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Changing our material future, layer by layer

Story supplied by LU Press Office

Professor Vladimir Falko Professor Vladimir Falko

A proposal involving researchers from the Universities of Manchester, Cambridge and Lancaster, has been awarded 13.4 million Euros (around £11m) to form a "Synergy Group" by the European Research Council (ERC).

It will aim to utilise two-dimensional substances, such as wonder material graphene, to engineer new types of materials which are just a few atoms thick, but nevertheless have the power to revolutionise the future development of devices such as solar cells, and flexible and transparent electronics.

Starting with one atom-thick substances which possess remarkable properties, the group will focus on ways in which they can be layered up to form 'heterostructures'. These heterostructures will still be just a few atoms thick, but will combine the properties of the different two-dimensional materials which comprise them, effectively enabling developers to embed the functions of a device into its very fabric.

For example, the research team envisage combining an atomic layer which functions as a sensor, with layers that function variously as an amplifier, transistor, or solar cell, for power generation. The resulting material, still just a few atomic layers in thickness, would be capable of running a whole circuit.

The award - part of ERC's first competition for Synergy Grants - will bring together the talents of the Nobel Prize-winner, Professor Kostya Novoselov at Manchester, Professor Andrea Ferrari at Cambridge, and Professor Vladimir Falko at Lancaster.

The team will be part of the UK's Graphene Global Research and Technology Hub, including the £61m National Graphene Institute, which is being developed at The University of Manchester to continue its world-leading and collaborative work in the field.

Widely regarded as a wonder material on account of its numerous capabilities, graphene is a two-dimensional structure consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb or chicken wire structure. It was first isolated by Professor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov at The University of Manchester in 2004.

It is the thinnest material in the world and yet also one of the strongest. It conducts electricity as efficiently as copper and outperforms all other materials as a conductor of heat.

The Synergy Group will aim to combine these properties with those of other, two-dimensional materials for the sake of creating an amazing range of applications and devices, among them new types of transistors, solar cells and other optoelectronic components.

Professor Falko said: "Our project is challenging, both at the technical and conceptual level. We aim to extend science and technology of atomically thin films into materials far beyond graphene, where properties of atomically thin crystals are not known, yet."

"This project offers excellent opportunities for the early career researchers, who, thanks to the ERC, will be able to join our team - theorists, experimentalist and engineers - to enjoy surprises and make discoveries."

Thu 20 December 2012