Tag Archives: University of Manchester

New ‘Star of David’-shaped molecule from University of Manchester

It sounds like the scientists took their inspiration from Maurits Cornelius Escher (M. C. Escher) when they created their ‘Star of David’ molecule. From a Sept. 22, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Scientists at The University of Manchester have generated a new star-shaped molecule made up of interlocking rings, which is the most complex of its kind ever created.

Here’s a representation of the molecule,

Atoms in the Star of David molecule. Image credit: University of Manchester

Atoms in the Star of David molecule. Image credit: University of Manchester

Here’s a ‘star’ sculpture based on Escher’s work,

Sculpture of the small stellated dodecahedron that appears in Escher's Gravitation. It can be found in front of the "Mesa+" building on the Campus of the University of Twente.

Sculpture of the small stellated dodecahedron that appears in Escher’s Gravitation. It can be found in front of the “Mesa+” building on the Campus of the University of Twente (Netherlands)

If you get a chance to see the Escher ‘star’, you’ll be able to see more plainly how the planes of the ‘star’ interlock. (I had the opportunity when visiting the University of Twente in Oct. 2012.)

Getting back to Manchester, a Sept. 22, 2014 University of Manchester press release (also on EurekAlert but dated Sept. 21, 2014), which originated the news item, describes the decades-long effort to create this molecule and provides a few technical details,

Known as a ‘Star of David’ molecule, scientists have been trying to create one for over a quarter of a century and the team’s findings are published at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern Time on 21 September 2014 in the journal Nature Chemistry.

Consisting of two molecular triangles, entwined about each other three times into a hexagram, the structure’s interlocked molecules are tiny – each triangle is 114 atoms in length around the perimeter. The molecular triangles are threaded around each other at the same time that the triangles are formed, by a process called ‘self-assembly’, similar to how the DNA double helix is formed in biology.

The molecule was created at The University of Manchester by PhD student Alex Stephens.

Professor David Leigh, in Manchester’s School of Chemistry, said: “It was a great day when Alex finally got it in the lab.  In nature, biology already uses molecular chainmail to make the tough, light shells of certain viruses and now we are on the path towards being able to reproduce its remarkable properties.

“It’s the next step on the road to man-made molecular chainmail, which could lead to the development of new materials which are light, flexible and very strong.  Just as chainmail was a breakthrough over heavy suits of armour in medieval times, this could be a big step towards materials created using nanotechnology. I hope this will lead to many exciting developments in the future.”

The team’s next step will be to make larger, more elaborate, interlocked structures.

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

A Star of David catenane by David A. Leigh, Robin G. Pritchard, & Alexander J. Stephens. Nature Chemistry (2014) doi:10.1038/nchem.2056
Published online 21 September 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

Metaphors in a brief overview of the nanomedicine scene circa August 2014

An Aug. 1, 2014 article by Guizhi Zhu (University of Florida), Lei Mei ((Hunan University; China), and Weihong Tan (University of Florida) for The Scientist provides an overview of the latest and greatest regarding nanomedicine while underscoring the persistence of certain medical metaphors. This overview features a prediction and a relatively benign (pun intended) metaphor,

Both the academic community and the pharmaceutical industry are making increasing investments of time and money in nanotherapeutics. Nearly 50 biomedical products incorporating nanoparticles are already on the market, and many more are moving through the pipeline, with dozens in Phase 2 or Phase 3 clinical trials. Drugmakers are well on their way to realizing the prediction of Christopher Guiffre, chief business officer at the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based nanotherapeutics company Cerulean Pharma, who last November forecast, “Five years from now every pharma will have a nano program.”

Technologies that enable improved cancer detection are constantly racing against the diseases they aim to diagnose, and when survival depends on early intervention, losing this race can be fatal. [emphasis mine] While detecting cancer biomarkers is the key to early diagnosis, the number of bona fide biomarkers that reliably reveal the presence of cancerous cells is low. To overcome this challenge, researchers are developing functional nanomaterials for more sensitive detection of intracellular metabolites, tumor cell–membrane proteins, and even cancer cells that are circulating in the bloodstream. (See “Fighting Cancer with Nanomedicine,” The Scientist, April 2014.)

