The 21st Century Material – Graphene: Disruptive Technological Change Models in Science, Technology and Engineering
Excerpt – Graphene Project!
Graphene is certainly the material of the 21st Century, revolutionising every sphere in science, technology and engineering. The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics has already acknowledged the profound novelty of the physical properties that can be observed in graphene. This includes different physics applies to graphene compared with other electronic materials such as common semiconductors. Consequently, a plethora of outstanding properties arises from this remarkable material. Many are unique and far superior to those of any other materials. More importantly, such combination of “super” properties cannot be found in any other material. So, it is not a question of if, but a question of how many applications will it be used for, and how pervasive will it become.
Image: By Airbus
The advancing research and development (R&D) activity on graphene has already shown a phenomenal development aimed at making graphene suitable for industrial applications. For example, next generation aerospace, such as the Airbus 2050 concept plane. This will rely heavily on nanotechnology and materials science to develop large lightweight structures with designed properties based on high-performance materials, innovative manufacturing and assembly processes with the objective of mass and cost.
The main challenge facing most industries today is to use materials with stronger but lightness designed components in a way that such materials reduce global failure rates and life-cycle cost. This can be achieved by developing smart materials which, while being lighter and stronger than the previous ones, shall also allow easy, possibly real-time sensing and monitoring for mechanical failure or leakage.
The key question: are the properties of graphene so unique to become the next disruptive technology and make it the material of the 21st century and overshadow the unavoidable inconveniences of switching to a modern technology, a process usually accompanied by large R&D and capital investments?
Well, in terms of graphene properties all key players in the field agree that graphene certainly has potential to become the next massive thing in the 21st century. Graphene’s high electrical conductivity and large surface area per unit mass make it an interesting material for energy storage such as in advanced batteries and supercapacitors. These could have a significant impact on portable electronics and other key areas, such as electric cars. The prospect of rapidly chargeable lightweight batteries would give environmentally friendly transportation a push and advance the large-scale implementation of electric cars as a key component in urban and suburban transport. Scientific papers have highlighted some graphene properties that are highly suitable for the development of novel spintronic devices and many research groups are now involved in such activity. Radically modern technologies could be enabled by graphene. Taking these few examples of unique physical phenomena, it is reasonable to expect the rapid development of many new applications due to the development of graphene technology, with an enormous impact on information and communications technology (ICT) industry.
Image: By Graphene Flagship
The key recommendations revolve around the need for a funding model focusing on University based research projects in nanoelectronics for instance. This may include government funding models on business start-up, development, and commercialization of nanotechnology-based business ideas. The industry support and global research collaboration on nanotechnologies involvement are also needed.
Focus research programme will need to be incorporated with universities to maintain technology innovation on science. This is necessary for the development of talent pool of scientists and engineers in the field of science and technology. This may also include coordination between multi-university centres and other institutions including research innovation hubs. Private –public partnerships programmes will ensure the expansion of already existing centres and create new ones.
The full transcript of this EXCERPT is part of Prof Andile Ngcaba’s inauguration lecture delivered at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University on 10 March 2015. Read the full research report by clicking here.
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