Note: Global Atlanta will be keeping a close eye on the commercialization of research through international partnerships at Georgia universities in 2013. Georgia Tech is showing the potential of such collaborations through its work with graphene and its Lafayette Institute in France.
Britain’s additional 21.5 million pound ($35 million) investment in graphene research might have upset Bernard Kippelen, who oversees a new Georgia Tech insititute in France that is working to develop what some consider a miracle substance that eventually will replace silicon.
But it hasn’t, because “in an era of open-innovation,” he told Global Atlanta, companies around the globe eventually will benefit from graphene’s capabilities.
British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced the investment at the end of last year, telling the BBC that he wanted to keep the future economic benefits of graphene in the United Kingdom.
Graphene has been described as the lightest, thinnest and strongest material known to man and holds the possibility of transforming many manufacturing processes and replacing silicon because of its strength and conductivity.
Dr. Kippelen could have downplayed the British initiative on competitive grounds as president of the Lafayette Institute, which is to be located on Georgia Tech’s campus in the Lorraine region of France and also is engaged in the development of graphene through partnerships around the world.
But he said in an email that the development of an investment fund to boost graphene research in an era of open-innovation is likely to strengthen science, technology and industry not only in Britain but elsewhere as well.
“The British support to develop commercial applications of graphene is a good example of the initiatives that governments have to take to put their countries back on a path of sustainable growth,” he said.
“Generating economic benefits in your own country through international partnerships,” he added, “illustrates the complexity of the multifaceted global landscape of innovation.”
He cited the international relationships of British multinational defense and aerospace related companies such as BAE Systems plc, Qinetiq Group and Rolls-Royce plc.
Other U.K.-based companies such as Dyson Ltd., which manufactures vacuum cleaners, heaters and other products, would benefit from the government backing as well, he said.
In addition, he said that the benefits would go beyond just U.K.-based companies to foreign multinationals such as the Finnish communications and information technology company Nokia Corp., the American consumer goods company Procter & Gamble Co., the Japanese consumer/information products and electronics components manufacturer Sharp Corp. and the research arm of the health care and lighting company, Royal Philips Electronics N.V. of the Netherlands.
Dr. Kippelen’s enthusiasm for graphene is palpable. Since the first reports emerged about its electronic properties in 2004, he said that it continues to be one of the most studied materials in an active field of research.
He cited more than 7,700 scientific reports focused on graphene published during the past 12 months compared to the far fewer about the Higgs boson particle discovered last year, which was greeted as a spectacular breakthrough.
Acknowledging the “groundbreaking experiments” of Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester in the U.K. for which they received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010, he also pointed to the related research underway at Georgia Tech under the leadership of Walter de Heer.
“However, despite these groundbreaking inventions and the recognition of the great potential of graphene,” he said, “many challenges remain before its full technological potential can be realized and lead to large-scale innovations with significant economic impact.”
In spite of these sorts of challenges, Georgia’s top education and economic development officials have encouraged universities to work more closely with Georgia businesses in the commercialization of their research.
At a year-end luncheon held at Georgia State University, both Hank Huckaby, chancellor of the University System of Georgia, and Chris Cummiskey, the state’s top economic development official, called for a re-branding of the state that would highlight its cutting-edge research.
Meanwhile construction of the 30,000-square-foot Lafayette Institute on the Georgia Tech-Lorraine campus is underway and is to be completed by the end of the year.
The facility currently is described as a portal for innovation in optoelectronics and advanced materials.
“Our students from every corner of the world gather to learn together as our researchers forge collaborations across continents and enter into unique partnerships with industry and government,” Dr. Kippelen said.
Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, the university’s business and economic development arm, is providing support to the Lafayette Institute, as is the university’s Nanotechnology Research Center.