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The Italian role in Graphene research

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From 23rd to 27th June 2014, Gothenburg (Sweden) hosted the Graphene Week 2014, one of the most important conferences for scientists who study graphene and other 2D materials. About 450 researchers attended the meeting, including the two Nobel prize laureates Andre Geim and Klaus von Klitzing. Afterwards, we had the pleasure to speak with Vincenzo Palermo, the leader of the Functional Organic Materials research unit of the National Research Council of Italy (CNR), who is working on the research and production of some innovative materials for optoelectronics and photovoltaics, using self-assembling molecules and graphene.

Europe is a leader in the field of research on graphene. What about other continents?

Graphene was discovered in Europe, but there are many investments and research projects as well as excellent research groups also in countries of other continents, for example in South Korea, where the interaction between academia and industry is very important. In any case, our continent is at the forefront for the number of scientific publications. As concerns the funding and the number of patents, also Asia and North America are very competitive.

What is the potential of this innovative material?

Graphene has some amazing electrical, mechanical, chemical and optical properties that have been extensively studied and demonstrated in laboratory. Obviously, not all of them will be able to give large-scale commercial applications. In the short term, the graphene will be probably useful in the field of composites to improve the mechanical, electrical or chemical properties of various polymeric materials or others based on carbon fibres. In the medium term, the excellent electrical properties of graphene will allow to build new high capacity batteries or super capacitors, flexible electronic devices and sensors.

In the Graphene Flagship Project there are 23 Italian partners, such as research institutes, universities and companies. What is their role in the consortium?

During the last competitive call, whose winners were selected through evaluation by anonymous referees, Italy has been very successful, being the nation with the most selected partners. Currently, Italy is the nation with most partners within the Flagship, together with Germany. The partners have different sizes and responsibilities, from large multinationals to small enterprises, which are a relevant part of Italy’s industrial system. For example, thanks to regional research projects, my group is collaborating intensively with some small and medium enterprises within the technopole created in Bologna by CNR and the region Emilia-Romagna.

What are the main innovations introduced in Sweden during the Graphene Week 2014?

Regarding the results, the most important ones concern the production of graphene. In the long term, the big challenge will be the creation of some new two-dimensional metamaterials, stacking different materials such as conductors, insulators or semiconductors one over each other at atomic scale. In general, it will be very important for the industrial applications to have a good quality control and a better metrology because at the moment there is no uniformity in the use of the terminology related to graphene.

In the Graphene Flagship Project there are many partners. How is the work coordinated between them?

The Flagship has a supranational structure. The research activity is divided into many work packages and in each one there are partners from different nations. In order to get the best results, it is important to take advantage of all excellences in Europe, avoiding any barrier or competition between the contributors. The whole community works strategically in the same direction, speeding up and maximizing the impact of this new technology on the European industries and economy. Furthermore, there is also an intensive exchange of resources and personnel between the various institutions.

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