So, the first metaphor ‘racing’ gives the reader a sense of urgency, the next ones, including “fighting cancer’, provoke a somewhat different state of mind,

Eye on the target

The prototype of targeted drug delivery can be traced back to the concept of a “magic bullet,” proposed by chemotherapy pioneer and 1908 Nobel laureate Paul Ehrlich. [emphasis mine] E[hrlich envisioned a drug that could selectively target a disease-causing organism or diseased cells, leaving healthy tissue unharmed. A century later, researchers are developing many types of nanoscale “magic bullets” that can specifically deliver drugs into target cells or tissues.

It would seem we might be in a state of war as you ‘fight cancer’ with your ‘eyes on the target’ as you ‘shoot magic bullets’ in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the start to World War I.

Kostas Kostarelos wrote a Nov. 29, 2013 posting for the Guardian Science Blogs where he (professor of nanomedicine at the University of Manchester and director of the university’s Nanomedicine Lab) discussed war metaphors in medicine and possible unintended consequences (Note: A link has been removed). Here’s his discussion about the metaphors,

Almost every night I have watched the news these past few months my senses have been assaulted by unpleasant, at times distressing, images of war: missiles, killings and chemical bombs in Syria, Kenya, the USA. I wake up the next morning, trying to forget what I watched the night before, and going to work with our researchers to develop the next potential high-tech cure for cancer, thinking: “does what we do matter at all … ?”

So I was intrigued by an article that will be published in one of the scientific journals in our field entitled: “Nanomedicine metaphors: from war to care”. The next lab meeting we had was very awkward, because I was constantly thinking that indeed a lot of the words we were using to communicate our science were directly imported from the language of war. Targeting, stealth nanoparticle, smart bomb, elimination, triggered release, cell death. I struggled to find alternative language.

… Hollywood analogies and simplistic interpretations about “good” and “bad” may be inaccurate, but they do seem appropriate and convincing.

I must say, however, that even in pathology, modern medicine increasingly considers the disease to be part of our body, often leading to successful treatment not by “eradication” and “elimination” but by holistic management of a chronic condition. The case of HIV therapeutics is perhaps the brightest example of such revisionist thinking, which has transformed the disease from a “death sentence” in the early years after its discovery to a nonlethal chronic infection today.

Kostarelos then contrasts the less warlike ‘modern medicine’ metaphors with nanomedicine,

In nanomedicine, which is the application of nanotechnologies and nanomaterials to design medical treatments, the war imagery is even more prevalent. Two of the most clinically successful and intensively studied technologies that operate at the nanoscale are “stealth” and “targeted” medicines. “Stealth” refers to a hydrophilic (water-loving) shield built around a molecule or nanoparticle, made from polymers, that minimises its recognition by the body’s defence mechanisms. “Targeting” refers to the specific binding of certain molecules (such as antibodies, peptides and others) to receptors (or other proteins) present only at the surface of diseased cells. The literature in nanomedicine is abundant with both “stealthing”, “targeting” and combinations thereof.

Kostarelos then asks this question,

The question I keep asking myself since I read the article about war metaphors in nanomedicine has been whether we are using terminology in a simplistic, single-minded manner that could stifle creative and out-of-the-box thinking.

Intriguing unintended consequences, yes?

Getting back to The Scientist article, which I found quite informative and interesting, its ‘war metaphors’ seem to extend even to some of the artwork accompanying the article,

[downloaded from http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/40598/title/Nanomedicine/]

[downloaded from http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/40598/title/Nanomedicine/]

Is that a capsule or a bullet? Regardless, this * article provides a good overview of the research.

* The word ‘a’ was removed on Aug. 8, 2014.

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.

