Graphene

Why haven’t we all heard about this before? Maybe some of you have!

For the science students out there, Graphene is a carbon-based atom that is honeycomb-shaped and forms a lattice pattern. At a microscopic glance, it looks like chicken wire. A simple way to describe it is that it’s the thinnest layer possible of graphite--that’s the stuff pencil lead is made of.

Graphene was discovered by a couple of Russian scientists back in 2004. Actually, it was known about decades before, but these scientists were able to isolate it. They rubbed a lump of graphite onto scotch tape until they got a layer that was one atom thick.  In 2010, these two scientists won the Nobel prize in Physics for their groundbreaking experiments with the substance.

So it sounds flimsy, right? Wrong! Graphene is the lightest, thinnest, strongest known material to be discovered. It’s 200 times stronger than steel, yet it bends. It’s transparent and conducts heat and electricity, so it has great potential in relation to solar and electric power generation. While water can pass through it, it can also coat metal which means it could prevent rusting and corrosion.

Its tremendous potential means that feverish studies are underway. The main application under examination is use in electronics since it is thought to be a replacement for silicon.  The reason computers, laptops, phones and TVs burnout is due to heat. If inventors can come up with a way to coat these electronics in Graphene, the lifespan of these devices will at least double. Graphene holds the promise of televisions that will be so thin, they’ll hang on your wall like a piece of paper.

Nearly everything in our material world could be transformed with the discovery of this material. Myself, I wonder if it’ll have any application in - you know - building materials or concrete? Only time will tell.

It's attracting lots of discussion and even debate. If you've got a bit of time on your hands and want to hear the latest, have a listen to this CBC interview