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U.K. Universities Form Advanced Materials Consortium

Konstantin Novoselov (University of Manchester)

Konstantin Novoselov (University of Manchester)

The universities of Manchester, Cambridge, and Lancaster in the U.K. received funding from the European Research Council to develop new two-dimensional materials similar to graphene. The €13.4 million ($US17.7 million) grant was awarded to the three institutions under the council’s Synergy Grant initiative.

The universities will form what they call a Synergy Group to support the work of Manchester physicist Konstantin Novoselov (pictured right), Cambridge engineering professor Andrea Ferrari, and Lancaster physicist Vladimir Falko. The researchers plan to engineer new types of materials like graphene, only a few atoms thick, but with the potential to reduce the size and improve the performance of devices such as solar cells, and flexible or transparent electronics.

The team plans to begin with substances only one atom in thickness that can be layered into new materials with the combined properties of the original ingredients. These heterostructures, as the researchers call them, would enable developers to embed functions of an electronic component into its own skin or fabric.

For example, a single layer of atoms would consist of a substance that would act as a sensor, while other layered materials would function as amplifier, transistor, and solar cell (for power). Added together, the combination of layers would result in a material that could serve as a complete circuit, yet still remain only a few atoms in thickness.

The Synergy Group, says University of Manchester, will aim to combine properties of graphene with those of other, two-dimensional materials to create new applications and devices, such as transistors, solar cells, and light-enabled electronic components. Graphene is closely related to graphite like that used in pencils, but consists of only a single atomic layer of carbon atoms. The material is very light, strong, chemically stable, and can conduct both heat and electricity.

“You might think that building materials layer by layer is science fiction,” says Novoselov. “But if we succeed, this new combination of known materials, the two-dimensional atomic crystals, built layer by layer, will offer an amazing range of applications and devices.” Novoselov, with Manchester colleague Andre Geim, received the Nobel Prize in physics in 2010 for their work demonstrating the properties of graphene.

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