Of graphene cities and Manchester (UK)

I have expressed great admiration for the graphene publicity effort (mentioned in this Feb. 21, 2012 posting and elsewhere) put on by the UK during the run up to its European Commission award of a 1B Euro research prize in January 2013 (mentioned in my Jan. 28, 2013 posting). Officially, the award was given to the Graphene FET (future and emerging technologies) flagship project consortium headed by Chalmers University (Sweden).

The University of Manchester, a member of the consortium, has been active in graphene research and commercialization in the UK, from my Feb. 19, 2013 posting,

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.

Manchester is the site for one of two graphene institutions in the UK as per my Jan. 14, 2013 posting titled, National Graphene Institute at the UK’s University of Manchester. The other is in Cambridge as per my Jan. 24, 2013 posting titled, Another day, another graphene centre in the UK as the Graphene flagship consortium’s countdown begins.

The latest item ‘graphene & UK’ (Manchester) item I’m featuring here is a May 12, 2014 news item on Azonano titled, ‘Graphene City’ Can be a Model for Commercialising Scientific Discoveries (Note: A link has been removed),

This is a blog [posting] by James Baker, Business Director for Graphene@Manchester. As the government announces further support for the UK’s emerging graphene industry, James Baker from the National Graphene Institute says the emerging concept of a ‘graphene city’ can be a UK model for commercialising new scientific discoveries.

After a few fits and starts, I traced the news item to a May 7, 2014 posting on the University of Manchester’s [Manchester] Policy Blogs: Science and Technology blog,

Announcing new investments into graphene commercialisation in March’s [2014] Budget, Chancellor George Osborne described the material as a “great British discovery that we should break the habit of a lifetime with and commercially develop in Britain”.

As the new business director for the National Graphene Institute (NGI), which has its new £61m building opening here at the University next year, I obviously couldn’t agree more.

I first came across graphene in my previous job at defence giant BAE Systems where I was in charge of technology collaboration programmes. We ran a number of ‘futures’ workshops where the aim was to get senior executives to think about how the wider world might look in 20 years time.

In defence there has been much debate about the need for a coherent defence industrial strategy to ensure we have the necessary skills and industrial capabilities for the future, and it was through these sessions that a wider dialogue around technologies such as graphene as a potential ‘disruptive’ capability started to emerge.

Whether it’s helping develop new lightweight components for aircraft or battery packs for soldiers, or developing flexible touch screens for the specialist gadget market, graphene has a vast array of potential uses.

My role is to sign up potential industrial partners who want to collaborate with The University of Manchester and take the graphene science to a higher maturity and onto commercialisation. We are looking for partners across a range of sectors who want to operate in this environment in an open, shared and collaborative way.

The vision of creating a ‘graphene city’ in the 21st century can be compared with Manchester in the 19th century when economic activity and innovation developed largely in the absence of the state.

If you are interested in graphene commercialization in the UK, this posting offers some insight into how at least one person involved in this process views the possibilities.

Graphene and your sex life

This is a first, as far as I know, for graphene, which is usually discussed in the context of electronics. A research team at the University of Manchester (where it was first isolated by Andre Gerim and Kostya Novoselov in 2004) has won a research grant to develop condoms made of graphere, from the Nov. 22, 2013 news item on Azonano,

Wonder material graphene faces its stiffest challenge yet – providing thinner, stronger, safer and more desirable condoms.

Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan and his team from The University of Manchester have received a Grand Challenges Explorations grant of $100,000 (£62,123) from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop new composite nano-materials for next-generation condoms, containing graphene.

Dr Vijayaraghavan took on a challenge that had been presented to inventors around the world– to develop new technology that would make the condom more desirable for use, which could lead to an increase in condom use.

