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  • By: Francis Sedgemore
  • Graphene Flagship
  • Publishing date: 23 June 2015
  • By: Francis Sedgemore
  • Graphene Flagship
  • Publishing date: 23 June 2015

Graphene Week 2015 – back to where it all started

Graphene Week is the centrepiece of the Graphene Flagship calendar, and this year the conference takes place at the University of Manchester in northern England. The city of Manchester, renowned the world over as a centre of trade, technology and innovation, is home to the UK’s National Graphene Institute. It is also the research base of Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, the lauded scientists who in 2010 won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their pioneering work on the properties of graphene.

The view from Brussels

The honour of opening Graphene Week fell on Thomas Skordas, head of the Flagship Unit at the European Commission, from which the flagship draws half of its funding. In his speech, Skordas outlined the role of the Graphene Flagship, describing the project as a pioneering approach to collaborative research in Europe. The flagship provides a competitive advantage to industry, and benefits society as a whole. Many member states of the European Union are engaged in the flagship, and in it there is a strong commitment from all the stakeholders involved.

Europe is often accused of lacking ambition, noted Skordas, and with graphene, Europe is taking a risk. “Graphene holds the promise of becoming a key source of innovation,” says Skordas. “It could provide technology bricks that enable a wide range of products and applications in many industry sectors. The flagship has the potential to show how an inspiring goal can overcome fragmentation, and be an example of collaboration across borders.”

Given the substantial financial and other investments involved in the flagship, positive results must be delivered, and progress closely monitored in order to demonstrate the value to Europe of the flagship.

Skordas congratulated the flagship for its considerable achievements over the first 18 months. These include hundreds of high-quality scientific publications, and a growing number of industrial collaborations. All this is the result of exemplary management, he added. The flagship has become an international reference for graphene research and development, establishing Europe as a global leader in the field.

Challenges for the flagship include closely connecting science with industry, and the development of a long-term programme with innovation and technology transfer at its core. Skordas said that the flagship should focus its activities on those areas in which it can make a difference: “It must find and maintain the right balance between academia and industry – between longer-term scientific research, and applied research and innovation, bringing together the push from new technologies with the pull from industrial needs.”

Skordas noted the considerable amount of constructive critical attention on the flagship, including from Brussels. Focus and integration are critical. First of all, we must integrate our new industrial partners, and consolidate the team overall… 

“There will be little gain in choosing application areas where only incremental progress is to be expected. You must focus on those technologies that hold the biggest promise in terms of industrial applications, because graphene has the potential to deliver disruptive innovations that create new applications and new products. This will also translate in terms of the consortium membership, which should over time narrow down to those partners most suited to contributing to those key innovations.”

Skordas concluded his presentation by urging those present to maintain their motivation and enthusiasm, together with a hunger to innovate and create. “In the end this is what will make the difference.”

Captain’s log

Flagship director Jari Kinaret followed Skordas’ big-picture view from across the North Sea with a brief report on the day-to-day voyage of the flagship, focusing on the nature of Graphene Week and similar events. A detailed discussion of such matters as flagship organisation and achievements would be left to the Graphene Focus session scheduled for Monday afternoon.

This is the 10th Graphene Week conference, noted Kinaret, and the second organised by the flagship. Kinaret observed that around two-thirds of the speakers at Graphene Week 2015 are members of the flagship, with the remaining third belonging to other organisations. Graphene Week is one of two large-scale events being staged by the flagship in 2015, the other being the General Assembly, which this year takes place in October in Berlin.

Other flagship events include the industrial workshops known as Graphene Connect, one of which is being held during Graphene Week 2015. The focus of this particular workshop is on business networking and investment opportunities in graphene and related two-dimensional materials, bringing together SMEs, venture capitalists and business angels. Then there are the winter schools aimed at graduate students, the most recent of which took place in the Austrian Alps. Finally, we have ad-hoc events such as the Graphene Focus public forum scheduled for the Monday afternoon of Graphene Week.

“For me personally, it is exciting to have Graphene Week in Manchester, as this is where it started,” said Kinaret.“Manchester is one of the leading centres for graphene research. I encourage you to make connections, and discuss opportunities and challenges. Welcome to Graphene Week in Manchester!”

A Mancunian greeting

Vladimir Fal’ko, Lancaster-based physicist and co-founder of Graphene Week, spoke next about the relevance of Manchester. Welcome to where it all started, and celebrate the place where the explosion into 2d materials originated.” We talk much about graphene, but Fal’ko used this opportunity to stress the importance of two-dimensional materials as a whole. The flagship covers them all.

Growth in the field of graphene and related materials has affected Manchester in many ways, noted Fal’ko. For a start, there is the National Graphene Institute, of which he is director. Graphene Week delegates were invited to view its recently opened and architecturally stunning building.

Concluding the opening session, Cinzia Casiraghi, graphene scientist at the University of Manchester, and chair of the Graphene Week 2015 programme committee, spoke of practical arrangements for the conference. Special thanks are due to Cinzia and her staff in Manchester, and also to the flagship dissemination team based at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Cambridge.

Photo 3 (descending): copyright © 2015 Christine Twigg, The University of Manchester
Photos 1, 2 and 5 (descending): copyright © 2015 Anders Frick, Chalmers University of Technology
Photo 4 (descending): copyright © 2014 Peter Widing, Chalmers University of Technology

The flagship has the potential to show how an inspiring goal can overcome fragmentation, and be an example of collaboration across borders.”

Thomas Skordas
Head of the Flagship Unit at the European Commission
For me personally, it is exciting to have Graphene Week in Manchester, as this is where it started.”

Author bio

Francis Sedgemore