The wonders of graphene on display

05 Jul 2011

An interactive exhibit highlighting the almost limitless potential of the world’s thinnest material goes on display today.

Graphene models on display at the exhibition
Graphene models on display at the exhibition

Graphene, discovered in 2004 at The University of Manchester by Professor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov, is one of the world’s most versatile materials, and is already being used in such varied applications as touch screens, transistors and aircraft wings.

Researchers from the University are presenting the vast potential of the wonder material at the Royal Society’s annual Summer Science Exhibition which opens today. 

The display aims to tell the remarkable story of the discovery of graphene, and how Professors Geim and Novoselov realised the full significance of their work – culminating in the award of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics.

The pair, who have worked together for more than a decade since Professor Novoselov was Professor Geim’s PHD student, used to devote every Friday evening to ‘out of the box’  experiments not directly linked to their main research topics.

One Friday, they used Scotch tape to peel away layers of carbon from a piece of graphite, and were left with a single atom thick, two dimensional film of carbon – graphene.

Visitors will be given the chance to learn what a two dimensional material looks like using simple models, and to make graphene themselves.

In an interactive display called the Virtual Microscope visitors will be able to see real images of graphene, originally obtained in one of the world’s most advanced Transmission Electron Microscopes (TEM), the Daresbury SuperSTEM.

The high magnifications that can be achieved in this instrument allow direct observation of the atomic lattice of graphene, in its perfect state, but also with defects and foreign atoms, unintentionally or deliberately introduced. The SuperSTEM images have been implemented in the Virtual Microscope in a way that allows zooming into areas of interest like in the real instrument.

The material, which resembles a “chicken wire” like structure and was previously thought to be unstable in its free form, is very strong, transparent and highly conductive.

Many of its properties are unique or far superior to those in other materials, which make it such an exciting new material to study.

Charge carriers in graphene appear to have no mass and can travel very large distances without being scattered. This makes it a good testing ground for interesting quantum effects and gives it many applications for fast electronics. It is extremely transparent and being such a good electrical conductor makes it an ideal transparent electrode in LCD displays and solar cells.

The researchers have also made gas sensors from graphene several times smaller than a hair’s width and so sensitive they can detect when a single gas molecule is present on them.

It makes an extremely strong support membrane for observing biological molecules in a Transmission Electron Microscope and is so electron transparent even individual metal atoms can be seen on its surface, which visitors can experience for themselves in the virtual TEM. It is the strongest material found so far, which can be used to make ultra-strong, conductive composite materials.

The exhibit will also feature entertaining and educational iPad games, which can also be downloaded for iOS and Android devices from their respective app stores.

One of the exhibitors, Dr Ernie Hill, said: “This is a great opportunity for us to present some of our groundbreaking work to the general public in what we hope is an interesting and entertaining way.

“The story of how Andre and Kostya produced this remarkable material is inspirational for any youngster wishing to enter research as a career and indeed to anyone with an interest in scientific discovery.”

The scientists will be on hand at the exhibition which runs from 5 July to 10 July, to talk visitors through the research.

Notes for editors

Dr Ernie Hill is available for interview on request

Images of graphene and of the Nobel Prize winners are available on request.
Visit www.sse2011.graphene.org and the Twitter page #sse2011graphene

For media enquiries please contact:

Daniel Cochlin
Media Relations Officer
The University of Manchester
0161 275 8387
daniel.cochlin@manchester.ac.uk

The Royal Society

1.    A press preview will take place between 3pm – 5pm on Monday 4 July. Please contact the Royal Society press office to make arrangements to attend this.

2.    General info:  The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition showcases cutting edge research in science and engineering from across the UK. It is held annually at the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science. Follow the Summer Science Exhibition on Twitter at www.twitter.com/summerscience using the hashtag #SSE2011.

3.    Exhibition opening times:  The Exhibition is located in the Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5 AG and takes place from Tuesday 5 July to Sunday 10 July 2011. Open Tuesday 5 July 10am – 9pm, Wednesday 6 – Thursday 7 July 10am – 5pm, Friday 8 July 10am – 9pm, Saturday 9 July 10am – 6pm, Sunday 10 July 11am – 6pm.  The event is FREE and open to the public.  Further information can be found at http://royalsociety.org/summer-science/2011/.

4.    The Royal Society is the UK’s national academy of science.  Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as a provider of independent scientific advice, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. Our expertise is embodied in the Fellowship, which is made up of the finest scientists from the UK and beyond.  Our goals are to:

•    Invest in future scientific leaders and in innovation
•    Influence policymaking with the best scientific advice
•    Invigorate science and mathematics education
•    Increase access to the best science internationally
•    Inspire an interest in the joy, wonder and excitement of scientific discovery

For further information please visit http://royalsociety.org. Follow the Royal Society on Twitter at http://twitter.com/royalsociety or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/theroyalsociety.

For further information contact:

Nicola Kane
Press and Public Relations
The Royal Society, London
Tel: 020 7451 2508
Email: nicola.kane@royalsociety.org