Graphene, described as the ‘wonder material of the 21st century’, is a two-dimensional, 1 atom thick lattice that originates from graphite. The ultra-light lattice has been around for a long time; however, it wasn’t until 2004 that scientists Konstantin Novoselov and Andrew Geimat, from the University of Manchester, discovered how to isolate it.
This 100% pure carbon has a very simple, yet strong atomic structure, giving it many advantageous qualities. Graphene is 200 times stronger than steel and can conduct electricity better than copper. The transparent lattice is also extremely flexible and the thinnest material discovered by man, so far. Due to its close-knit carbon atoms, graphene is also impermeable; meaning it can trap and detect other materials.
How it’s made
Novoselov and Geim first discovered the lattice by using sticky tape to strip away thin flakes of graphite, which they then attached to a silicon plate, allowing them to identify the tiny layers that can’t be seen by the human eye, through a microscope. Since then, scientists have successfully found a number of alternative ways to produce graphene. Sonication, for example, produces it when exposing graphite to ultrasonic vibrations, which fragments the cells resulting in graphene.
What is it used for?
Many companies are already investing a lot of time and money into the wonder material. IBM have produced several electronic component prototypes, whilst Samsung has produced a flat screen with graphene electrodes. It’s hoped that it can be used to improve current touch screen technology in phones/tablets and in the car industry it’s thought that the material could be used in new extremely efficient hydrogen fuel cells to power electric cars. Graphene may also prove useful in various medical, chemical and industrial processes. Looking ahead to the future, the opportunities seem limitless. Futurists are even envisaging wearable tablets and tennis rackets, which use graphene to work out where to target the ball, turning us all into Andy Murrays!
What about drawbacks?
Despite being hailed as the ‘wonder material of the 21st century’, scientists are still struggling to find ways to mass produce it. There is currently very little equipment designed to handle such a thin material and it could prove extremely expensive; which has some questioning whether it’ll ever even make it onto the market. On top of this, there are also health concerns, as graphene has been found to contain toxins; which could be harmful to both humans and the environment.
There’s certainly no denying the wonder properties of graphene. However, there’s also no ignoring the massive production issues scientists face. Will graphene make it onto the market or forever be bound to laboratories? Keep your eyes peeled!