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Changing the world with sticky-tape and a pencil

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In this era of rapid advancement in digital technologies, we’re used to over-hyped and superlative-laden announcements for new innovative products that promise to transform our lives. One fairly recent innovation has the potential to revolutionise many facets of human life but it still hasn’t made it to mainstream awareness despite deserving all the superlatives and hyperbole you could muster.


Based on my straw poll in the office, about half of you will now be smugly congratulating yourselves for having heard of it and knowing roughly what it is and the other half will be thinking “huh – what?”

At its simplest, but hardest to produce, graphene is a one-atom-thin honeycomb lattice of carbon which has extraordinary properties.

Graphene infographic

Since discovering how to create thin layers following experiments with pencils and sticky tape (yes really) at The University of Manchester (UoM) over a decade ago, the work has earned its pioneers the Nobel Prize in Physics and new fields of graphene research have developed throughout the world’s top institutions.

Potential applications of graphene technologies are wide-ranging; from faster microprocessors and supercapacitor batteries to seawater filtration, ultra-lightweight composite materials and biomedical sensors.  Imagine having a super-flexible graphene tattoo printed onto your skin after surgery to monitor your vital signs or how about a graphene contact lens that helps you see in the dark. Something as everyday as a bendable smartphone with an unbreakable screen would be a major advance for most people.

The next big challenge with graphene is how to commercialise and scale-up its production and this is where the UoM’s National Graphene Institute business engagement team come in. Appointed in 2014 with a remit to attract new strategic commercial partners, Business Director James Baker said, “I am excited by the potential and challenge that graphene can provide for future products and capabilities and look forward to developing the collaborations and partnerships across academia and industry to exploit these future opportunities.”

To find out more about this wonder material you can explore UoM’s website.

James Baker will also be telling the story of graphene and how it is being commercialised at the APM Regional Conference in Manchester on 5th December.


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