EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Graphene Technology

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Engineering


Technologies, and our economy in general, usually advance either by incremental steps (e.g. scaling the size and number of transistors on a chip) or by quantum leaps (transition from vacuum tubes to semiconductor technologies). Disruptive technologies behind such revolutions are usually characterised by universal, versatile applications, which change many aspects of our life simultaneously, penetrating every corner of our existence. To become disruptive, a new technology needs to offer not incremental, but dramatic, orders of magnitude improvements. Moreover, the more universal the technology, the better chances it has for broad base success. This can be summarized by the "Lemma of New Technology", proposed by Herbert Kroemer: "The principal applications of any sufficiently new and innovative technology always have been - and will continue to be - applications created by that technology". Graphene is the first of a new class of materials with huge potential for applications, including tens of other two-dimensional crystals, hetero-structures based on these crystals, and their hybrids with metallic and semiconducting quantum dots and other nanomaterials. A key step to advance the commercial viability of graphene is to harness the emerging capability in graphene technology - including novel applications and production technologies. Graphene has many record properties. It is transparent like (or better than) plastic, but conducts heat and electricity better than any metal, it is an elastic thin film, behaves as an impermeable membrane, and it is chemically inert and stable. Thus, it is ideal for the production of next generation transparent conductors. Thin and flexible graphene-based electronic components may be obtained and modularly integrated, and thin portable devices may be easily assembled and distributed. Graphene can withstand dramatic mechanical deformation, for instance it can be folded without breaking. Foldable devices can be imagined, together with a wealth of new form factors, with innovative concepts of integration and distribution. By enabling flexible (opto)electronics, graphene will allow the exploitation of the existing knowledge base and infrastructure of companies working on organic electronics (organic LEDs, conductive polymers, printable electronics), and a unique synergistic framework for collecting and underpinning many distributed technical competences.
At present, the realisation of an electronic device (such as, e.g., a mobile phone) requires the assembly of a variety of components obtained by many technologies. Graphene, by including different properties within the same material, may offer the opportunity to build a comprehensive technological platform for the realisation of almost any device component, including transistors, batteries, optoelectronic components, photovoltaic cells, (photo)detectors, ultrafast lasers, bio- and physico-chemical sensors, etc. UK will have the chance to re-acquire a prominent position within the global industry, by exploiting the synergy of excellent researchers and manufacturers.
Skilled people are the most important ingredient for the successful implementation of this vision. The proposed CDT will strengthen the essential cross-disciplinary collaborations, develop new research activities and increase impact. The large investments that public and private bodies in UK, EU and worldwide are devoting to graphene technologies call for trained and qualified people. The huge demand requires a specific programme to train PhD students in technology of graphene and related materials, with a strong focus on the cutting-edge engineering and industrial applications. Our CDT will be an important step to meet this demand, providing a set of transferable skills and wide know-how, not limited to the material, but spanning the state of the art in flexible and wearable electronics, photonics, energy storage, RF systems, etc.

Planned Impact

Our vision is to take graphene from a state of raw potential to a point where it can revolutionise flexible, wearable and transparent (opto)electronics, with a manifold return in innovation and exploitation. Such change in the paradigm of device manufacturing may revolutionise the global industry. The importance of graphene was recognised by the 2011 statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer launching the initiative that lead to the funding of the Cambridge Graphene Centre, where the proposed Graphene Technology CDT will be based. The aim is take graphene and related materials from "the British laboratory" to the "British factory floor". Not only does our vision align with this mandate, but it also exploits and strengthens several key areas of national importance where the UK has recognised excellence, such as printed electronics, energy and RF & Microwave Communications. Thus, we will strive for both economic impact, by stimulating new UK-manufactured high-value products, and societal benefits, by utilising graphene in potentially many areas including security, energy efficiency and quality of life.
The beneficiaries of our proposal will be of course the cohorts of students that will be trained every year, but will extend more widely. Considering the private sector, we have already indentified tens of companies that will benefit from our work. To achieve the final goal of graphene-technology, and to ease the transition to commercialisation, we have strong alignment with industry needs and engage them as project partners of the CDT: Dyson, Novalia, Plastic Logic, Nokia, Toshiba, BAE Systems, Aixtron, PEL, Nanocyl, IdTechEx, Philips, Dupont, CambridgeIP, Polyfect, Agilent, Nippon Kayaku, Victrex, IMEC. Many more are also partnering with the Cambridge Graphene Centre, and even more are expected to join and benefit directly or indirectly from our work. We consider the civilian sectors of healthcare, telecommunications, energy and homeland security to be those in which applications based on graphene can make significant impact on society at large. There are also applications in defence, especially in secure communications and radars. This will foster competitiveness and enhance quality of life. In particular, the proposed CDT will be of prime interest to industries dealing with the following devices and applications: 1. Mobile communications, wireless sensor networks, including wearable devices. 2. Nano-structured materials for light and microwave energy harvesting. 3. Active and reconfigurable microwave, terahertz and optical materials, including advanced antenna applications for radar and communications.
Policy-makers, within international, national, local government will also benefit. If the vision of graphene as the material of the 21st century is fulfilled, there will be a need for its properties, benefits, applications and advantageousness compared to current technology to be known by the relevant public bodies. For example, any new policy on energy saving, or mobile communications may need to include a reference to the benefits, or limitations, of graphene-based devices.
Economic resilience and innovation require post-doctoral researchers and students trained in new areas. We will contribute to increasing the talent pool for the future graphene industry. The proposed doctoral training centre will provide unique training to students in various aspects of graphene technology: from graphene nanotechnology to energy, RF/microwave and (opto)electronics. This will develop many skilled researchers over the project lifetime, who will stimulate the sustainability of UK graphene engineering research and future commercialisation opportunities across a variety of sectors.


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