Those of you who remember when silicone became the modern day miracle will probably see some similarities with the new kid on the block – Graphene. Well, the comparison is no coincidence because Graphene will probably replace silicon in many electronic gadgets. But let’s forget silicon for now and look into why Graphene has caught the imagination and much more of the general public and some huge multinational companies out there.
Graphene and its Glorious Future
Graphene is an incredibly powerful material that is made from a single layer of carbon atoms that are connected by a repeating pattern of hexagons. Well, that may sound a tad boring, but this material is one million times thinner than paper and is two hundred times stronger than steel, no really, it is. In fact Graphene is so thin that some consider it to be 2 dimensional. It is also an incredible conductor of heat and electricity as well as being transparent. Just think of the possibilities that this material bring to the world of technology, heating and automotive development.
The Accidental Scientists…
So how did we come across this amazing material, after all it couldn’t have been an accident could it? Well, actually that kind of covers two very important aspects of the development of Graphene:
- Accident Number One – In 2002 at Manchester University, a pair of scientists had some time on their hands and decided to try and investigate the electrical properties of carbon graphite. Andrei Geim and Kostya Novoselov were unaware that they were about to make a discovery that would soon rank alongside the accidental methods used by Alexander Fleming when he discovered penicillin. The Russian team were using Scotch tape to peel away the layers of graphite from a block, eventually they managed to create a layer that was only 2 atoms in thickness. And after further attempts they actually achieved something incredible, a layer of graphite that was a single atom in thickness. This discovery, and the work they put in thereafter, was to earn them a Nobel Prize in 2010, and all from a semi-serious boredom exercise.
- Accident Number Two – Fast forward to 2012 and the warmer climes of UCLA, 2 scientists were looking at ways to manufacture Graphene on a larger scale. Ric Kaner and Maher El-Kady were playing around with the end product and they managed to power a light bulb with a tiny particle of Graphene. After a few alterations they discovered that Graphene has amazing capacitor qualities that allow it to be used for charging up batteries and gadgets that require electricity. The brilliant aspect of this new use was the fact that Graphene could charge an appliance up to 1000 times faster than standard. Science is usually a very thought out set of procedures, but occasional something great can come out of nowhere.
Graphene is Incredible
One of the most exciting future uses of Graphene is the possibility of using it to make seawater drinkable. This is due to the tiny pores that make up this 2 dimensional material, letting the pure water through but blocking the salt atoms. Computers, planes and cars are all going to be changed forever once the Graphene mass-production hits a green light.
The Problem with Production
Despite the mammoth efforts of many notable multinational companies, producing this material on a large scale is still some way off. If the likes of Intel, Samsung, IBM and a host of other giants are unable to get the ball rolling with production, maybe it is time to ask a few random scientists to start creating a few more of these incredible accidents that have already put Graphene firmly on the scientific map?