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Chinese president to visit UK’s graphene hub

22 Oct 2015 James Dacey

China’s president, Xi Jinping, will visit the UK’s new National Graphene Institute (NGI) in Manchester tomorrow on the final day of his first state visit to the UK. Xi will be accompanied by the UK chancellor George Osborne on a tour of the new £61m facility, which is at the University of Manchester.

Award-winning building

Recently crowned “major building project of the year” at the annual British Construction Industry Awards, the NGI is designed to bring researchers from academia and industry together to turn research on graphene and other 2D materials into commercial products. The five-storey, 7600 m2 building opened earlier this year and includes two large cleanrooms, optical labs and open spaces for collaboration. (See the video tour above.)

The building was designed by the London-based architects Jestico + Whiles, who worked closely with the Nobel laureate Konstantin Novoselov to meet the needs of the communities using the facility. The Russian-British researcher and his colleague at Manchester Andre Geim shared the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics for isolating graphene for the first time and their subsequent studies of the material.

Part of the design ethos has been to create a building with a sense of openness. Many of the internal walls are covered in black PVC so that the scientists can freely share their ideas using special chalk-effect pens. Meanwhile, sections of the subterranean cleanrooms are visible from street level so that the public can catch a glimpse of the work taking place within the NGI.

Strengthening national ties

“We welcome the visit of President Xi Jinping to the University of Manchester,” says Nancy Rothwell, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester. “The university has nearly 4000 Chinese students and 150 Chinese staff, and maintains close links with the Chinese business and academic communities. We are looking forward to showing the president some examples of our world-leading research and commercialization of graphene during his visit.”

The key theme of this Chinese presidential visit to the UK is to strengthen economic ties between the two nations, with the UK government claiming the visit will result in £30bn worth of trade and investment deals. This week has seen the state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) agree to invest £6bn for a 33.5% stake in a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point on the south-west coast of England. Meanwhile, the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will provide £3m for UK–China research projects focused on low-carbon cities, with matching funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC).

Having addressed Westminster politicians and dined with the Queen on Tuesday, Xi visited Imperial College London on Wednesday to see how China-based researchers are working with Imperial in fields such as nanotechnology, environmental engineering and advanced materials. This was followed by visits to a couple of London-based telecommunications firms and an event organized by University College London’s Institute of Education.

“Trade and investment between our two nations is growing and our people-to-people links are strong,” said the UK Prime Minister David Cameron ahead of the state visit. “This visit will be an opportunity to review all of these things but also to talk about how the UK and China can work together on global issues such as climate change and tackling poverty.”

Such enthusiasm for the visit, however, is not shared by all. On his route to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, Xi was greeted by protestors as well as supporters. One of the groups protesting was Amnesty International, which was highlighting China’s human-rights record and its stance on Tibet. At a press conference on Wednesday, Xi addressed the issue following a question from a BBC journalist. “China attaches great importance to protection of human rights. We combine the universal value of human rights with China’s reality and we have found a path of human-rights development suited to China’s national conditions,” he said. “Looking round the world we can see that there is always room for improvement.”

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