By Jack Seaberry
Graphene is a wonder material, the characteristics of which are still being unearthed daily. With widespread applicability, graphene and 2D materials continue to draw global attention as developments in the field of advanced materials progress.
“My career can be divided into before graphene and after graphene, because graphene was really a breakthrough.”
Dr. Antonio Castro Neto has been referred to as the ‘Godfather of Graphene’ for his role in the development of 2D materials. He has been iterating his work with graphene for decades now, and is personally responsible for a range of findings pertaining to graphene’s properties. The span of Castro Neto’s involvement with graphene recently resulted in him being elected as a Fellow at the Singapore National Academy of Science. He is also a member of the NWA’s board of directors.
While Castro Neto serves as the Director of the Centre for Advanced 2D Materials (CA2DM), previously the Graphene Research Centre (GRC), he continues to have enough time for his theoretical pursuits, and publishes papers regularly. “The last article we published was in nature physics: a review of collective excitations in 2D materials, but we also wrote a paper on biothermic effects of molybdenum disulfide, plasmons in tricylinide, and one on superconductivity in twisted layer graphene.”
He speaks emphatically about his research, saying: “Your first paper on a subject you never forget. The first paper that we published on graphene, a paper that we published on anomalous magnetic behaviour in alloys of magnetic atoms, the work that we did on transition metal dichalcogenides; all these things are important to me.”
Graphene is often touted as a wonder material due to the range of properties unique to it. It is referred to as a 2D material, as it’s only one atom thick. Due to the hexagonal carbon lattice structure, which makes up sheets of graphene, the material is not only super-strong, but also highly resilient, antibacterial, and has even been shown to act as a superconductor. With so many beneficial characteristics, one has to wonder why it hasn’t been incorporated into more products.
Far from remaining constrained to the theoretical aspects of graphene, Castro Neto has made a point of ensuring that graphene technology is market-ready as soon as possible. He recognizes the bottleneck between theoretical understanding of graphene, and market viability which is preventing graphene’s industrial use. In order to ensure this commercial viability, he has begun five different companies, all pertaining to graphene. “The first company I started is called 2D Materials or 2DM. It’s a company that is producing very high quality graphene for the market, and we got an investment from a multibillion dollar company.”
He’s also ensured the CA2DM focuses on getting products that it incubates market-ready. “In the centre we have experiments, theories, and also industrial applications (...) I’ve created an office for industry and innovation, and an industrial development lab that can take that scientific idea to the next level of commercialization, which is prototyping.” Following the prototyping stage, promising groups are spun out as companies for investment.
Castro Neto has been instrumental in campaigns against fake ‘flake’ graphene, which is often little more than fine graphite powder. This powder shares few, if any, of graphene’s sought-after properties, but continues to be marketed as graphene due to a lack of regulation from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Singapore, with Castro Neto’s guidance, has developed standards for the designation of graphene; “we worked with the government agency that does this which is called Enterprise Singapore (ESG) to write down a protocol on the characterization of graphene.” But due to a lack of international consensus, the ISO has yet to adopt these.
When asked what the key to being successful in so many fields is, Castro Neto replies that “the key to success, doing so many things, is to have good people around you who can help you to do these things. I’m very lucky I have a fantastic administrative team that helps me at the centre for advanced 2D materials.” However, he wasn’t always so adept at managing teams. “I never had people management skills. Then, when I became director here I had to develop very fast.”
Established in 2010 within the National University of Singapore, the Graphene Research Centre (GRC), founded by Prof. Antonio H. Castro Neto, was created for the conception, characterization, theoretical modeling, and development of transformative technologies based on two-dimensional (2D) crystals, such as graphene.
In 2014, the National Research Foundation (NRF) of Singapore awarded NUS with a S$ 50 M grant over the next 10 years in order to support the operational costs of GRC's labs and micro and nano-fabrication facility and the exploration, synthesis, and development of new devices based on 2D materials, creating the Centre for Advanced 2D Materials (CA2DM) which is directed by Prof. Antonio H. Castro Neto.
Aiming at being a world leader in innovative and emergent materials science, with strong ties to the industry and academia, CA2DM contributes to a new generation of scientists and engineers who will have a permanent impact in the society and business enterprise landscape of Singapore, and worldwide.
Learn more about CA2DM