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UK pledges £50 million for graphene research hub

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has announced investment of £50 million in what it claims will be a centre for research into the commercial implementation and exploitation of nanotechnology material of the day graphene.

Graphene, a carbon allotrope taking the form of a sheet of the material just one molecule thick, has some interesting properties that has scientists both scratching their heads and thinking up ever-more exciting uses for the material. Recently, researchers at Rice University have discovered a way of making ribbons of the material stand on their side in a breakthrough that they claim will lead to computing chips with components sizes measuring less than a nanometre.

Back in June IBM announced the creation of its first working integrated circuit constructed from graphene following its earlier work on 100GHz graphene-based transistors in February 2010, while in May researchers at the University of California at Berkeley used the material to construct a high-speed optical modulator which could boost the capacity of optical networks tenfold.

It's fair to say that excitement surrounding graphene is at an all-time high, and BIS is clear that it wants the UK at the forefront of the material's development and exploitation. It's only fair, really: the material was first discovered at the University of Manchester by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, for which they were jointly granted the Nobel Prize in Physics last year.

The £50 million will be used to build the Graphene Global Research and Technology Hub, joining £16 million in funding that the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has already ploughed into graphene research.

Details of when the hub might open for business are not yet available, with plans on hold pending the approval of the funding by the EPSRC and the Technology Strategy Board.