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Chancellor finds £50m to stop Russia-born Nobellists defecting

Chancellor George Osborne has announced an extra £195 million for science including a planned new centre to commercialise research into graphene.

Speaking at the Conservative party conference in Manchester on 3 October, Osborne revealed that £50m has been earmarked to provide capital funding for a graphene research hub, rumoured to be located in Manchester. Manchester university is home to the two Russia-born physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov who scooped the 2010 Nobel prize for their work with graphene.

The centre will specialise in work aimed at creating a “home grown hi-tech industry” around the material, according to a statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The government is expecting a host of new applications from the work, including flexible touchscreens, pollution sensors and biomedical sensors.

Osborne met the scientists on the day of his speech and told his party that they have been inundated with offers to move abroad, including from China and Russia. He said that they want to stay in the UK and this investment will secure that future. He described the centre as a “national programme to take this discovery from the British laboratory to the British factory floor”.

In a statement issued shortly after the speech, universities minister David Willetts said: “One year ago scientists working in Manchester won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of graphene. The global hub will ensure we win the race to develop commercial uses for it as well. The hub will keep world-beating research into graphene in this country. It brings researchers and the companies seeking to exploit its incredible commercial potential together.”

The new centre will, according to Osborne, capitalise on the UK’s existing leadership to support the business end of graphene research. It will develop technology to support the manufacture of graphene in order to generate jobs and attract investment from international firms. It will also house a “large” doctoral training centre.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board are developing a business plan for the centre. The two will later launch a competition to run the hub.

Osborne also announced £145m for what he called making the UK a “world leader in supercomputing”. The funding will be used to develop an infrastructure for high performance computing in the UK. In a statement Willetts later added:

“Significantly improving computing infrastructure is vital to driving growth and giving businesses the confidence to invest in the UK. It has the potential to significantly improve the design and manufacturing process, encouraging innovation across a whole range of sectors.”

According to a BIS statement, areas that will benefit from the investment include software development, computer power, data storage, wide bandwidth networks, cyber security and authentication, and building skills.

Further details are expected to emerge when the research councils develop a business case for the investment.