New research to exploit world's thinnest material

December 18, 2008

The Universities of Exeter and Bath (UK) can today reveal their plans for a new world-leading research centre to explore and exploit the properties of the thinnest material in nature. The two universities have won a £5 million Science and Innovation Award from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to create the Centre of Graphene Science.

A form of carbon, graphene was discovered in 2004 and is the thinnest known conducting material. It is a single layer of graphite which is just one atom thick and has unique mechanical, electrical and optical properties. Scientists believe it could play a major role in the future of computing because it has the potential to speed-up the transfer of information. It can become the basis of a new generation of devices, from ultra-fast transistors to chemical and biological sensors with ultimate (single-molecule) sensitivity. These devices will find a wide range of applications, from nano-electronics to medicine and healthcare.

Based in Exeter and Bath, the centre will act as an international focus for graphene science, supporting academic research and forging links with industry. Seven new academic positions will be created and the centre's laboratories will feature state-of-the-art equipment.

University of Exeter physicist Professor Alexander Savchenko said: "Graphene is an exciting material for fundamental research. It has many properties which make it stand out from all semiconductor layers studied and widely used so far. Working with engineering and biosciences colleagues, we want not only to understand its unique properties but find the ways of using them in practical devices for everyday use. We are delighted that Exeter will be playing such a major role in the emerging field of graphene science".

Over the next three years, the University of Exeter is investing £80 million in science. Its investment is focused on five themes, one of which is Functional Materials where graphene is a new and very important direction. The funding for this Centre marks a major step in the University achieving its ambitions to lead in materials research.

University of Bath Professor Simon Bending said: "This is a really important award which brings the combined research expertise of Bath and Exeter universities to bear on the science of graphene, one of the most remarkable materials to have been discovered in recent decades. Graphene could have a huge range of exciting applications and is even a strong candidate for replacing silicon in microelectronics. Who would have guessed that microprocessors could one day be made from the graphite found in everyday pencils!"

This is one of four five-year grants totalling £20m being awarded to the Universities of Bath, Edinburgh, Exeter, Heriot-Watt, Lancaster, Manchester and Strathclyde as a result of the EPSRC 2008 Science and Innovation Awards.

Lesley Thompson, EPSRC Director of Research, said: "These awards are part of our continuing work to ensure Britain has the necessary leadership and resources in breakthrough areas of scientific research. These new centres will have the critical mass to make major research progress, stimulate research in the UK and international community and, where appropriate, to encourage innovation in UK business and industry."

The EPSRC is funding the four programmes with supporting finance from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

David Sweeney, Director of Research, Innovation and Skills, HEFCE, added: "HEFCE is pleased to partner the EPSRC in this round of the Science and Innovation Awards focussing on emerging areas of expertise in science and engineering. We are committed to building capacity in excellent research and these awards will play their part in securing the UK's success in this area of leading edge scientific activity."
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University of Exeter

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