious grants. Graphene is still a science-driven research field and not yet a commercialised technology.

The rest of the summary can be found either at Nanowerk or in this University of Manchester Feb. 18, 2013 news release.

The University of Manchester Innovation Group (aka UMI3) mentioned in connection with Clive Rowland hosts the complete interview (12 pp), which, read from the beginning, provides an enhanced perspective on the university’s graphene commercialization goals,

Graphene – The University of Manchester and Intellectual Property. Dan Cochlin talks to Clive Rowland – The University’s InnovationGroup CEO –‐ about the launch of a new grapheme company at the University, 2–‐DTech Ltd, And grapheme patents and commercialisation.

What is grapheme and why is there so much interest in it?

Graphene is a revolutionary nano material which was first isolated at The University of Manchester By Professors Andre Geim And Konstantin Novoselov. They received the Nobel Prize in 2010 For their ingenious work on graphene. People are excited about it because it has the potential to transform a vast range of products due to its very superior capabilities compared to existing materials.

So what’s the new company about?

It makes and sells CVD graphene, grapheme platelets, grapheme oxide and other advanced materials with amazing properties, which are being called 2–‐D – two dimensional – due to  their single atomic layer thickness. In other words, they’re so thin it’s as if they only have length and breadth dimensions. It will soon have an e–‐commerce site too, where customers can shop on–‐line. The Company will create and develop intellectual property, especially by engaging in interesting assignments such as collaborating with firms on design projects. It will also provide consulting services ,in the field, either directly or by sub–‐contracting to our relevant academic colleagues here at the University. We’re already an international team – with Antiguan, British and Italian people actively involved in the business and a fast developing business agency network in the Far East and the USA.

What’s CVD?

It’s one of the techniques for making grapheme that 2-DTech uses –‐ chemical vapour deposition –‐ which allows us to grow grapheme on foils and films in quite large area sizes for various potential uses, particularly information technology and communications because of graphene’s high quality and unique electronic transport, flexibility and other astounding attributes.

Well why have you only just set this up when others have been doing so for a while now?

The University’s researchers in physics and materials science have been able to make enough grapheme for their own needs until lately, but not any longer. Besides, there has been an expansion of interest across the University in the potential of the material, including from areas such as health and bio–‐sciences. Hence we want to make sure that the University has a regular supply for those colleagues who cannot continue to make it in sufficient quantities or who aren’t familiar with the material.

In addition many of the companies in contact with the University’s Researchers are in a similarly constrained position. So we feel the need to have a University Facility to handle this which is free of the normal academic duties and interests. At the same time we see an international business opportunity.

There’s a strong market demand for high quality grapheme of a consistent nature and a growing interest in other 2–‐D crystals. A number of researchers, especially our CTO Dr Branson Belle, who had been researching 2–‐D Materials and making grapheme for a long time became interested in the business side. …

Thank you Clive Rowland and the University of Manchester for insight into the graphene commercialization efforts on the part of at least one university.  Meanwhile, the comment about producing enough graphene for research reminds me of the queries I get from entrepreneurs about getting access to nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) or cellulose nanocrystals (CNC). To my knowledge, no one outside the research community has gotten access to the materials. I wonder if despite the fact there are two manufacturing facilities whether this may be due to an inability to produce enough CNC or NCC.

Another day, another graphene centre in the UK as the Graphene flagship consortium’s countdown begins

The University of Cambridge has announced a Cambridge Graphene Centre due to open by the end of 2013 according to a Jan. 24, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

The Cambridge Graphene Centre will start its activities on February 1st 2013, with a dedicated facility due to open at the end of the year. Its objective is to take graphene to the next level, bridging the gap between academia and industry. It will also be a shared research facility with state-of-the-art equipment, which any scientist researching graphene will have the opportunity to use.

The University of Cambridge Jan. 24, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, describes the plans for graphene research and commercialization,

The first job for those working in the Cambridge Graphene Centre will be to find ways of manufacturing and optimising graphene films, dispersions and inks so that it can be used to good effect.

Professor Andrea Ferrari, who will be the Centre’s Director, said: “We are now in the second phase of graphene research, following the award of the Nobel Prize to Geim and Novoselov. That means we are targeting applications and manufacturing processes, and broadening research to other two-dimensional materials and hybrid systems. The integration of these new materials could bring a new dimension to future technologies, creating faster, thinner, stronger, more flexible broadband devices.”

One such project, led by Dr Stephan Hofmann, a Reader and specialist in nanotechnology, will look specifically at the manufacturability of graphene and other, layered, 2D materials. At the moment, sheets of graphene that are just one atom thick are difficult to grow in a controllable manner, manipulate, or connect with other materials.

