problem solving

Graphene Application Challenge Prize?

The Graphene Challenge

Graphene is a new material that is just in its infancy in terms of commerical usage. It’s from graphite, the stuff in pencils. It’s magical stuff — 150 times stronger than steel, flexible like rubber, and potentially usable in electronics, water filtration, energy, building construction, medical, and more. It’s the thinnest material known to man at this moment. It’s 250 times more conductive or “mobile” than silicon. It hit the news again recently as scientists have discovered a much cheaper way to produce the material. This is a market that is about to explode.

It’s frustratingly hard to work with. But that’s the fun part. 

Unfortunately for the USA, it would see the prime early movers in research and commercialization are in the UK, Ireland, and Korea.  Andrew Geim of the University of Manchester (a Soviet immigrant to the UK) got the party started. There are manufacturing start-ups in East Anglia and Dublin. Good on them! Samsung in Korea holds a large number of patents related to graphene.

The “killer apps” are likely still out there. This is a fast-follow innovation opportunity of the highest order.

Why aren’t we (USA) jumping into this market? There are researchers in the USA fooling around with this stuff (notably Rice University, and to a lesser extent, IBM), but I don’t enough adventurous new start-ups yet. There are about 60 start-ups in the USA at this point, but folks, there should be 600. For a quick peek at the Graphene marketplace, see Graphene-Info. Shout out to Michigan based XG Sciences, great to see what you’re up to.

Wouldn’t this be a grand idea for senior year projects for engineering students?

Attention engineering professors!

What have you got to lose by encouraging your students to experiment with graphene? You just might spawn a billion dollar company. Even if your students fail they will learn something important about a new material and more importantly about innovation. It will also position them for jobs in an emerging new market segment. Creating entrepreneurs is not easy, and, one way it might be done is by inspiring students with exciting visions of the future. Taking the leap into the start-up universe is not all about logic. Logic says, get a good job. Vision says, “but look what you might be able to do.” Invoking that kind of value-creating emotion is something I would wish higher education would do more.

The fact that it’s “impossible” to use (see the New Yorker article for a nice frame up of the challenge at hand) is sort of perfect. Things are impossible until they are not.

This is a challenge ripe for big breakthrough’s and big, cool, profitable, interesting, and value-creating applications.

Wouldn’t it be great if someone put up some prize money, ala the XPRIZE?


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