Here’s how the challenge was presented in March 2013 (from the Develop the Next Generation of Condom challenge webpage on the Grand Challenges (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) website,

Male condoms are cheap, easy to manufacture, easy to distribute, and available globally, including in resource poor settings, through numerous well developed distribution channels.  The current rate of global production is 15 billion units/year with an estimated 750 million users and a steadily growing market. …

The one major drawback to more universal use of male condoms is the lack of perceived incentive for consistent use. The primary drawback from the male perspective is that condoms decrease pleasure as compared to no condom, creating a trade-off that many men find unacceptable, particularly given that the decisions about use must be made just prior to intercourse. …

Likewise, female condoms can be an effective method for prevention of unplanned pregnancy or HIV infection, but suffer from some of the same liabilities as male condoms, require proper insertion training and are substantially more expensive than their male counterparts. …

The Challenge: 

Condoms have been in use for about 400 years yet they have undergone very little technological improvement in the past 50 years. The primary improvement has been the use of latex as the primary material and quality control measures which allow for quality testing of each individual condom. Material science and our understanding of neurobiology has undergone revolutionary transformation in the last decade yet that knowledge has not been applied to improve the product attributes of one of the most ubiquitous and potentially underutilized products on earth. New concept designs with new materials can be prototyped and tested quickly.  Large-scale human clinical trials are not required. Manufacturing capacity, marketing, and distribution channels are already in place.

We are looking for a Next Generation Condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use. Additional concepts that might increase uptake include attributes that increase ease-of-use for male and female condoms, for example better packaging or designs that are easier to properly apply. In addition, attributes that address and overcome cultural barriers are also desired.  Proposals must (i) have a testable hypothesis, (ii) include an associated plan for how the idea would be tested or validated, and (iii) yield interpretable and unambiguous data in Phase I, in order to be considered for Phase II funding.

A few examples of work that would be considered for funding:

  • Application of safe new materials that may preserve or enhance sensation;
  • Development and testing of new condom shapes/designs that may provide an improved user experience;
  • Application of knowledge from other fields (e.g. neurobiology, vascular biology) to new strategies for improving condom desirability.

The project’s team leader, Dr Vijayaraghavan had a few things to say about the possibilities for this composite material (graphene and latex) they are hoping to develop (from the Nov. 21, 2013 University of Manchester news release, which originated the news item on Azonano),

Dr Vijayaraghavan said: “This composite material will be tailored to enhance the natural sensation during intercourse while using a condom, which should encourage and promote condom use.

“This will be achieved by combining the strength of graphene with the elasticity of latex, to produce a new material which can be thinner, stronger, more stretchy, safer and, perhaps most importantly, more pleasurable.”

He also comments on the impact of this project: “Since its isolation in 2004, people have wondered when graphene will be used in our daily life. Currently, people imagine using graphene in mobile-phone screens, food packaging, chemical sensors, etc.

“If this project is successful, we might have a use for graphene which will literally touch our every-day life in the most intimate way.”

I wonder who will be testing these condoms when the time comes.

For anyone who wants to know more about the graphene story, there are these postings (excerpted from my Jan. 3, 2012 posting about their then newly acquired knighthoods): regarding Geim and Novoselov’s work and their Nobel prizes, “my Oct. 7, 2010 posting, which also features a video of a levitating frog (one of Geim’s favourite science stunts) and my Nov. 26, 2010 posting features a video demonstrating how you can make your own graphene sheets.”

One final note, I posted about the Canadian Grand Challenges funding (not be contused with the US-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation programme) in this Nov. 21, 2013 posting.

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.

Three teams observe graphene butterflies

It took me a few minutes to find the butterflies (visual pattern recognition is not one of my strengths) but here they are,

Caption: Graphene, combined with white graphene, forms stunning 'butterfly' images. Credit: The University of Manchester

Caption: Graphene, combined with white graphene, forms stunning ‘butterfly’ images.
Credit: The University of Manchester

The May 15, 2013 University of Manchester news release (on EurekAlert and on the University of Manchester news site) describes how the ‘butterflies’ are formed,

Writing in Nature, a large international team led Dr Roman Gorbachev from The University of Manchester shows that, when graphene placed on top of insulating boron nitride, or ‘white graphene’, the electronic properties of graphene change dramatically revealing a pattern resembling a butterfly.

