Pioneering lab for ‘wonder material’ Graphene opened at University of Bath

May 2, 2012

The University of Bath has officially opened its pioneering Graphene Centre Laboratory, which will study the amazing properties and develop potential applications of the ‘wonder material’.

The lab, officially opened by university Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell yesterday, is home to state-of-the-art equipment including a specially-adapted scanning probe microscope – nicknamed the nano-factory – that can build new materials and create rapid prototypes of novel devices that have never been made before.

It forms part of the Centre for Graphene Science, which pools Bath’s expertise with the University of Exeter.

Grapheneis 40 times stronger than steel and conducts  electricity 10 times better than silicon. Experts believe it could one day replace silicon in microchips.

It could be used to develop faster electronic devices, for example more advanced mobile phones and super-fast computers, flexible touch screens, and medical sensor devices.

Professor Simon Bending from the university’s Department of Physics, said: “Graphene is a remarkable material made of a single layer of carbon atoms. Combining high-strength, transparency and flexibility with excellent electrical and thermal conductivity, it has many potential applications.”

And Dr Adelina Ilie, lecturer in physics, on whose research the nano-factory is based, explained: “It works like a tiny stencil, which can spray patterns of different materials onto a layer of graphene. This allows us to build new types of devices directly onto graphene, layer by layer, to directly probe and exploit its unique properties.”

Asieh Kazemi operates , which will allow researchers to build new devices onto a single graphene layer

Dr Peter Sloan, lecturer in physics added: “With the nano-factory, we can also build up bespoke atomic-scale structures one atom at a time to link with the stencilled devices, making our new microscope world-leading.

“Not only will we make prototypes of unique graphene-based devices, but we can also really play around with some exciting fundamental physics.”

Researchers will also use the new lab to investigate the extraordinary properties of carbon nanotubes, rolled sheets of graphene some 50,000 times narrower than a human hair.

Dr Ilie has combined nanotubes with other elements to make hybrid carbon nanomaterials that are electronically patterned like striped candy canes; these stripes are so narrow that electrons are “guided” along them, suggesting they could be used as electronic connections in a quantum computer.

Dr Ilie said: “This new laboratory will enable us to investigate the huge potential applications of graphene and carbon nanotubes – the sky’s the limit!”

The Centre for Graphene Science has been funded by strategic investments by the universities of Bath and Exeter into materials research, and by a £5m award from the EPSRC/HEFCE Science and Innovation Awards Scheme 2008.

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