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Professor Simon Bending
Professor Simon Bending is heading the research group at Bath; the University will receive around £1.6 million of the £5 million EPSRC award
pencil by orangeacid, Flikr
Could a single layer of graphite replace silicon in microchips in the future?

Press Release - 15 December 2008

Could graphite from pencils replace silicon in microchips?

A new research centre studying the properties of the thinnest known conducting material, graphene, has been announced by the Universities of Bath and Exeter.

The two universities have won a £5 million Science and Innovation Award from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to create a UK centre of excellence for graphene research to study the properties and applications of this material.

The vision is to develop nano-materials which have a vast range of applications from quantum computation to medicine and to build on the combined experimental and theoretical expertise of the two universities.

Graphene is a single layer of carbon atoms less than a nanometre thick and is the thinnest conducting material known. It was not expected to exist on its own because it was believed to be unstable when isolated from graphite, a stack of many graphene layers.

However, scientists recently discovered that a single layer of graphite could be split away whilst retaining its perfect crystal structure and excellent conductance. This makes it a good candidate for a wide range of potential applications including a new generation of chemical and biological sensors.

Professor Simon Bending, from the University of Bath’s Department of Physics, said: "This is a really important award which brings the combined research expertise of Bath and Exeter universities to bear on the science of graphene, one of the most remarkable materials to have been discovered in recent decades.

“Graphene could have a huge range of exciting applications and is even a strong candidate for replacing silicon in microelectronics. Who would have guessed that microprocessors could one day be made from the graphite found in everyday pencils!"

Professor Jane Millar, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Research at Bath, added: "The University of Bath prides itself on its research excellence and impact in partnership with business and the community by promoting original inquiry, innovation and collaboration. Therefore, we are very pleased with this highly prestigious and competitive Science & Innovation Award which could lead to the development of future technologies."

Lesley Thompson, EPSRC Director of Research, said: "These awards are part of our continuing work to ensure Britain has the necessary leadership and resources in breakthrough areas of scientific research. These new centres will have the critical mass to make major research progress, stimulate research in the UK and international community and, where appropriate, to encourage innovation in UK business and industry.”

The EPSRC is funding the four programmes with supporting finance from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

David Sweeney, Director of Research, Innovation and Skills, HEFCE, added: "HEFCE is pleased to partner the EPSRC in this round of the Science and Innovation Awards focussing on emerging areas of expertise in science and engineering. We are committed to building capacity in excellent research and these awards will play their part in securing the UK's success in this area of leading edge scientific activity.”

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