Graphene – a 2D material made up of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice – was isolated by Russian scientists Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov at Manchester University in 2004. The pair used sticky tape to extract it from graphite drawing pencils and received a Nobel Prize in physics for their discovery.
Often described as a “wonder material”, graphene is around 200 times stronger than steel yet lightweight and flexible and more conductive than copper. The University of Manchester believes it has the potential to transform manufacturing – it could be used to make computers run faster, batteries last longer and touch screens more conductive and it could even help make water desalination more efficient in areas where fresh water is scarce. Scientists have also been researching its potential impact in healthcare – in March this year, a team in Korea announced they had been working on a patch made from graphene for people with diabetes, which detects glucose levels in sweat and administers the drug metformin when blood sugar is too high.
A new exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester uses photography, poetry, interactive displays and an installation from Random International (creators of the Barbican’s Rain Room) to help explain graphene’s potential impact on the world and highlight the importance of Geim and Novoselov’s discovery.
Lightboxes featuring images by Panos Pictures photographers show areas where graphene is already having an impact in the world. The image shown here was taken by Ian Teh at a Samsung Factory. Image: David Shaw. Lead image (top) by Angela Moore
Designed by Universal Design Studio and LucienneRoberts+, the exhibition begins with a series of objects which bring to life the story of graphene and its isolation (pictured above). Items on show include an Elizabethan cannonball, early pencils and the sticky tape dispenser used by Geim and Novoselov. Curator Danielle Olsen says it aims to introduce visitors to graphene using tangible objects in the absence of a material they can see and touch.
“The challenge with this exhibition was really, ‘how do you make an exhibition out of something you can’t see, and that also captures some of the potential excitement around this new material?’” she explains. “The first section deliberately feels like an old museum exhibition, with glass cabinets and microscopes you can look in to … and it’s all about building the story behind graphene and hinting at what’s to come,” she adds.
The ‘present’ section of the exhibition features life-sized photographs of the National Graphene Institute in Manchester, which aim to make visitors feel as if they have stepped inside the building. Image: David Shaw
Graphics were created by LucienneRoberts+, who worked on the exhibition’s 2D design. Image: Angela Moore
Another section aims to highlight current work being done with graphene – visitors step into a room surrounded by life-sized photographs of the ‘clean room’ at the National Graphene Institute in Manchester, with lightboxes. On one wall, a series of lightboxes display images of places where graphene is already having an impact in the world, including a water desalination plant in Abu Dhabi and a mine in Sri Lanka.
“The window views were sort of inspired by old dioramas,” says Olsen. “They’re about glimpsing the near future