Graphene is a a flexible, transparent, and conductive ‘wonder material’ that could replace silicone in the next few years. This wonder material could impact everything from computers, smart phones, tablets, smart clothing, and even has applications in medicine! Originally developed in the 40’s, there have been a few significant hurdles to overcome that have prevented this material from being applicable in everyday devices. However that may be about to change!
Graphene is made from layers of carbon atoms arranged in a chicken wire like pattern that is one atom thick, similar to carbon nanotubes this is a ‘wonder material’ with many potential applications. Also, it is relatively common and easy to come by, you can peel this material away from a graphite pencil using scotch tape!
Graphene Problem #1: How To Make Lots Of It…
However, making sheets of graphene that are of high enough quality to be used in electronics has generally been an extremely pain staking process. We imagine many graphite pencils have given up the ghost for this… Now though by using techniques found in microchip manufacturing, several research groups have reported that they have found a way to produce computer chips made out of Graphene at a level that can be scaled up for mass production!
It’s all about the gas baby. In a recent Science News article they stated this about the new way of producing high quality Graphene:
“…the new technique causes carbon atoms in a vapor of hydrocarbons to settle onto a nickel surface and arrange into graphene’s characteristic pattern of hexagons.
Using standard chip-making techniques, circuit designs are etched into the nickel surface. As the graphene layers form, they take on the shape of the circuit template.”
Graphene Problem #2: Can’t Cut The Juice!
The other hurdle was that while graphene is extremely conductive, it was hard to turn off the flow of electricity through it, making it unusable as a circuit board. Previously there was only one known method of controlling the conductivity of graphene called the “hummers method” which used acidic compounds to change the molecular makeup. The problem was that this irreparably damaged the lattice shape that makes this material so special. However, scientists have recently found a way to alter the material chemically to tune the conductive properties and make it much more functional using graphene oxide according to this DailyNews article:
To create the graphene oxide, researchers leaked oxygen gas (O2) into an ultra-high vacuum chamber. Inside, a hot tungsten filament was heated to 1500C, causing the oxygen molecules to dissociate into atomic oxygen. The highly reactive oxygen atoms then uniformly inserted into the graphene lattice.
The resulting material possesses a high degree of chemical homogeneity. Spectroscopic measurements show that the electronic properties of the graphene vary as a function of oxygen coverage, suggesting that this approach can tune the properties of graphene-based devices.
Graphene Fun Facts
Here’s a few more cool graphene facts you can use to impress your friends at all the parties you are undoubtedly invited to:
- Graphene is around 200 times stronger than steel and shares many properties with carbon nanotubes making it incredibly strong.
- A sheet of Graphene as thin as plastic wrap could hold up an entire elephant
- Graphene is the best known material in the world for conducting heat and electricity
- Graphene has real world applications in fields as wide as medicine, avionics, semiconductors, display technology, and even quantum physics research!
But Don’t Take Our Word For It!
Learn how to make your own Graphene and learn more cool facts about this wonder material from Dr. Jonathan Hare (a guy with a cool British accent so he sounds very authoritative)