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The age of graphene? Two experts share visions of the future

Future applications of graphene were the subject of two public science lectures by leading researchers in the field.

Vittorio Pellegrini, director of the Graphene Labs at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Genova, spoke on the subject of ‘Graphene – from laboratory to supermarket’ at the 2nd International Conference on Scientific Culture in Santiago, Chile, on 21 October.

Following a general introduction to graphene, Dr Pellegrini – scientific secretary of the strategic advisory council of the Graphene Flagship, and deputy leader of the flagship’s Energy work package – talked about the opportunities for research and industry, and the role of the Graphene Flagship in boosting commercial applications of the material.

Of particular interest to the local audience was the potential for using graphene as a replacement for metals such as copper – Chile being the world’s largest producer of the metal.

“To assure the global success of the European effort on graphene, it is crucial to establish collaborations outside Europe,” says Dr Pellegrini. “Today Chile is by far the largest producer of copper in the world. Graphene can lead to conductive and resistant composites with copper or replace it in a few applications."

“To understand the real potential market, the connection with research and industrial efforts in this part of South America could be very beneficial. In the long term, these collaborations might expand the global opportunities for the European graphene industries.”

The International Conference on Scientific Culture is designed to encourage public participation in science and interaction between scientists. Other speakers at the three-day event included the Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Richard J Roberts and astronomer María Teresa Ruiz, the first woman to win Chile’s National Prize for Exact Sciences.

On the same day in Berlin, Professor Mikael Fogelström, from the Department of Microtechnology and Nanoscience at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, raised the prospect of a ‘graphene age’ in a speech for TED@BCG, part of the TED nonprofit organisation dedicated to a global ideas exchange.

Describing graphene as ‘the material of superlatives’, Prof Fogelström outlined potential applications in areas as diverse as flexible smartphones, DNA sequencing and the use of optical prosthetics to restore the sight of blind people.

“Graphene is an example of translational nanotechnology that is rapidly moving from academic laboratories to industrial applications,” said Prof Fogelström. Talking of “a future held in the trace of a pencil,” he recalled how the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages had been defined by materials bearing new technology, and concluded: “It might well be that we are just starting a graphene age.”

Mikael Fogelström’s lecture will be available to watch at from mid-December. You can watch his previous talk, at TEDx in Gothenburg last year, below.

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Publishing date: 27 April 2016 13:00