Graphene And Its ‘Cousins’ Need More Than Just A Killer App

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Graphene isn’t exactly a hot topic anymore, but its properties remain unchanged – and vastly unexplored. Andre Geim, one of the fathers of the exotic material, admits this much in an interview with Nature magazine.

Together with his colleague Konstantin Novoselov, Geim won the Nobel Prize in Physics for being the first to isolate and explore the impressive properties of the material – a single sheet of carbon, one-atom thick, with foreseeable application in computing, aeronautics, and pretty much every other industry. If anyone should be asked about the state of graphene, it should be him.

Explaining it is no longer a problem, but it still sits unused

It may seem that graphene isn’t the talk of the town anymore. That’s actually not true. Geim says the attention that was once centered around graphene hasn’t actually faded. Rather, it has spread to engulf other 2D materials as well, such as phosphorene and silicene. Geim affectionately says these are ‘cousins’ with graphene.

The buzz right now gravitates around 2D materials in general, not just the carbon version. Which may call for a killer app to finally put these to good use. From the interview:

“…take aluminium: it was discovered in the nineteenth century, and for decades no one knew what to do with this material. It was so wonderful, light and strong. And eventually, aircraft came as the killer app. And silicon’s story is similar. Whether something like that will happen with graphene and its cousins — other 2D materials — we just don’t know.”

But he’s not convinced this is what’s holding 2d materials back.

It’s not the job of scientists to be doing business

Geim sees a bigger hurdle in the way research money get wasted on expensive establishments, such as the £61 million ($96 million) National Graphene Institute. According to the scientist, “there should be a balance between new science and new buildings.”

Because of this, Geim and his peers are forced to seek funding by means of founding graphene companies with the help of venture capitalists. He’s already a board member at three such organizations, one of which he hopes to float on the stock market by year’s end.

But he strongly believes this type of thing should be handled by business types, not scientists. This has led the University of Manchester to encourage everyone working on graphene and 2D materials to take a business course. Selling graphene can be done with or without the research. But building graphene applications requires the PhD students that know the material first hand. Full interview here.

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