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  • By: Graphene Flagship
  • Graphene Flagship
  • Publishing date: 02 July 2024
  • By: Graphene Flagship
  • Graphene Flagship
  • Publishing date: 02 July 2024

Graphene and 2D materials in photonics: A revolutionary leap in technology 

In the vast landscape of modern science and technology, graphene and two-dimensional materials (2DM) have emerged as game-changers, revolutionising industries with their remarkable properties and diverse applications. Among the myriad fields benefiting from their extraordinary characteristics, photonics stands out as one of the most promising domains. Photonics, the science and technology of generating, detecting and controlling photons, has found new avenues for innovation and advancement through the integration of graphene and 2D materials. In this article, we delve into the captivating realm of photonics and explore how graphene and 2D materials are reshaping its landscape, opening up unprecedented possibilities and paving the way for groundbreaking discoveries. 

The Genesis of Graphene and 2D Materials 

Before delving into their applications in photonics, it's imperative to understand the foundational aspects of graphene and 2DM. Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice, garnered widespread attention following its isolation in 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, earning them the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010. Since then, graphene has captivated researchers worldwide due to its extraordinary mechanical, electrical and optical properties. Moreover, the family of 2D materials extends beyond graphene, encompassing semiconductors like transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs), hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN), and other layered materials, each possessing unique attributes that make them ideal candidates for various applications (see p38). 


Harnessing Graphene and 2D Materials in Photonics 

Photonics, with its focus on the manipulation of light, benefits immensely from the remarkable properties offered by graphene and 2DM. These materials have opened up new avenues for the development of photonic devices with enhanced performance, efficiency and versatility. Let's explore some of the compelling uses of graphene and 2D materials in photonics applications: 


Graphene-based photodetectors have garnered significant interest due to their exceptional sensitivity, high-speed response and broadband absorption characteristics. By integrating graphene with other 2DM or heterostructures, researchers have developed photodetectors capable of operating across a wide range of wavelengths, from ultraviolet to infrared. These devices find applications in optical communications, imaging systems and sensing technologies, offering unparalleled performance and reliability. 

Light Modulators 

Graphene's unique ability to control the absorption and transmission of light makes it an excellent candidate for optical modulators. By applying an external electric field, the optical properties of graphene can be dynamically tuned, enabling the modulation of light intensity with ultrafast response times. This capability is instrumental in the development of high-speed optical communication systems, optical switches and integrated photonic circuits, where rapid signal processing is paramount. 

Optical Sensors 

The exceptional sensitivity of graphene and 2DM to external stimuli makes them ideal candidates for optical sensing applications. Whether detecting minute changes in environmental conditions, biomolecular interactions or gas molecules, graphene-based sensors offer unparalleled performance in terms of sensitivity, selectivity and response time. These sensors find applications in diverse fields, including healthcare, environmental monitoring and industrial process control, facilitating real-time, label-free detection with high accuracy. 

Light-Emitting Devices 

While graphene itself is not a direct emitter of light, its integration with other 2DM in heterostructures has enabled the development of novel light-emitting devices. TMDs such as molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) and tungsten diselenide (WSe2) exhibit strong photoluminescence properties, making them suitable for applications in optoelectronics and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). By combining graphene with TMDs in hybrid structures, researchers have demonstrated efficient light emission with tunable properties, paving the way for next-generation display technologies and optoelectronic devices. 

Optical Waveguides and Modulators 

Graphene's exceptional optical transparency and high carrier mobility make it an attractive material for integrated photonic circuits. Graphene-based waveguides and modulators offer low insertion losses, high-speed operation and compatibility with existing silicon-based platforms, making them promising candidates for on-chip optical interconnects and data communication systems. Moreover, the flexibility and scalability of graphene-based photonic devices enable the realisation of compact, energy-efficient solutions for diverse applications in telecommunications and computing. 


Challenges and Future Directions 

While the integration of graphene and 2D materials has unlocked unprecedented opportunities in photonics, several challenges remain to be addressed. Issues such as scalability, device reproducibility and interface engineering pose significant hurdles to the widespread adoption of these materials in commercial applications. Moreover, the development of scalable fabrication techniques, reliable material quality control and efficient device integration strategies are essential for transitioning from laboratory demonstrations to practical implementations. 

Looking ahead, ongoing research efforts focus on overcoming these challenges and exploring new avenues for innovation in graphene- and 2DM-based photonics. Emerging concepts such as van der Waals heterostructures, quantum confinement effects and hybrid nanophotonic platforms hold immense promise for advancing the frontiers of photonics and unlocking new functionalities. As researchers continue to unravel the mysteries of these fascinating materials, the future of photonics shines brighter than ever, propelled by the transformative potential of graphene and 2DM. 

The marriage of graphene and 2DM with photonics represents a paradigm shift in the way we generate, manipulate and harness light. From photodetectors and modulators to sensors and light-emitting devices, the integration of these extraordinary materials has unlocked a plethora of opportunities for innovation and discovery. As researchers continue to push the boundaries of science and engineering, the synergistic interplay between graphene, 2DM and photonics will continue to drive technological advancements, shaping the future of communication, sensing, imaging and beyond. With each breakthrough bringing us closer to realising the full potential of these remarkable materials, the journey towards a brighter, more connected world accelerates. 


Full Annual Report 2023 

Annual Report 2023

Explore our full annual report with a welcome address from the new director, feature articles, project bios and highlights, and an in depth dive into our 2D-EPL project complete with work packages, STO statement and more. 

Author bio

Graphene Flagship
Graphene Flagship

Bringing together 118 academic and industrial partners in 12 research and innovation projects and 1 coordination and support project, the Graphene Flagship initiative will continue to advance Europe’s strategic autonomy in technologies that rely on graphene and other 2D materials. The initiative, which builds on the previous 10-years of the Graphene Flagship, is funded by the European Commission’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme. The 2D-Experimental Pilot Line, addressing the challenges of upscaling 2D material production processes for the semiconductor industry, is another key component of the Graphene Flagship eco-system.