Go back to article: From 2D to 3D: the story of graphene in objects

Graphene sample

Figure 8

Sample of monolayer graphene with silver epoxy from 2005

Sample of monolayer graphene, with silver epoxy, 2005–10. The Manchester team shared their graphene breakthrough freely, sending samples all over the world for researchers to test. Since then many researchers have contributed to understanding graphene’s remarkable properties. Donated by Professor Konstantin Novoselov

Research interest in graphene spread quickly. In 2009, Geim stated that ‘Graphene research has developed at a truly relentless pace. Several papers appear every day’ (Geim, 2009, p 1530). This is perhaps partly due to the discovery of a cheap and easy method of isolation: ‘the Scotch tape method has a low barrier to entry in that it does not require large investments or complicated equipment, which has helped considerably to broaden the geography of graphene science’ (Novoselov, 2010a, p 106). However, accepting this as the main explanation underestimates the generosity and openness with which Geim, Novoselov and their team shared their breakthrough isolation method with international colleagues. Figure 7 shows one of five graphene samples donated to the Museum of Science and Industry and accessioned into the permanent collection along with the sticky tape dispenser in 2005. Samples and experimental early graphene transistors like these helped disseminate the evidence that graphene was possible and invited scientists all over the world to test it for themselves. These samples represent a stage in the story of graphene when scientists were still working on the fundamental science rather than looking ahead (and being pestered by the press and museum curators) to possible applications for graphene. Professor Cinzia Casiraghi recalls that while she was completing her post-doctoral research on carbon nanostructures at the University of Cambridge, her group were one of the first to receive a sample like this: ‘I was actually the one who opened the box, and first saw the graphene under the microscope’ (Casiraghi, 2014). Shortly after that, in 2006, Casiraghi began collaborating directly with Geim and Novoselov. She is now Professor of Nanomaterials at the University of Manchester, based at the National Graphene Institute.

These samples demonstrate the contemporary collecting opportunities that come from collaboration between museum curators and scientists. In direct conversations, curators can encourage scientists to think more broadly about the material culture that could represent their work – and it might not be what the scientist expected. This collecting approach contrasts with historic science exhibitions, where curators often have little physical material culture associated with a discovery or an individual, and certainly very little detail about the human, experiential dimension to the story. However, as a curator developing an exhibition in collaboration with living scientists, it is important to be aware of the risk of individuals becoming too involved, and the temptation to display and/or acquire an excess of personal material and stories.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/181004/011