In simple terms, Graphene, “is a thin layer of pure carbon; it is a single, tightly packed layer of carbon atoms that are bonded together in a hexagonal honeycomb lattice,” according to Jesus de La Fuente CEO of Graphenea.
It is the only 2D material known to mankind.
Yet, if you’ve ever drawn with a pencil, you’ve probably made graphene… The world’s thinnest material, set to revolutionize almost every part of everyday life.
- It is 100-300 times stronger than steel, yet incredibly lightweight and flexible.
- It is electrically and thermally conductive but also transparent.
- It is the world’s first 2D material and is one million times smaller than the diameter of a single human hair.
Layers of graphene stacked on top of each other form graphite…back to our pencil theory (woah).
It is the thinnest compound known to man at one atom thick, the lightest material known, the strongest compound discovered, the best conductor of heat at room temperature and also the best conductor of electricity known.
Bearing this in mind, you might be surprised to know that carbon is the second most abundant mass within the human body and the fourth most abundant element in the universe (by mass), after hydrogen, helium and oxygen. This makes carbon the chemical basis for all known life on earth, so therefore graphene could well be an ecologically friendly, sustainable solution for an almost limitless number of applications.
That was until it was isolated in 2004 by two researchers at The University of Manchester, Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov. This is the story of how that stunning scientific innovation came about and why Andre and Kostya won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their pioneering work.
How can Graphene be used?
The multi-functional nature of graphene is going to have limitless application. It’s a disruptive technology that could open up new markets and even replace existing technologies or materials.
Fuel from the air
- The same researchers who won the Nobel Prize for isolating graphene have recently shown that graphene could be used to make mobile electric generators powered by hydrogen extracted from the air. This means that graphene films could be used to vastly improve the efficiency of proton-conducting membranes, which are essential components of fuel cell technology. Geim imagines a future where vehicles could be powered just by the tiny amounts of hydrogen in the air.”Essentially, you pump your fuel from the atmosphere and get electricity out of it,” Geim said.
- Researchers from the University of Michigan have developed a graphene contact lens that allows its wearer to sense the whole infrared spectrum — plus visible and ultraviolet light.”If we integrate it with a contact lens or other wearable electronics, it expands your vision,” said Zhaohui Zhong, one of the researchers developing the technology. “It provides you another way of interacting with your environment.” Researchers integrated graphene with silicon micro-electromechanical systems (known as MEMS) to make their device. Testing showed it could be used to detect a person’s heat signature at room temperature without cryogenic cooling.
- Today our electronic devices rely on silicon as an essential component, but transistors made of silicon are approaching the minimum size at which they can be effective, which means the speed of our devices will soon bottom out. The ultra-thin nature of graphene could be the answer to this problem, however.Graphene will also make it possible to build super thin, flexible touchscreens that would be virtually unbreakable. You’ll never have to worry about shattering your smartphone again.
The perfect condom
- Graphene may even have the ability to improve your sex life. Condoms made from graphene are super-thin, which means more sensation. They’re also super-strong, which means they never break (phew).”If this project is successful, we might have a use for graphene which will touch our everyday life in the most intimate way,” said Dr. Aravind Vijayaraghavan, the materials scientist who’s leading the research into the graphene condom.
- Yes, graphene could even help to solve the world water crisis. Membranes made from graphene could be made that are big enough to let water through, but small enough to filter out the salt. In other words, graphene could revolutionize desalination technology. MIT researchers have found “that the water permeability of this material is several orders of magnitude higher than conventional reverse osmosis membranes, and that nanoporous graphene may have a valuable role to play for water purification.”
- Glowing walls could soon replace the light bulb, thanks to the development of new graphene-based electrode technology that makes displays thinner than ever before. Such glowing “wallpaper” provides more pleasant, adjustable light across a room than light bulbs can, and it can also be made more energy-efficient. And let’s face it, few things seem more futuristic than illuminated, “Tron”-like walls.”By using graphene instead of conventional metal electrodes, components of the future will be much easier to recycle and thereby environmentally attractive,” said Nathaniel Robinson from Linköping University, where the technology is being developed.
- Given how thin and strong graphene is, it seems inevitable that it should also be used to build improved bulletproof vests. Sure enough, researchers have found that sheets of graphene absorbed twice as much impact as Kevlar, the material commonly used in bulletproof vests. Also an improvement over Kevlar, graphene is super-lightweight and therefore less restrictive to wear. The breakthrough could help keep our soldiers and law enforcement officers safe when being fired at. The thin nature of graphene could even lead to developments in other bulletproof surfaces, such as windows
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