Dr Hofmann’s research team will focus on a growth method called chemical vapour deposition (CVD), which has already opened up other materials, such as diamond, carbon nanotubes and gallium nitride, to industrial scale production.

“The process technology will open up new horizons for nanomaterials, built layer by layer, which means that it could lead to an amazing range of future devices and applications,” Dr Hofmann said.

The Government funding for the Centre is complemented by strong industrial support, worth an additional £13 million, from over 20 partners, including Nokia, Dyson, Plastic Logic, Philips and BaE systems. A further £11M of European Research Council funding will support activities with the Graphene Institute in Manchester, and Lancaster University. [emphasis mine]

Its work will focus on taking graphene from a state of raw potential to a point where it can revolutionise flexible, wearable and transparent electronics. The Centre will target the manufacture of graphene on an industrial scale, and applications in the areas of flexible electronics, energy, connectivity and optoelectronics.

Professor Yang Hao, of Queen Mary, University of London, will lead Centre activities targeting connectivity, so that graphene can be integrated into networked devices, with the ultimate vision of creating an “internet of things”.

Professor Clare Grey, from Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, will lead the activities targeting the use of graphene in super-capacitors and batteries for energy storage. The research could, ultimately, provide a more effective energy storage for electric vehicles, storage on the grid, as well as boosting the energy storage possibilities of personal devices such as MP3 players and mobile phones.

The announcement of a National Graphene Institute in Manchester was mentioned in my Jan. 14, 2013 posting and both the University of Manchester and the Lancaster University are part of the Graphene Flagship consortium along with the University of Cambridge and Sweden’s Chalmers University, which is the lead institution, and others competing against three other Flagship projects for one of two 1B Euro prizes.

These two announcements (Cambridge Graphene Centre and National Graphene Institute come at an interesting time, the decision as to which two projects will receive 1B Euros for research is being announced Jan. 28, 2013 in Brussels, Belgium. The Jan. 15, 2013 article by Frank Jordans on the R&D website provides a few more details,

Teams of scientists from across the continent [Europe] are vying for a funding bonanza that could see two of them receive up to €1 billion ($1.33 billion) over 10 years to keep Europe at the cutting edge of technology.

The contest began with 26 proposals that were whittled down to six last year. Just four have made it to the final round.

They include a plan to develop digital guardian angels that would keep people safe from harm; a massive data-crunching machine to simulate social, economic and technological change on our planet; an effort to craft the most accurate computer model of the human brain to date; and a team working to find better ways to produce and employ graphene—an ultra-thin material that could revolutionize manufacturing of everything from airplanes to computer chips.

Jordans’ article goes on to further explain the reasoning for this extraordinary contest. All four groups must be highly focused on Monday’s (Jan. 28, 2013) announcement from EU (European Union) officials, after all, two prizes and four competitors means that the odds of winning are 50/50. Good luck!

National Graphene Institute at the UK’s University of Manchester

It will house the UK’s graphene research efforts according to the Jan. 14, 2013 news item Nanowerk,

This is the first glimpse of the new £61m research institute into wonder material graphene, which is to be built at The University of Manchester.

The stunning, glass-fronted National Graphene Institute (NGI) will be the UK’s home of research into the world’s thinnest, strongest and most conductive material, providing the opportunity for researchers and industry to work together on a huge variety of potential applications.

The University of Manchester Jan. 14, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, spells out some of the hopes and dreams along with descriptions of the building plans,

It is hoped the centre will initially create around 100 jobs, with the long-term expectation of many thousands more in the North West and more widely in the UK.

The 7,600 square metre building will house state-of-the-art facilities, including two ‘cleanrooms’ – one which will take up the whole of the lower ground floor – where scientists can carry out experiments and research without contamination.

The Institute will also feature a 1,500 square metre research lab for University of Manchester graphene scientists to collaborate with their colleagues from industry and other UK universities.

Funding for the NGI will come from £38m from the Government, as part of £50m allocated for graphene research, and the University has applied for £23m from the European Research and Development Fund (ERDF). The NGI will operate as a ‘hub and spoke’ model, working with other UK institutions involved in graphene research.

Some of the world’s leading companies are also expected to sign up to work at the NGI, where they will be offered the chance to work on cutting edge projects, across various sectors, with Nobel Laureates and other leading members of the graphene team.

Graphene, isolated for the first time at The University of Manchester by Professor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov in 2004, has the potential to revolutionise a huge number of diverse applications; from smartphones and ultrafast broadband to drug delivery and computer chips.


