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Government To Fund Graphene Research Hub

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Wonder-material graphene will get its own £50m research hub as part of the government’s IT investment package

Along with the government’s £150 million investment into improving mobile phone coverage in ‘not-spots’ around the UK, Chancellor George Osborne has also announced investments into high-tech areas such as the commercialisation of graphene and research into high-performance computing (HPC).

Osborne announced the moves at the Conservative Party Conference on Monday.

Global research hub

The government will invest £50 million into the creation of a Graphene Global Research and Technology Hub intended to commercialise graphene, a wonder-material discovered by University of Manchester scientists in 2004 that is expected by some to replace silicon as the primary material in electronic devices.

In April a team of researchers at Illinois University in the US claimed that graphene may be a self-cooling material that could result in the production of more efficient and energy-saving devices.

If the Illinois study is correct, the problem that has brought the reduction in silicon chip sizes to a halt could be overcome by graphene. As chip circuitry is reduced in scale, heat production becomes a problem that threatens to fry the chip before it can be tested. This has resulted in Intel, AMD and others looking at multicore processors as a way to increase chip speeds while reducing heat production and efficiency.

Faster Internet

In August a study showed that graphene could also be an accelerator allowing faster Internet speeds in the future. It can also be used to build more responsive touch-screens, among other uses.

“We will fund a national research programme that will take this Nobel prize-winning discovery from the British laboratory to the British factory floor,” Osborne said. “We’re going to get Britain making things again.”

A business case for graphene’s commercialisation is being developed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB).

The University of Manchester is a possible location for the new hub but universities and other institutions will be able to bid for the funding over the coming months.

The hub should stimulate the economy and create new jobs, according to Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester.

Brighter future

“Graphene is one of the most important scientific advancements in recent times,” she stated. “We are proud of the world-class research carried out here and to have that recognised by the government is a real vindication of the work we do.”

The government also announced a £145 million investment designed to help the UK become a world leader in high-performance computing.

The investments will create a stronger economic climate for the future, Osborne argued.

“We do all this for a better Britain and a stronger economy,” he said. “I don’t pretend to you that these are not difficult days … but together we will move into the calmer, brighter seas beyond.”

Also on Monday Osborne announced investment into new mobile phone masts intended to improve coverage for “up to six million people”, and achieve 99 percent signal coverage across Great Britain.

  1. The Government’s decision to make this significant investment in high-performance computing should be applauded. It demonstrates a clear understanding of how developing this kind of technology can help drive future economic growth.

    However, it is not only about, as George Osborne says, “giving businesses confidence to invest in the UK,” the development of HPC is critical to the long-term health of our own home-grown manufacturing sector and ultimately to that of the UK economy as a whole.

    If manufacturing is to reverse its current downward trend and retain its role as a driver for economic success in the UK, the key will be in driving efficiencies through the product development cycle. IT can play a major part in this and, for many manufacturers, HPC will have a particularly critical role to play.

    The primary benefit of HPC is its ability to drive ‘time to insight’ – the length of time taken between the presentation of the problem and reaching an understanding of how to solve it. By streamlining the process, manufacturers can compress the design cycle, add time to the build space and reduce time to market.

    HPC gives manufacturers the opportunity to drive through innovation, understand more complex issues, achieve more accurate and predictable outcomes and make product development faster and more efficient. And, as the government no doubt recognises, all of this has the potential to translate to renewed economic recovery by showing a positive impact on GDP.

    Andrew Carr, sales and marketing director, Bull UK and Ireland