Title: The Revolution of Graphene
Author: Teal Bryan, Student
Affiliation: Saint Michael’s College, Colchester, VT
Article Word Count: 1,020
Discussion Questions: 4
Date Posted: December, 2010
Textbook Chapter: Chapter 3
Over the past few decades, technology has become a major part of our lives. It has completely changed the dynamics of the world and how people interact with one another. Scientists have made incredible discoveries that have led to the production of new material and electronic devices. Research is conducted everyday to find innovations that will help create smaller, faster, and higher-quality products. Recently, two physicists at the University of Manchester discovered one of the most promising and versatile materials known as graphene. Soon after, they were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize for their pioneering breakthrough. Graphene is the lightest, strongest, and most conductive material ever discovered and has the potential to revolutionize the world of technology.
Graphene can be thought of as the building block of all graphite materials. While graphite is three-dimensional, graphene is characterized as one single sheet of graphite and is therefore only two-dimensional. In fact, graphene was discovered using the simple graphite found in pencils. Adhesive tape was used to peel away strips of graphite to abstract a single atomic plane. This single sheet of crystalline carbon, known as graphene today, is only one atom thick and packed into a honeycomb structure. As it is considered the building block of graphite, the honeycomb structure has given graphene the title “mother” of all carbon-based systems.
This picture depicts the honeycomb structure of graphene. It is two-dimensional and consists of carbon atoms, which are bonded to three others. However, carbon has four valence electrons, which means that one is not bonded. This is what makes graphene a great conductor of electricity.
The properties of graphene are what make it a profound material that has promising potential to change our lives. It is the thinnest and strongest material that has ever been isolated and conducts electricity better than most all other substances, even at room temperature. Although it may be hard to believe, graphene is harder than diamond and has the flexibility of rubber. It is capable of being stretched out to what is equivalent of a quarter of its original length.
The honeycomb-lattice structure is another property of graphene that distinguishes it from other materials. Graphene, like all elements, is characterized by the collective behavior and interactions of electrons. However, the movement of electrons inside the honeycomb structure actually causes the electrons to behave as though they are massless. With no mass, the electrons in graphene are able to move at an effective speed of light that is 300 times less than the speed of light in a vacuum. With a slower speed, scientists are able to observe relativistic effects without using a particle accelerator, a device used to accelerate particles to extremely high speeds.
The massless electrons in graphene are also unique because they only have one unit of electric charge. This allows them to strongly interact with all other types of matter. It also enables graphene to be manipulated and altered in different electromagnetic fields. Considering that the production of electronics relies on the manipulation of electrons within certain material, the distinctive interaction of electrons in graphene has the potential to revolutionize technology.
As scientists and engineers are trying to find ways to produce smaller, faster, and higher quality products, graphene is an extremely appealing material. Currently, the majority of technology relies on silicon semi-conductors, which are not the most efficient. Graphene would be a great replacement because it would increase the power and make the product smaller without having to worry about altering temperatures. The amazing potential of graphene was exemplifid in 2008 by the creation of a 1-nanometer graphene transistor that is one atom thick and ten atoms long. No silicon transistor that has ever been produced comes close to the dimension of this one.
Graphene also proved to be an effective super-dense data storage system. A new data storage similar to a flash-drive was created using graphene as its base. It proved to have greater density and was more reliable in comparison to modern technology storage. It can also be used to store energy by creating new ultracapacitators using the film of graphene. Surprisingly, there are currently companies who are trying to create wearable electronics, such as clothing that can power and charge electrical devices using carbon nanotubes. However, they are beginning to replace the carbon nanotubes with graphene because it is thinner and less expensive.
Another potential improvement in technology using graphene deals with optical devices, such as solar cells and flexible touchscreens. Not only does graphene have the ability to conduct electricity, it is also able to produce light. The strength and flexibility combined with graphene’s light sensitivity allows solar cells and LEDs to be improved. It also has major implications for devices in future generations, such as the production of flexible touch screens and extremely fast lasers. Many of the electronics today are made of expensive and rare metals, but using graphene would increase efficiency and lower the cost.
Graphene has the potential to revolutionize the world of technology and improve our way of life. Its strength, flexibility, and ability to conduct electricity are what set graphene apart from all other materials. It holds profound implications that are literally endless and hard to believe. Not all of graphene’s applications are known yet due to its recent discovery, but the new developments have shown promising results so far. If graphene is capable of doing what scientists believe it can, it will most likely become equivalent to what plastic is today.
What are the properties of graphene and why it is such a promising material?
Check Your Answer
Graphene is the lightest, strongest, and most conductive element found in the world so far. It is characterized by a single two-dimensional sheet of graphite only one atom thick. Graphene has a honeycomb-lattice structure that allows the electrons to behave as though they are massless. While it is as strong and dense as a diamond, it also has the ability to stretch a quarter of its length. These properties are what distinguish graphene from all other material and make it have promising implications for technology. Manufacturers and engineers want to make smaller products that have greater power without having to worry about changes in temperatures, which makes graphene a great candidate.
Think and Discuss
1. The interaction between the electrons and the honeycomb-lattice structure of graphene causes the electrons to act as though they are massless. How do you think this is possible? Would this apply to other materials that have a honeycomb structure similar to that of graphene?
2. Many other materials require changes in temperature in order to conduct electricity, but graphene doesn’t. Why do you suppose this is?
3. Graphene was first explored by a theoretical physicist in 1947 to better understand the electronic properties of graphite; however, graphene wasn’t coined until 40 years later. Scientists believe that graphene will most likely become equivalent to what plastic is today. The extensive use of plastic around the world has produced many environmental problems and sparked the eco-friendly movement. Do you think if graphene had been further studied in 1947 that the world would not be facing these environmental problems today?
4. There are numerous possibilities with graphene, many of which have not been thought of yet. Can you think of an innovation that can be considered part of the technology revolution?
Kaku, M. (2010, October 6). Graphene Will Change the Way We Live | Dr. Kaku's Universe. Big Think. Retrieved November 24, 2010, from http://bigthink.com/ideas/24381
Carmody, T. (2010, October 5). Why Graphene Won Scientists the Nobel Prize | Gadget Lab | Wired.com. Wired News. Retrieved November 24, 2010, from http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/10/graphene/
Neto, A. C., Guinea, F., & Peres, N. M. (2006, November). Drawing Conclusions from Graphene. Physics World. Retrieved November 24, 2010, from http://physics.bu.edu/documents/pw1106.pdf