When two Russian émigré scientists, Andrei Geim, and Kostya Novoselov won their joint Nobel Prize in physics in 2010, they were applauded by the Nobel committee for their spirit of fleeting playfulness. It was one of the idiosyncrasies of the way the duo worked together.
Playing with Scotch tape on a Friday afternoon might sound like a foolish thing to do, but that’s how the scientist-dyad at the University of Manchester chose to explore the electrical properties of tiny flakes of carbon graphite. It was not long before, the nutty act turned into a serious game of splicing the thinnest possible layer of carbon on the sticky tape. Felicitously, it was a brilliant moment of serendipity that gilded science with a substance more valuable from an accidental moment of discovery. It was the creation of Graphene, a remarkable material that is today considered as something of a scientific legend.
Early experiments with graphene revealed some fascinating properties that compelled scientists into researching more, to fuse it into the promising field of molecular electronics.Graphene was isolated around a decade ago, and may take a while before it is available to general public. The scientific interest has even led to a patent rush by some of the biggest tech giants like IBM, Apple, and Lockheed Martin.
If you look at it, the extraordinary features and properties of Graphene makes it sound like something straight out of a comic book.
Graphene is a two-dimensional crystal of pure carbon with quite a lot of superlative properties. It is about 100 times stronger than steel by weight, making it the thinnest and strongest substance known to science. It is almost transparent, stretchable and a good conductor of electricity. It conducts heat better than any other substance known to science. It can act as a barrier to the smallest atom of gas and still allow water vapor to pass through it.
Geim and Novoselov hope to cultivate an industrial revivification to rival the one that began in North-West England around 200 years ago. This time, it’s going to be using carbon in the form of graphene rather than coal.
Let’s take a look at the so-called wonder material and it’s possible uses that have made it a legend in the scientific community.
Get a hold of this. Researchers at Rice University and Lomonosov Moscow State University discovered that tiny bits of graphene oxide bond with radioactive contaminants, turning them into huge extractable clusters. Graphene oxide can help absorb radioactive waste from nuclear accidents like the one at Fukushima disaster.
Scientists believe that by passing seawater through wee bits of graphene’s pores, the crystal lattice could block out the atoms, while letting water molecules pass through it. With the help of a graphene filter, sea water can be desalinated, making it drinkable.
Australian researchers found that by adding an equal amount of graphene and carbon nanotubes to a polymer, a super-strong fiber was produced. The fiber can be spun into the fabric creating bulletproof vests.
Additionally, graphene foam has shown to pick up tiny concentrations of nitrates and ammonia that are found in explosives. A coin-sized sensor developed in the US might soon be mandatory for bomb squads.
New age smartphones
Graphene is both, conductive and transparent. It will prove to be perfect for futurist smartphones. In fact, Samsung is amongst the myriad of electronics companies that are developing touchscreen interfaces.
Graphene is highly conductive and repels water. Such a robust combination can keep the steel from coming into contact with water and delay the electrochemical reactions that oxidize iron. New York scientists have designed a polymer coating that contains graphene, which is found to protect steel from rusting for more than a month.
Next generation of computers
Graphene will one day replace silicon chips. A lot of electronics companies are testing graphene in innumerable electrical devices. In fact, IBM has already created computers that use graphene to reach the record-setting speed of 100GHz.
Cars, planes and satellites
Graphene has all the properties that will provide light yet sturdy composite materials to create the next generation of cars, planes and satellites. Graphene could help reduce aircraft weight, cut down the burning of fuel as well as jettison of carbon into the atmosphere.
The plausible uses for graphene are just about abysmal. They extend from new types of adaptable hardware that could be worn on garments or clipped up into a pocket, to gen-next mini-computers, hyper-effective solar panels, and super-fast smartphones.But if you look at it, graphene is a honeycomb structure of carbon molecules – depicted as “atomic chicken wire”. Carbon is the essential component of life, which implies that graphene could be the center of another mechanical transformation focused around electronics that are biodegradable and manageable. If there was ever a building material for another, green economy, graphene could be it.
Scientists optimism for graphene remains all peaches-and-cream. All these years we were trying to create great substances and literally stripping off sheets of graphene as we used our pencils. It had been before our eyes all this time!