World-class research and innovation at the ‘Home of Graphene’ is back on site, as The University of Manchester reopens its facilities following the campus-wide closure of buildings in March.
Staff at the National Graphene Institute (NGI) and the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) have spent a number of weeks carefully managing the process of reopening their laboratories and multi-user facilities.
NGI Director Professor Vladimir Falko (pictured right) said the graphene research community remained active throughout lockdown and, with researchers returning to their labs, they will rapidly reboot their fundamental and applied research programmes.
“During the COVID-19 closure, NGI researchers continued to work remotely, analysing data, developing theoretical models for 2D materials, planning new experiments and attending the popular Friday afternoon graphene seminars online – but everyone is more than eager to get back to action in their labs,” said Vladimir.
“Thanks to the effort of the NGI’s professional support staff, the building has been efficiently prepared for reopening - and special thanks must go to [technical managers] John Whittaker, Polly Greensmith and colleagues in Estates and Cleaning Services.”
Phased reopening By the end of July, as part of a phased programme, all of the NGI labs will reopen and be operating at about 25% personnel capacity, with researchers keeping social distancing in the labs and throughout the building. This includes the world-first ultra-high vacuum 2D materials transfer system - the bespoke ‘UHV 2DM press’ - which has been designed for the research group led by Dr Roman Gorbachev.
Several characterisation laboratories have now reopened, including the metrology-class magneto-transport suite hosting a 10 milli-Kelvin cryostat and a 14 Tesla magnet, optical characterisation facilities, and the nanocomposites laboratories.
“I am sure that the NGI groups will be able to deliver on the international collaboration projects such as European Graphene Flagship and European Quantum Technology Flagship, collaborations with partners in the US, Singapore and Japan, and multiple projects with industry,” added Vladimir.
“We will also do our best to support PhD students and several students from our Centre of Doctorial Training, Graphene NOWNANO, are already making samples for their projects on 2D materials.”
Safe systems of working Meanwhile, all labs at the GEIC are now open, with similarly limited personnel capacity and distancing protocols, allowing staff and industry partners to resume operations.
GEIC Technical Services Manager Philip Hirst said: “The re-opening of the GEIC has been a learning process for all of us. Our aim has been to get to full operation for our industrial and academic partners in a safe manner, following the government guidance closely.
"The process has been measured and iterative to ensure that we are doing what we can to protect our staff and partners. All of the labs are now operational with tight controls over numbers and safe systems of working. It is great to see the GEIC working again.”
Laboratories now open include facilities for rapid development of graphene and 2D materials towards commercialisation in fields such as coatings and composites, batteries, printed electronics and more.
Brazilian steel giant Gerdau - a Tier 1 GEIC partner - has been working in the Masdar Building on anti-corrosion coatings, composites for the automotive industry, membranes and energy storage materials.
Danilo Mariano, Head of Graphene R&D for Gerdau, said: “We were in the first wave of people to get back in the GEIC [in early July]. It’s a different experience, with all the COVID protocols in place, but it feels so good to be back in – talking to the technicians, getting things done. It feels like coming out of a coma.”