Growing graphene - blue sky research attempts to replicate nature

06 Jan 2015 16:05:24.217
PA 02/13

A ground-breaking experiment at The University of Nottingham could herald the production of high-purity, large-area graphene and boron nitride layers in a controlled way. If successful this research could unlock the full potential of graphene in electronics and optoelectronics.

Ten years after the discovery of graphene by the Nobel Prize winning research team at The University of Manchester, Sergei Novikov, Professor of Physics and his co-investigators at Nottingham secured funding to build a custom made Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE) machine capable of the high temperatures required to grow graphene and boron nitride layers on an industrial scale.

Over £2m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, The University of Nottingham and the Leverhulme Trust, has been invested in the design, purchase and running costs of the world’s hottest MBE machine. The new facility in the School of Physics and Astronomy will be officially opened at 11am on Thursday 8 January 2015. 

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Professor Sergei Novikov, an expert in crystal growth by the Molecular Beam Epitaxy method, said: “This is a high risk project, no one has built something like this before. Until now the best way of making the highest-quality graphene has been by peeling a small area single atomic graphene layer off a piece of pure graphite. We are trying to grow large-area graphene sheets by bonding together carbon atoms at high temperatures.”

Nottingham’s MBE system is capable of reaching 1850ºC. Until now, standard MBE systems could only reach 1000ºC. And just four months into the project they have already created the first large-area graphene layers by MBE.

Professor Novikov said: “We tried to create graphene layers using our old MBE system but it wouldn’t work because the temperatures were not high enough. About two years ago we received funding from EPSRC to build a novel MBE system dedicated to the growth of graphene and boron nitride films. After the tender process we ordered a novel Dual GENxplor system from Veeco modified for epitaxy at extremely high temperatures.”

Together with his co-investigators, who include Dr Tin Cheng from the School of Physics and Astronomy and Dr Andrew Davis in the School of Chemistry, Professor Novikov is already growing samples of graphene on three inch diameter wafers of silicon carbide and sapphire.

Professor Novikov said: “This is blue sky research but we are hopeful that our work will move graphene technology in new directions.”

Professor Saul Tendler, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, said: “The University’s School of Physics and Astronomy has a remarkable track record for encouraging blue sky research. In 2003 Sir Peter Mansfield received the Nobel Prize in recognition of his research into magnetic-resonance imaging which led to the invention of the MRI scanner. Funding from the Medical Research Council made that possible. The EPSRC has recognised the strength of our expertise in the field of graphene research by funding Professor Novikov’s research.  We need to ensure that there continues to be funding for blue sky research to keep pushing forward the boundaries of science to address the some of the issues and challenges facing our global society.” 

The opening of the new facility, situated in Room B409, in the School of Physics and Astronomy will take place the day after the UK Nitride consortium meeting, organised by the School of Physics and Astronomy at the East Midlands Conference Centre on the 6th and 7th of January 2015.

Details of the official opening:

11:00am — Opening remarks by Professor Saul Tendler, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University    of Nottingham (Lecture Theatre — B1 Physics Building)

11:10am — Professor Sergei Novikov (University of Nottingham) “Dual GENxplor Veeco MBE system for the growth of Graphene and Boron Nitride — Installation Stories” (Lecture Theatre — B1 Physics Building)

11:25am — Professor Tom Foxon, FRS (University of Nottingham) “Molecular Beam Epitaxy” (Lecture Theatre — B1 Physics Building)

11:40am — Professor Sir Colin Humphreys, CBE, FREng, FRS (University of Cambridge) “Group III-Nitrides” (Lecture Theatre — B1 Physics Building)

11:55am — Professor Laurence Eaves, CBE, FRS (University of Nottingham) “Graphene-based Heterostructures” (Lecture Theatre — B1 Physics Building)

12:30pm — Opening of Molecular Beam Epitaxy Facility (B409, Physics Building).

12:35pm — Tour around Molecular Beam Epitaxy Facility (B409, Physics Building).

12:45pm — Lunch and Networking (C14, Physics Building).

3:00pm — Closing of the Event.

The School of Physics and Astronomy runs one of the most popular undergraduate physics programmes in the country. Teaching has been rated ‘excellent’ and in the recent Research Excellence Framework (REF2014). The school was placed joint 3rd of all the Physics departments in the country.

Images are available on request.

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Sergei Novikov in the School of Physics and Astronomy, The University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 951 5138,
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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