Four ERC grantees present their research at the Graphene Conference 2012

Graphene has been called the 'dream material' that could revolutionise the way we live: impacting upon everything from the electronics and manufacturing industries to neurosurgery. Some ERC projects will be showcased at the Graphene 2012 Conference in Brussels (10th-13th April). The conference will present recent discoveries in this field – concentrating on the advances made in bringing graphene to the market.

Graphene is a one-atom-thick flat sheet formed by an array of six carbon atoms arranged in hexagons to form a honey-comb crystal lattice. It is the strongest and most conductive material in the world: just one square metre of material weighing only 0.77 mg could support a weight of 4 kg. It is a highly flexible, and chemically very stable, material. It could one day replace silicon, becoming the post-silicon material the electronics industry has been searching for. Using graphene instead of silicon would enable the packing of features more densely into circuits, for example. Graphene's potential applications are huge. It could be put to use in super-strong and superlight aircraft; tyres; smart phones; flexible displays; transparent touch-screens; transistors; credit cards - even bomb detectors.

Research into graphene was boosted by the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics, awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov (an ERC Starting Grantee in 2007) for their discovery of graphene's unique properties in 2004. Research into graphene will be significant for all industries: largely because the drive to create faster, cheaper and smaller devices is vital to the expansion of technological, and economic, frontiers worldwide. Graphene has the potential to tackle Europe's grand societal challenges, particularly in the areas of energy and health.

The ERC is funding research into graphene and carbon nanotubes (CNTs), which are cylindrical rolls made of graphene sheets. In the long term the ERC's support for work on graphene will help to consolidate, and further develop, Europe's already strong position in the field of Nanotechnology. ERC funded work will advance our knowledge of graphene's future role in information, health and energy-related technologies.
The ERC projects highlighted below share a common aim: to prove that the future of graphene could be one 'dream' that delivers on its promise.

Some ERC projects in this field

Exploiting graphene to create new photonic polymers

Andrea Ferrari, a Starting Grantee 2007, is developing new kind of devices, embedding the optical and electronic functionalities of carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs), which are made of graphene, are cylindrical carbon molecules at a nanoscale level with a long and hollow structure. They have unique properties. They can be used in nanotechnology, electronics, optics and many other fields. Dr Andrea Ferrari is working on combining the unusual properties of CNTs, which are considered the strongest and the stiffest materials yet discovered, with polymer photonics. The team is looking, for instance, at how CNTs can be deposited on optical components such as fibres and mirrors. They aim to produce a range of new photonic polymers at a lower cost: such as index matching gels, optical adhesives and silicones. The results of these experiments could be essential in improving the performance of devices such as noise suppression filters or lasers. Other applications are predicted in the fields of biomedicine, chemical analysis, microscopy and surgery.

Principal Investigator: Andrea Carlo Ferrari
Host institution: The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge
Project: Nanotube Based Polymer Optoelectronics (NANOPOTS)
ERC Call: Starting Grant 2007
ERC funding: € 1.8 million for five years

Links:
Researcher's CV
Website

Nanotechnology and the future of neuroscience

Professor Maurizio Prato, an Advanced Grantee 2008, is working at the interface of nanotechnology and nanobiology. His project aims to exploit the capacity of functionalized carbon nanotubes (CNT) to manipulate neuron activity. Such research could revolutionise the treatment of degenerative diseases – spinal injuries for example. The ambition is to lay the groundwork for the development of devices which could be implanted into a patient with neurological problems. Prof Prato also aims to design more efficient drug delivery systems, known as nanovectors, which would allow a drug to reach the diseased area of the body much more effectively. Ultimately Prof Prato and his team hope to be influential in establishing a new generation of innovations in nanomedicine, with wide-ranging implications for healthcare in the future.

Principal Investigator: Maurizio Prato
Host institution: Università degli studi di Trieste
Project: Neuron Networking with Nano Bridges via the Synthesis and Integration of Functionalized Carbon Nanotubes (CARBONANOBRIDGE)
ERC Call: Advanced Grant 2008
ERC funding: € 2.5 million for five years

Links:
Website

Marrying supramolecular chemistry and organic electronics

Professor Paolo Samorì, a Starting Grantee 2010, is examining the relationship between supramolecular chemistry, nanotechnology and materials science. His project concentrates on nanotechnology's potential for both organic electronics and photonics. One significant aspect of Prof Samorì's work is its focus on improving the efficiency of transistors at the nanoscale. The building of supramolecularly engineered nanostructured materials (SENMs), and of prototypes of nanowires and Field-Effect Transistors (FETs), has wide implications. It would increase the effectiveness of switches and motors on surfaces for example. This ERC funded project aims to both maximise the existing structural properties of macromolecular materials and create new solutions for organic electronic applications at the nanoscale. Prof Samorì and his team are engaged in synthetic, multi-disciplinary research at the frontier of biology, chemistry and physics.

Principal Investigator: Paolo Samorì
Host institution: Institut de Science et d'Ingénierie Supramoléculaires, Strasbourg
Project: Supramolecular materials for organic electronics: unravelling the architecture vs. function relationship (SUPRAFUNCTION)
ERC Call: Starting Grant 2010 ERC funding: € 1.5 million for five years

Links:
Website

The dream of perfect graphene

Professor Klaus Müllen, an Advanced Grantee 2010, is concentrating on the chemical synthesis of graphene. His project tests whether graphene can ultimately combine the advantageous properties of silicon and plastics. Prof Müllen and his team aim to develop elegant synthetic graphene of three kinds: both mono- and multi-layered graphenes and graphene nanoribbons (GNRs). Graphene in its pristine form does not lend itself to electronics easily. Testing the chemical composition of graphene will improve the performance of its myriad applications. This work will have far-reaching implications for electronics: from battery and fuel cells to sensors and transistors. The ambition is to bring together chemistry and physics to create a new materials science for graphene.

Principal Investigator: Klaus Müllen
Host institution: Max-Planck-Institut für Polymerforschung, Mainz
Project: The Chemist's Way of Making and Utilizing Perfect Graphenes (NANOGRAPH)
ERC Call: Advanced Grant 2010
ERC funding: € 2.5 million for five years

Links:
Website

For more information on graphene see: Graphene Conference 2012 website

The ERC grantee and Nobel Prize 2010 Konstantin Novoselov, was mentioned for his work on graphene in The Economist of 12 May 2012 (to read the full article, click here).