skip to content

Cambridge Graphene Centre

Research Centre on Graphene, Layered Crystals and Hybrid Nanomaterials
CGC alumni clockwise from top left: Ellen Smith, Anna Ott, Silvia Milana, Flavia Tomarchio

Image caption: CGC alumni clockwise from top left: Ellen Smith, Anna Ott, Silvia Milana, Flavia Tomarchio

The mission of the Cambridge Graphene Centre is to investigate the science and technology of graphene, carbon allotropes, layered crystals and hybrid nanomaterials. Throughout its first decade as a locus for pioneering scientific enquiry, talented students and professionals from all over the world have trained, worked, and conducted ambitious research, gaining invaluable experience that has helped shape and benefit their careers.

Completing a degree or a research contract at the CGC prepares individuals for careers in both academia and industry. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, CGC alumni have successfully climbed the industrial and academic ladders and found employment in all four corners of the world. Six postdoctoral researchers became associate professors, two took up assistant professor positions, and three obtained lectureship positions. An additional two researchers were awarded Marie Curie fellowships. Those who left academia were hired by companies to work in their Research and Development departments, as well as investment banking or consulting.

Equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for the production, fabrication and characterisation of graphene and other layered materials, the CGC attracts students and researchers interested in exploring the fascinating characteristics of innovative materials. Beyond fundamental research, CGC researchers have the opportunity to be involved in several application areas. These include developing devices such as modulators, lasers, broadband detectors, antennas, terahertz devices, quantum devices, sensors, solar cells, batteries, and wearable devices. Companies appreciate these skills and are eager to work and collaborate with current and former CGC members.

As International Women's Day approaches, we contacted four CGC alumni to learn about their memories of Cambridge and the CGC, and of the exciting career steps they have taken since their time here.



My PhD (2010-2014) at Pembroke College and the CGC focused on light interaction with graphene, related two-dimensional materials and plasmonic nanostructures, with emphasis on optical spectroscopy of layered crystals and heterostructures. After the PhD, I stayed on as Research Associate at the CGC and Junior Research Fellow at St Edmund’s College. I contributed to several work packages of the Graphene Flagship on opto-electronics, photonics, wafer-scale system integration and industrialisation, with the goal of bringing together academic and industrial researchers to take nanomaterials from laboratories into society. I am now Team Manager and Senior Editor at Nature Communications in the Springer Nature headquarters in London, where I lead a subject-based team of seven editors with focus on nanotechnology and condensed matter physics.

LEARNED HERE: I have always enjoyed tackling complex and multifaceted problems, breaking them down in core propositions, and surfacing the key results in the simplest and most accessible terms. The vast array of intellectually stimulating challenges I experienced at the CGC allowed me to refine this ability. By demanding high-quality results while giving me intellectual freedom in my research, Prof Ferrari empowered me with the tools and the drive I needed to succeed. I got the unique opportunity to be involved in several research projects and collaborations with members of the research and development community — from international universities to industrial organisations. I feel this has played a major role in the commitment I hold to amplify the representation of nanotechnology and engineering to a wide audience of stakeholders, including research bodies within large-scale research initiatives, industry, and the general public.



At the time I started my PhD in Raman spectroscopy and carbon-based data storage devices in the group of Professor Andrea Ferrari, the new CGC building did not yet exist. Seeing it being planned and built from scratch was an interesting experience. After finishing my PhD I stayed as a postdoc at the CGC, but changed my research topic to focus more on optoelectronic devices. This was a very good decision for me because I could still use all the state-of-the-art laboratories at the CGC while learning new skills and aspects of layered materials. During my time as a postdoc I also became a junior research fellow at one of the colleges in Cambridge. I really enjoy doing research and after around two years of postdoc, I obtained a lectureship position at the University of Exeter (UK), where I could start my own research group. More recently, I moved to France to take a position of CNRS Research Engineer at the French-German Research Institute of Saint-Louis.

LEARNED HERE: I learned quite a wide variety of professional and interpersonal skills by interacting with collaborators from both industry and academia. Being responsible for two laboratories and several pieces of equipment during my Ph.D. and postdoc taught me not only all the relevant technical skills, but also a lot of management skills. All these experiences came in very handy when I started to build my own research group.

In Cambridge, I could also gain some teaching experience through undergraduate supervisions and teaching Ph.D. students about Raman spectroscopy at the Centre for Doctoral Training for Graphene Science and Technology. This experience helped me a lot to prepare for all the teaching duties in my role as a lecturer at the University of Exeter.


ALUMNI PROFILE: Flavia Tomarchio

I received my Ph.D. in Engineering at the CGC and stayed also for a project management role. Then, I left academia and worked at PragmatIC as a technical project leader. Hereafter I moved to Switzerland where I am now working as the Head of Innovation Deployment of Schaffhausen Institute of Technology.

LEARNED HERE: While studying advanced materials, mostly graphene and layered materials for optoelectronics, energy and wearable applications, I was involved in different European projects. The biggest one was the Graphene Flagship – a European consortium that currently includes nearly 170 academic and industrial research groups across 22 countries.

As well as these academic aspects, Prof. Ferrari asked us to be involved in the design and building of the new Cambridge Graphene Centre. Every group was in charge of different laboratories and I was responsible for the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) lab, the photoluminescence lab, and partly also the labs dedicated to the production of graphene by liquid-phase exfoliation. It was challenging – I feel it was like eight years condensed into four – but it was definitely a good experience and I am currently using every single skill that I acquired during that period. I can see the fruits of the hard work. I enjoy the challenge that comes in doing something that was never done before: being part of the team that develops a project from the beginning, and then seeing it grow and evolve. This gives me the drive to work. Furthermore, I was surrounded by a nice College community, which was effectively a family outside my family, and which I believe is unique to Cambridge. It allowed me to build really important friendships, which I still value.



I was the Executive Assistant to the Director and Senior Administrators at the CGC. I left the CGC to relocate to London and take up a new role as Events and Research Administrator at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London (UAL). At this stage in my career, I am looking to expand my knowledge and experience of education and the creative industries with the aim to eventually be in a leadership role at an arts-related organisation.

LEARNED HERE: I developed my interpersonal skills – I learned how to communicate effectively and efficiently across a wide range of internal and external stakeholders, including researchers, doctoral students, business developers, communicators, project managers, finance administrators, technicians and HR personnel. This has contributed to my confidence and ability to correspond with academics and industry professionals, but also to support collaborations between arts and sciences.

When the UK lockdown happened in March 2020, I helped organise the successful transition of 80 staff to working from home. This experience working in a hybrid manner and solving problems using various digital tools has been invaluable in my current role.