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Anger as UK university research ends up with Israeli arms company

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The material 'nanene' was developed by scientists at the University of Manchester [Al Jazeera]
The material ‘nanene’ was developed by scientists at the University of Manchester [Al Jazeera]

Activists have voiced anger after state-of-the-art graphene technology developed by a UK university was supplied to an Israeli arms manufacturer.

In October last year, engineering firm Versarien announced a collaboration agreement with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to test a graphene-based material called Nanene in its aerospace composite materials.

Nanene was developed by researchers at the University of Manchester and its proprietary rights were obtained by Versarien in 2014 when it bought an 85 percent stake in 2-DTech Limited, a company spun out from the university’s graphene research. 

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IAI produces a number of military use technologies, such as missile systems, fighter planes, and drones, including the Harop ‘suicide drone’, which can stay in the air for hours before crashing its payload into a target.

In an interview shortly after the agreement, Versarien CEO Neill Ricketts, said the cooperation with IAI would include military use of its technology.

“What we have here is an ability to take our materials and to work closely with the guys (IAI) in not only aircraft but defence projects and space projects,” he said.

Palestinian University of Manchester student Huda Ammori told Al Jazeera that students and academics were unaware that they werehelping to produce research that benefitted the arms trade.

“In all of the universities branding around graphene research they talk about the great benefits it can have in providing clean drinking water for millions of people, but the issue is there’s clearly a massive focus on the arms trade,” she said.

“As a Palestinian student, I feel embarrassed that my student fees are going towards components that end up in the hands of the Israeli military, which openly admits to testing their weapons on Palestinians,” she went on to say. 

Israel Aerospace Industries produces the Harop ‘suicide’ drone [Julian Herzog/WikiCommons] 

Graphene is a 2-D material composed of a single-layer of carbon atoms, which has been hailed for its strength, flexibility, and conductivity.

With a strength of up to 200 times that of steel, graphene has potential application in batteries, composite materials, and water filtration.

The material was first isolated by scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester in 2004, a discovery that earned the pair the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

The university also houses the National Graphene Institute, one of the world’s leading centres for graphene research.

Al Jazeera asked the university for comment on the concern that technology it developed and now obtained by IAI could be used to strengthen the occupation of Palestinian land and in the killing of Palestinian civilians. 

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It did not directly address that issue and instead issued a short statement.

“The University of Manchester partners with many different academic and industrial organisations,” a university spokesperson said.

“We have a robust partnership process and all the University’s research is tested against our nationally recognised ethical criteria.”

According to Andrew Feinstein, author of the book The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, the university’s ethical responsibility for its research continues through to its commercial applications.

“To claim that it goes to a third party and what that third party does with it is not its responsibility, is both ethically corrupt and legally unsustainable,” he said.

“We know that the products of University of Manchester’s research is going in to weaponry that is being used by the Israeli military, and which among other things are being used in occupied Palestinian territory.”

“People who are living under oppression and in completely intolerable circumstances are the victims of the research by Manchester university.”

Follow Shafik Mandhai on Twitter: @ShafikFM

SOURCE: Al Jazeera News

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