Why Does Discussing Graphene Often Lead to Punch Ups?

There’s nothing like a fight to enliven the afternoon session of a conference, and over the years graphene has delivered this in spades. It arouses passions stronger than its fabled strength, especially when academics and companies inhabit the same space. But why can’t academics and companies just get along?

I’ve witnessed other almost violent outbursts over production methods, the ability to actually produce graphene, and whether what was being used was actually graphene. And all these kerfuffles are generated from the tension between well-meaning (or at times quite desperate) attempts to commercialise graphene, and unconscious efforts to actually prevent its commercialisation.

Maybe academics unconsciously know that someone succeeding in commercialising their technology would be a disaster. If a number of key applications for graphene were discovered then there would be no need for that shiny new building to promote commercialisation, nor a rationale for increased research funding. And the high profile partnerships with cash rich but innovation poor multinationals trying to take an option on graphene, just in case, would dry up.

The most recent conference bust up was over the sheet resistance of graphene. A company was refusing to disclose its commercially sensitive data. An academic was outraged that someone could waste his time without giving numbers.  Both were correct by the standards of the worlds they inhabit, but neither could or would see an alternative view.

In the end, it comes down to a lack of focus at the event. Mixing posturing companies with preening academics benefits no one, least of all the audience.

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