Our lives are about to change – Graphene

crystalline structure of graphene

The ideal crystalline structure of Graphene is a hexagonal grid.
Source Wikimedia Commons.

There are times in history when something big happens and you just know our lives are going to change. Edison and the light bulb, the personal computer and soon we may add Graphene to the list of history’s significant technological steps forward. It is not often something like this comes along, something which could be so ubiquitous and touch our lives in so many ways. So what is this new wonder material. Well it is basically one of the first two dimensional materials. It is a film of carbon atoms only one atom thick. This is a material so thin it is impossible to get thinner. Think of carbon fiber, but only one atom thick. Grapheneis one of the crystalline forms of carbon, alongside diamond, graphite, carbon nanotubes and fullerenes. In this material, carbon atoms are arranged in a regular hexagonal pattern. High-quality Graphene is very strong, light, nearly transparent, and an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. Its interaction with other materials and with light, along with its inherently two-dimensional nature, produce unique properties.

Before I get to all of the really cool things you can do with Graphene here is a short list of its properties.

  • 1 square meter of Graphene  weighs only as much as a the cat’s whiskers, or 0.77 mg (about 0.001% of the weight of 1 m2 of paper)
  • It is transparent, so you can see through it.
  • It is very strong, estimated to be 100 times stronger than steal.One of the strongest materials ever tested.
  • It conducts electricity very well, better than silver.
  • It is an excellent conductor of heat, the best ever found.
  • It is flexible
  • It has a  very high tensile strength, it is hard to tear.

So what can you do with this? Well to give you an idea if how strong it is you could take a 1 meter square piece of this material, one atom thick, weighing .77 grams, and make a hammock for your 4 kg cat. Yes, that is a little silly but think about it. This one atom thick material is strong enough to hold up your cat, but weigh as much as the cats whisker. Now to some more practical applications besides cat hammocks.

Because it is both transparent and conducts electricity you can say goodbye to the broken screens on your mobile phone. Also they will be much thinner and lighter  Your phone will have a basically indestructible screen that weights basically nothing. Also it could be flexible enabling these kinds of devices to be integrated into clothes, or any other material you can think of.

Solar panels could be made Graphene due to it’s excellent transparency and ability to conduct electricity. Estimates show that using Graphene instead of Silicone could yield solar panels that at are 60% efficient.

A replacement for silicone in computer chips. Graphine has already been made into transistors and simple integrated chips. We could have smaller, lighter, faster computer chips….and they could even be flexible.

Desalinization – Studies suggest this material could outperform current processes in removing salt from water, thus solving water shortages in many parts of the world with cheap easy access to water.

Stronger, reinforced plastics. If you embedded it into plastic you can make it much stronger. In addition you could also make it conductive to electricity if you desire. Think fenders that are stronger than steel ones of today but also flexible. If you had a fender bender it would be harder to bend the fender in the first place but also it would simply pop back into shape. It would be lighter, and never rust.

Replace Kevlar bullet proof vests with Graphene. Lighter, stronger and safer.

So many applications from a single new substance makes the mind boggle. Graphene is starting to get some real attention and real world applications of it are being developed at a rapid rate. The public will start to see it in use in the next few years, and it is going to change things. You can get much more technical detail at the Wikipedia site.

Methods for the mass production of Graphene are still being developed. Oddly enough you can make some yourself at home with a pencil and some scotch tape. See the Video Below:

As mass production methods evolve we will see the use of this new material start to infiltrate our daily lives in ways we have not even thought of yet. A Nobel Prize in Physics was given to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov in 2010 for their work with this material.

Geim and Novoselov extracted the Graphene from a piece of graphite such as is found in ordinary pencils. Using regular adhesive tape they managed to obtain a flake of carbon with a thickness of just one atom. This at a time when many believed it was impossible for such thin crystalline materials to be stable.

It is truly exciting to think about all the possible applications of this material. In a few years you will have some in your home, in your cloths, your cars, your life. Remember it and watch as it evolves, maybe you will even think of a new application for this wonder material.

About the author

Recipient of many prestigious NASA Awards including the Exceptional Public Service Medal and the Robert H. Goddard award. Experience includes working for NASA, as a contractor, in satellite design, construction and operations. Expert in the satellite operations concepts and ground systems including command, control, and science data processing.