The pattern is referred to as the elusive Hofstadter butterfly that has been known in theory for many decades but never before observed in experiments.

More of the science needs to be explained before moving on with the ‘butterflies’ (from the news release),

One of the most remarkable properties of graphene is its high conductivity – thousands of times higher than copper. This is due to a very special pattern created by electrons that carry electricity in graphene. The carriers are called Dirac fermions and mimic massless relativistic particles called neutrinos, studies of which usually require huge facilities such as at CERN. The possibility to address similar physics in a desk-top experiment is one of the most renowned features of graphene.

Now the Manchester scientists have found a way to create multiple clones of Dirac fermions. Graphene is placed on top of boron nitride so that graphene’s electrons can ‘feel’ individual boron and nitrogen atoms. Moving along this atomic ‘washboard’, electrons rearrange themselves once again producing multiple copies of the original Dirac fermions.

Here’s where the butterflies appear (from the news release),

The researchers can create even more clones by applying a magnetic field. The clones produce an intricate pattern; the Hofstadter butterfly. It was first predicted by mathematician Douglas Hofstadter in 1976 and, despite many dedicated experimental efforts, no more than a blurred glimpse was reported before.

In addition to the described fundamental interest, the Manchester study proves that it is possible to modify properties of atomically-thin materials by placing them on top of each other. This can be useful, for example, for graphene applications such as ultra-fast photodetectors and transistors, providing a way to tweak its incredible properties.

Coincidentally, another team has also observed the Hofstadter butterfly on a graphene substrate. From the May 16, 2013 news item on Azonano,

Two research teams at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (MagLab) broke through a nearly 40-year barrier recently when they observed a never-before-seen energy pattern.

“The observation of the ‘Hofstadter butterfly’ marks a real landmark in condensed matter physics and high magnetic field research,” said Greg Boebinger, director of the MagLab. “It opens a new experimental direction in materials research.”

This groundbreaking research demanded the ability to measure samples of materials at very low temperatures and very high magnetic fields, up to 35 tesla. Both of those conditions are available at the MagLab, making it an international destination for scientific exploration.

The unique periodic structure used to observe the butterfly pattern was composed of boron nitride (BN) and graphene.

The May 15, 2013 Florida State University news release by Kristin Roberts, which originated the news item, describes the two teams using the MagLab facilities for their ‘butterfly’ observations,

One research team was led by Columbia University’s Philip Kim and included researchers from City University of New York, the University of Central Florida, Tohoku University and the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan. The team’s work will be published today in the Advanced Online Publication of the journal Nature. Similar results were discovered at the MagLab by a group led by Pablo Jarillo-Herrero and Raymond Ashoori at MIT, as well as scientists from Tohoku University and the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan. Their work is expected to be published soon.

For those who just can’t get enough graphene butterflies here are citations for and links to both recently published papers (the Jarillo-Herrero/Ashoori team will be publishing their work soon).

Cloning of Dirac fermions in graphene superlattices by L. A. Ponomarenko, R. V. Gorbachev, G. L. Yu,D. C. Elias, R. Jalil, A. A. Patel, A. Mishchenko, A. S. Mayorov, C. R. Woods, J. R. Wallbank, M. Mucha-Kruczynski, B. A. Piot, M. Potemski, I. V. Grigorieva, K. S. Novoselov, F. Guinea, V. I. Fal’ko & A. K. Geim. Nature doi:10.1038/nature12187 Published online   

and,

Hofstadter’s butterfly and the fractal quantum Hall effect in moiré superlattices by C. R. Dean, L. Wang, P. Maher, C. Forsythe, F. Ghahari, Y. Gao, J. Katoch, M. Ishigami, P. Moon, M. Koshino, T. Taniguchi, K. Watanabe, K. L. Shepard, J. Hone & P. Kim. Nature (2013) doi:10.1038/nature12186 Published online 15 May 2013

Both papers are behind paywalls.

£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.