Graphene has been hailed as a material that will ‘change the world’ and described as a wonder material by two Nobel Prize winning researchers at the University of Manchester in 2010.
So, what are the credentials of this super material and why hasn’t it, years on, ‘changed the world’? First thing’s first, graphene has some astonishing properties, being the world’s thinnest material, so thin it is described as being only two-dimensional and if three million layers of graphene were stacked on top of each other they would measure no more than 1mm.
Graphene conducts electricity as efficiently as copper; it is super strong, transparent but at the same time incredibly dense. The material also derives from common graphite which can be found in a lead pencil but reduced to an extreme thinness of one atom thick, by using sellotape you can gradually peel away layers of graphite leaving just the one layer of graphene. The layers incidentally are what can you see on a piece of paper when you draw a line with a pencil, this line also illustrates graphene’s conductivity, which can be tested by attaching two electrodes, a battery and an LED light bulb.
According to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of Manchester University “it will revolutionise the 21st Century”. Some proposals that have already been put forward include elevators to take us into space, super tall buildings and ultra thin mobile phones – but where are we in relation to putting it to use? Although it is a prize-winning breakthrough it may take some time before anybody can put it to full commercial use, reasons being the cost of the tools and technology needed to extract and process it. We know that graphene is incredibly strong and has great potential as a conductive material, but when and how we can translate it into useful products remains to be seen.