Professor Colin Bailey, Vice-President and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, added: “The National Graphene Institute will be the world’s leading centre of graphene research, combining the expertise of University of Manchester academics with their counterparts at other UK universities and with leading global commercial organisations.

“The potential for its impact on the city and the North West is huge, and will be one of the most exciting centres of cutting edge research in the UK.”

Work is set to start on the five-story NGI, which will have its entrance on Booth Street East, in March, and is expected to be completed in early 2015.

UK National Graphene Institute (NGI) Illustration courtesy of the University of Manchester, UK

UK National Graphene Institute (NGI) Illustration courtesy of the University of Manchester, UK

The University of Manchester is one of the institutions that forms the Graphene Flagship consortium which is currently competing for one of two European Union prizes of 1 Billion Euros for research to be awarded later this year.

Nano crafts class: get out your ‘paper’ and scissors

It’s not all atomic force microscopy and nanotweezers as scientists keep reminding us that the techniques we learned in kindergarten can be all the high technology we need even when working at the nanoscale. From the Nov. 14, 2012 news item on ScienceDaily,

Two Northwestern University researchers have discovered a remarkably easy way to make nanofluidic devices: using paper and scissors. And they can cut a device into any shape and size they want, adding to the method’s versatility.

The Nov. 14, 2012 Northwestern University news release by Megan Fellman explains both nanofluidic devices and the new technique,

Nanofluidic devices are attractive because their thin channels can transport ions — and with them a higher than normal electric current — making the devices promising for use in batteries and new systems for water purification, harvesting energy and DNA sorting.

The “paper-and-scissors” method one day could be used to manufacture large-scale nanofluidic devices without relying on expensive lithography techniques.

The Northwestern duo found that simply stacking up sheets of the inexpensive material graphene oxide creates flexible “paper” with tens of thousands of very useful channels. A tiny gap forms naturally between neighboring sheets, and each gap is a channel through which ions can flow.

Using a pair of regular scissors, the researchers simply cut the paper into a desired shape, which, in the case of their experiments, was a rectangle.

“In a way, we were surprised that these nanochannels actually worked, because creating the device was so easy,” said Jiaxing Huang, who conducted the research with postdoctoral fellow Kalyan Raidongia. “No one had thought about the space between sheet-like materials before. Using the space as a flow channel was a wild idea. We ran our experiment at least 10 times to be sure we were right.”

The process is a little more complex than kindergarten crafts (from Fellman’s news release),

To create a working device, the researchers took a pair of scissors and cut a piece of their graphene oxide paper into a centimeter-long rectangle. They then encased the paper in a polymer, drilled holes to expose the ends of the rectangular piece and filled up the holes with an electrolyte solution (a liquid containing ions) to complete the device.

Next they put electrodes at both ends and tested the electrical conductivity of the device. Huang and Raidongia observed higher than normal current, and the device worked whether flat or bent.

The nanochannels have significantly different — and desirable — properties from their bulk channel counterparts, Huang said. The nanochannels have a concentrating effect, resulting in an electric current much higher than those in bulk solutions.

Graphene oxide is basically graphene sheets decorated with oxygen-containing groups. It is made from inexpensive graphite powders by chemical reactions known for more than a century.

Scaling up the size of the device is simple. Tens of thousands of sheets or layers create tens of thousands of nanochannels, each channel approximately one nanometer high. There is no limit to the number of layers — and thus channels — one can have in a piece of paper.

To manufacture very massive arrays of channels, one only needs to put more graphene oxide sheets in the paper or to stack up many pieces of paper. A larger device, of course, can handle larger quantities of electrolyte.

Kindergarten techniques worked well for Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov who received Nobel prizes for their work on graphene (from my Oct. 7,2010 posting),

The technique that Geim and Novoselov used to create the first graphene sheets both amuses and fascinates me (from the article by Kit Eaton on the Fast Company website),

The two scientists came up with the technique that first resulted in samples of graphene–peeling individual atoms-deep sheets of the material from a bigger block of pure graphite. The science here seems almost foolishly simple, but it took a lot of lateral thinking to dream up, and then some serious science to investigate: Geim and Novoselo literally “ripped” single sheets off the graphite by using regular adhesive tape.

Then, there’s the ‘Shrinky Dinks’ nanopatterning technique (from my Aug. 16,2010 posting),

Scientists at a Northwestern University laboratory have taken to using a children’s arts and crafts product, Shrinky Dinks, for a new way to create large area nanoscale patterns on the cheap.

It’s good to be reminded that science at its heart is not about expensive equipment and complicated techniques but a means of exploring the world around us with the means at hand.