A Nobel Prize-winning scientist who developed what the media dubbed a wonder material has accused a Chinese underwear manufacturer of using his name to promote its products without his permission and to make massively exaggerated claims about their benefits. Andre Geim jointly won the Nobel Prize for physics in 2010 for his work on graphene. The ultra-light material is formed of a single layer of carbon atoms, but is 200 times stronger than steel and is an excellent conductor of electricity and heat. Research institutes around the world have pumped billions of dollars into studying the material, with the potential applications ranging from cancer treatment to water filtration. The Chinese company Jinan Shengquan Group, which is based in eastern Shandong province, says it uses graphene to produce underwear. Its advertising says the graphene in its garments helps retain heat, can eliminate odours, kills bacteria and wearing the products can even enlarge women’s breasts and improve men’s sexual performance. The firm has used pictures of Geim in its advertising in state-run newspapers, business websites and marketing brochures to promote “graphene underwear” since 2015. Geim is quoted in various adverts promoting the products, with statements such as “this is a breakthrough, a miracle”. Geim, who is based at the University of Manchester in Britain, told the South China Morning Post that he had never tried the products, praised them or given his permission to promote them. “It’s absolutely shameful for them to use my name in their marketing campaign without my permission and, more importantly, attributing such false statements to me,” he said. Geim said he came across the firm two years ago while attending a conference in Qingdao in Shandong province where the firm had a booth promoting its products. “I was curious to see ‘graphene underwear’ and enquired what graphene could do to improve [the product],” he said. Graphene may be the material of the future “I was told that because the material is ‘very black’ it retains heat better. I pointed out that this contradicted basic science because dark surfaces emit heat better, not retain it. “After this remark, the company gave me boxers and a pair of socks to try for myself to see how it works … I never put them on because their textile felt low quality and uncomfortable, at least in 2015. The company asked for a photo together – and I obliged.” After he returned to Britain, Geim showed the underwear to his fellow researchers. “Everyone agreed that the company hyped graphene, using it as a marketing tool … [we] could not find any evidence for any improvement provided by graphene in their products,” he said. Apart from the “suspicious” heat retention claim, the physicist said a vast amount of scientific literature had also shown graphene to be an extremely inert material, scotching the assertion that it as capable of killing bacteria. Chen Jianhao, an associate professor of physics who studies graphene at Peking University’s International Centre of Quantum Materials, agreed the material in its pure form could neither generate heat nor destroy bacteria. Graphene is a single layer of graphite – like the soft, flaky material used in pencil lead – and is only one atom thick. The material used in the underwear was much thicker, probably made up of many layers of carbon atom lattice, which would therefore exhibit properties different from that of real graphene, according to Chen. “Whether [the underwear material] can be called graphene, most people in the scientific community would say no,” he said. Another graphene researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, said: “My impression is that the underwear material is not graphene, but a conventional carbon material with many pores.” Graphene breakthrough gives scientists hope for energy revolution China’s US$300 billion textile industry, however, appears to have high hopes for graphene. “It’s our secret weapon for an industrial upgrade,” Wang Yongsheng, an official in charge of industry development at the China Chemical Fibres Association, said. “[Geim] may have his opinions, but we have strong data from laboratories recognised by the government to back up our claims,” Wang said. The China Health Care Association was among the agencies that had certified graphene-enhanced textiles’ ability to generate heat and inhibit micro-organisms from reproducing, he said. He did not comment on the underwear manufacturer’s claims about enlarging breast sizes and improving sexual performance. Jinan Shengquan Group told the South China Morning Post that it has footage of Geim on video endorsing its products. The company has yet to respond to requests to see the video. Vice-president Bai Xingze said via email that the firm’s graphene underwear had not only passed the Chinese government’s quality inspection tests, but also received certificates from the United States’ Food and Drug Administration. The certificate sent to the Post by the firm was not issued by the FDA. Bai added that Geim had commented positively on the firm’s products when he visited their booth at the 2015 graphene conference. “Geim’s remarks indeed gave us considerable benefit in promoting our products at the time … we would like to extend our gratitude to him, but we have not used the opportunity to conduct any ill-purposed promotion,” he said by email. Geim, however, rejected Bai’s comments. “What the company said about me is absolutely untrue … I have never commented anything positive about the product, nor could I, in principle, because I am a scientist and need proof, not words. No scientific data was shown to me. ” Geim said he would consider legal action to stop the firms from misusing his name. Chinese law, however, does not protect foreigners’ rights to their name in China, so mainland firms are generally free to use foreign celebrities’ names on their products. Legal experts said there was an increasing problem with Chinese firms using overseas celebrities’ or scientists’ names or trademarks to promote products without their permission. Michael Jordan wins rights to his Chinese name in China’s top court One of the few known legal victories in such cases was when former basketball star Michael Jordan won the rights last year to his Chinese name in a trademark lawsuit that had dragged on for four years. A firm had used the Chinese characters for his name, Qiaodan, on its merchandise, alongside a logo similar to Jordan’s own Nike-produced brand. “There are many, many such cases [as Geim’s],” said Shen Teng, director of the Harmony Partners law firm in Beijing, which specialises in intellectual property lawsuits. “And they can walk away with little punishment, if any at all.” Unlike famous athletes, movie stars and politicians, scientists often had less experience and resources to deal with such issues and most did not protect their names by registering them as trademarks in China either, Shen said. The language barrier and differences in the country’s legal system also made it hard for them to gather and present effective evidence, he added. Xu Xinming, the founder of China Intellectual Property Lawyers, said Geim could consider taking the firm to court if it used unfair claims to gain an unfair advantage over its competitors. China’s unfair competition law prohibits false and misleading advertising content. Geim, however, believes the damage to the reputation of his wonder material is already done. “There are many good graphene companies in China and they do well pushing graphene technology to new levels, ahead of the world,” he said. “However, there are quite a few ‘black sheep’, too. They poison the progress and efforts by many others, issuing false claims and fooling customers into buying ‘graphene products’ where graphene provides no useful function whatsoever,” the physicist said.