Graphene - The ‘Wonder Material’ - Is Set to Change The World
Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov led a group of researchers towards the amazing discovery that is graphene.
This wonder material was first forged in 2004 by the team at the University of Manchester, UK. Since it’s discovery, graphene has emerged as one of the most promising nanomaterials ever due to its unique combination of properties. Before it was discovered, scientists used to think that two-dimensional crystalline materials couldn’t exist due to thermodynamic instability. However, that all changed. Using just an ordinary piece of Scotch tape, Geim and Novoselov were able to isolate monolayer graphene from a piece of graphite. Fifteen years later, mechanical exfoliation is the simplest way to produce graphene flakes, although more recent methods have produced graphene with fewer impurities. In 2010, Geim and Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work with this nanomaterial. Check out the video below for some more information on this wonder material!
What makes graphene so special?
To most people, a honeycomb lattice made of a single layer of carbon atoms sounds quite fragile. That said, graphene most certainly doesn’t fit that description. In fact, graphene is not only the thinnest material (0.345 nanometers), but it’s also the strongest; around 200 times stronger than steel. Graphene’s amazing mechanical properties don’t stop there either. Another remarkable benefit of graphene is that it’s also elastic and lightweight only weighing 0.77 milligrams per square meter. This means that only a single gram of graphene would be needed to cover an entire football pitch. Therefore, graphene could become an irreplaceable component in composites or coatings for anything from aircraft and spaceships all the way up to buildings.
In addition to all of that, graphene is also an excellent electrical and thermal conductor thanks to its crystal and band structures. This wonder material is a zero-overlap semimetal with remarkable electron mobility, even at room temperatures! This makes it a really promising material for flexible electronics, solar cells, batteries, and high-speed transistors. There are so many different ways it could be used, all of which are extremely useful and practical. So how CAN it be used?
Batteries That Last 10 Times Longer
Two of the largest applications are energy and electronics. One which almost everyone will be able to relate to is their phone. Researchers at the Northwestern University experimented with graphene-based electrodes for lithium-ion batteries. What the results showed was that this could potentially make phone batteries last up to ten times longer than they do now as well as help the phones load ten times fast than current technology. In regards to energy, the graphene was found to have uses in solar energy. It could potentially lead to a 3000% increase in current solar energy storage. Furthermore, due to it’s conducting abilities, it could also be used for ultrathin, flexible, inexpensive solar cells. This is very promising indeed.
Computers 1,000 Times Faster Than Today
Another example of where graphene could be used in electronics is in computers. Many believe that graphene will one day completely replace silicon in computer chips since a charge can move faster through the 2D material than through silicon. According to estimates, graphene might possibly enable terahertz computing. For those who aren't a computer whiz, this means using computers that are up to 1,000 times faster than today. However, in order for graphene to be used like this in transistors, it needs to be doped with impurities because it lacks the necessary band gap. In it’s purest form, it’s just too good of a conductor. Although a graphene transistor isn’t ready yet, research groups around the world are working together towards this goal, so it might be only a matter of time before computing is reinvented. Definitely keep an eye out for that!
Graphene also has uses in treating environmental issues. For example, today, one in nine people lack access to safe water and one in three people lack access to a toilet. To try and fix this, scientists at an Australian research center have used graphene to create a simple filtration system that allows water molecules to pass through nanochannels on a membrane’s surface while stopping pollutants with larger molecules. Furthermore, researchers at MIT say that graphene could provide a revolutionary way of turning salt water into clean drinking water. All of this could potentially be used to help give millions of people cleaner and safer drinking water which would rescue the spread of disease and thirst in so many areas.
In conclusion, graphene is clearly a very useful material. While it's still in its baby years, having only been around for fifteen years or so, so many huge advancements have been made in the technology that it won't be long before every industry is being disrupted by it. It really is a remarkable piece of material.