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Graphene: the one-atom-thick film of carbon that makes all the difference

Written by Sara Cagol

On 2 June 2015 the Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Panel hosted a workshop entitled ‘Graphene in Europe: From Nobel Prize to technology, innovation and industrial competitiveness. Researchers, scientists, industry representatives, societal and environmental stakeholders, and policy-makers, took stock of current graphene-related research and development in Europe, and discussed opportunities and challenges for turning graphene’s outstanding properties into innovation and growth.

Graphene is enthusiastically supported by the European research programme. Although only one atom thick, this game-changing, Nobel-Prize-worthy carbon sheet has the potential to create new products and jobs for Europe, as Dr Paul Rübig, STOA Chair, stressed in his opening speech. Jerzy Buzek, Chair of the EP Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, and Zoran Stančič, Deputy Director-General of DG CONNECT at the European Commission, also welcomed the numerous participants, emphasising the importance of high-level discussions on the topic.

Jari Kinaret, Coordinator of the Graphene Flagship, and Konstantin Novoselov, winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics, presented graphene as a revolutionary material, considering its full range of outstanding physical, mechanical, electrical and optical properties. While asserting their satisfaction with the results achieved so far, they also stressed the importance of fostering research on graphene to maximise its beneficial impact on the European economy and society. With the aim of bringing ‘graphene disruptive technologies from academic laboratories to society’ – as Mr Kinaret put it – close collaboration between industry and research centres is key to identifying common needs and to pave the way forward together, Mr Novoselov suggested.

The innovative potential of this nanomaterial was repeatedly highlighted during the debate. The speakers unanimously recognised graphene’s ground-breaking impact on the economy and society, considering, for instance, that the potential market for new products incorporating graphene amounts to hundreds of billions of euros worldwide. The challenges pinpointed during the discussion mainly relate to the difficulty in bridging the gap between graphene development in labs and real-life applications. The way forward was identified as continuous support for the excellent research done in Europe, to fill the gap between theory and practice; with educating and training future generations of scientists to take up the challenges in the years to come; and opening a dialogue with as many stakeholders as possible across the whole supply chain, as research needs to become ‘more transparent, democratic and engaging’.

Some controversial points were also addressed, such as the potential risks for human health and the environment. However, there are promising developments in these areas too, for instance in the field of medical technology – e.g. graphene-based artificial retina.

Eva Kaili, STOA Vice-Chair, concluded the workshop by underlining the results already achieved and graphene’s promising future, calling graphene ‘the first among the Ten technologies that could change our lives. Eva Kaili noted that Europe is a front line player in turning graphene’s outstanding properties into economic growth, jobs and societal benefits.

If you missed the workshop, take a look at a graphene-driven future.

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About Scientific Foresight (STOA)

The Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA) carries out interdisciplinary research and provides strategic advice in the field of science and technology options assessment and scientific foresight. It undertakes in-depth studies and organises workshops on developments in these fields, and it hosts the European Science-Media Hub (ESMH), a platform to promote networking, training and knowledge sharing between the EP, the scientific community and the media. All this work is carried out under the guidance of the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA), composed of 27 MEPs nominated by 11 EP Committees. The STOA Panel forms an integral part of the structure of the EP.

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