Durham University wins coveted innovation award
(4 December 2012)
Durham University has won the coveted Times Higher Education award for Outstanding Contribution to Innovation and Technology for the development of a clean and scalable alternative for production of graphene – the “miracle” substance of nanotechnology.
Graphene could be used in the aerospace industry, in solar cells, and even to replace batteries in next-generation vehicles and consumer electronics. But these ideas depend on the creation of a large-scale, sustainable and cost-effective production process.
Karl Coleman, Professor of Chemistry and Nanomaterials, found the existing production methods to be costly, time-consuming and environmentally unfriendly. He opted instead to build graphene from the bottom up.
When he pitched his discovery to Durham University Business and Innovation Services (DBIS), it immediately recognised the potential and the spin-off company Durham Graphene Science (DGS) was established in 2010.
Two years on, DGS and Professor Coleman are central to a market that is projected to be worth more than £400 million by 2020 and their contribution has been recognized throughout the industry.
Professor Coleman said: “It’s great that THE has recognised the potential importance of the innovations behind Durham Graphene Science, and the huge amount of work that all the team have put in to get us to this point.”
Professor John Evans, Head of the Department of Chemistry, added: “It’s wonderful that Karl’s work has been recognised in this way. The Department has a long tradition of transferring research ideas into real world products and I’m delighted that this is continuing. It’s been fascinating to see DGS grow from a small activity hosted within the Department to its current stage.
“Karl has had great support from Durham Business and Innovation Services and external sponsors to help achieve this. It’s also interesting and important that the academic-to-business transition isn’t a one way process – concepts developed with DGS are now creating exciting new research directions within the Department.”
DBIS Director Dr Tim Hammond said: “Durham has a strong portfolio of spinout companies. Last year another Durham spinout, Kromek Ltd, was shortlisted for this prestigious award. The win is an excellent example of how universities can identify and harness leading edge technologies from their research base.”
Award judge Chris Cobb, chief operating officer and university secretary at the University of London, said the exceptional electrical, mechanical and thermal properties of graphene made it an ideal material.
“But its lack of availability is beginning to hamper new developments,” he said. “Durham’s approach to the production of synthetic graphene will have a major impact on manufacturing and allied industries, as well as research disciplines. It is difficult to overstate the significance of this innovation.”
The award was presented at an event hosted by actor and writer David Walliams at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel on Thursday [November 29]. Universities from all over the country gathered to celebrate the greatest ideas, the finest practice and the very best researchers and teachers in the sector.
John Gill, editor, Times Higher Education, said: “Anyone looking for evidence of the pioneering spirit, adaptability and sheer quality of our higher education sector need look no further than the winners of this year’s Times Higher Education Awards.”
For more coverage of the awards and photos of all the winners, visit www.the-awards.co.uk.