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Published on October 26th, 2010 | by Yellow Magpie

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Graphene: The Vanguard For A Technological Revolution

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Graphene

The 21st Century has seen remarkable changes in technology. But the true hallmark of successful innovation is how well it integrates into our lives. The most successful inventions become part and parcel of the fabric of society as electricity and the Internet has done.

These changes have been marvellously beneficial to mankind but there is a new technology that is likely to accelerate all existing inventions exponentially. What is it? Graphene.

Although discovered in the 1970’s, it wasn’t until recently that a method for creating single atom-thick graphene could be created. Konstantin Novoselov and Andre Geim discovered a remarkably simple process for manufacturing this invaluable material. In doing so, the duo won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

Graphene: So What Is It?

Graphene is an ultra-thin sheet of carbon-based molecules.  Made from an abundant form of carbon called graphite, which is best known for its use in pencils.

Graphene is considered to be a two dimensional material being only one atom in thickness. From an atomic perspective, a sheet of graphene is thought to be the hardest known substance ever created.

A Completely Unique Substance

Graphene has many properties that have never been seen in such a combination before.

  • It is completely transparent.
  • Graphene conducts both electricity and heat far more efficiently that any previous technology.
  • It is incredible hard, in fact, it is estimated to be up to 200 times harder than steel.
  • Graphene is light weight.
  • It is also stretchable with the ability to expand up to 20 per cent.
  • Furthermore, graphene is anti-bacterial.

MacGyver Was Right About The Usefulness Of Sticky Tap!

Perhaps one of the oddest aspects of graphene was the simplicity of finding it.

Novoselov and Geim isolated plates of graphene using sticky, scotch tape. By using two pieces of tape, the scientists were able to extract a sheet of graphene from graphite. This method has been so successful that researchers have been able to create graphene sheets more than 60 centimetres (two feet) across.

What Are Its Uses?

Graphene has a myriad of uses and undoubtedly many more will be discovered.
Its anti-bacterial properties allow it to be used for medical purposes and it could also  be used to increase the shelf life of food.

DNA
Currently, DNA sequencing is a highly expensive process, graphene though would reduce that cost significantly as it could form the main component in nanoelectrodes which are small enough to detect single molecules. This would allow for the detection of harmful viruses and other dangerous diseases.

Graphene: DNA Structure

Transport And Buildings
Graphene’s incredible strength and low weight means that it can be used to make aircraft both tougher and lighter. Thus both reinforcing safety and increasing fuel efficiency. These properties can be exploited for other types of transport too. For instance, trains could be made lighter and more efficient. This would be of particular relevance to high speed Maglev trains.

Graphene: Burj Khalifa Building

Similarly, these properties could be used in the manufacturing of buildings. With increased strength and lighter materials, buildings could be made taller and more immune to natural disasters such as Earthquakes.

Touch-screen Technology
Because Graphene is transparent and highly conductive it is ideal for touch-screens and cheaper. The material is already being used in the creation of highly flexible, transparent touch screens, making them ideal for reading on the go.

Solar Panels
Graphene promises to be much more efficient in the application of solar technology. Currently, the manufacturing of photovoltaic technology is highly damaging to the environment. The biggest problem is that nitrogen trifluoride is produced as a by-product, a substance that is 17,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Graphene may completely eliminate this problem.

High Capacity Batteries
Graphene is the ideal candidate for improving battery technology as, according to Wikipedia, it has a very high surface to mass ratio. Which means it covers a large area but is feather light.

Gas And Molecules Detection
As graphene is virtually two-dimensional these makes it great at detection. A change in resistance allows the application to detect even single molecules as graphene is so conductive.

Graphene’s Best Hand

But perhaps graphene’s greatest application will be as a replacement for silicon chips. Currently, computer chips are getting more and more powerful, doubling their processing power every 18 months. But graphene could provide exponential growth as it has the potential to be a much better material than silicon.

Graphene: The Internals Of  A Computers Photo By Robert Krten

Graphene: A Revolutionary New Landscape

Through its many different applications graphene promises to change the course of human evolution. Transport will be more efficient and probably faster. Plane journeys will be cheaper for the consumer as a result. The technology could also make possible the creation of large networks of high speed trains.

Le Corbusier-inspired buildings could be created that will dwarf anything that is currently built now and graphene-based computer power could give us a huge intelligence advantage solving problems that previously couldn’t be contemplated due to their complexity. The future may be unknown but graphene already has its place in a bold new world.


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