Technology day marks opening of Cambridge University Graphene Centre

You've probably heard about wonder-material graphene, which has been cited as a potential game-changer for industries including electronics, pharmaceuticals and energy.

Lightweight, strong and practically invisible, graphene was discovered more than a decade ago, but has only recently started making the transition from the lab to the factory.

More than 40 companies involved in the graphene industry gathered in Cambridge recently for a technology day, which marked the opening of Cambridge University's new graphene centre building at the West Cambridge site.

Among the companies in attendance was Swavesey-based Aixtron, which makes machines that produce graphene wafers. These wouldn't be much good in your ice-cream, but are handy for flexible electronics or very thin batteries.

"Cambridge has got a critical mass of graphene companies, which is what you need if you're going to press ahead," said Kenneth Teo, the firm's director of nanoinstruments.

"I think the main thing the centre will do is provide a focal point for these companies, which is something we didn't have when we started out."

Exhibitors were drawn from all over the country, with several venturing down from Manchester, where graphene was discovered by researchers at the city's university.

"We saw several real examples of graphene making its way from the lab to the factory floor, creating jobs and growth for Cambridge and the UK," said Professor Andrea Ferrari, director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre.

"Cambridge is very well-placed in the network of UK, European and global initiatives targeting the development of new products and devices based on graphene and related materials."

Though Manchester was graphene's birthplace, Cambridge has a long history of research and application into carbon-based materials, since the identification of the graphite structure in 1924, moving through to diamond, diamond-like carbon, conducting polymers, and carbon nanotubes, with a proven track-record in taking carbon research from the lab to the factory floor. Indeed, Aixtron is one of a number of spin-outs from the university, which also include Cambridge Nanosystems, Cambridge Graphene and Novalia, which hit the headlines earlier this year with its printed musical instruments.

Professor David Cardwell, head of the university's engineering department, added that a scale-up centre, where research will be nurtured towards higher technology readiness levels in collaboration with industry, is being developed, so we can probably expect more new companies in the near future.

"The Cambridge Graphene Centre is a direct and obvious link to this scale-up initiative, which will offer even more exciting opportunities for industry university collaborations," said David.