Graphene is a miraculous material that will build the future and change the world. Plastic, exotic metal alloys and carbon fibers will soon become part of the past. The building block of the future will be graphene. The material, which was accidentally discovered by Russian scientist, proves its exceptional features with each new experiment. Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov certainly did not imagine that experimenting with a piece of graphite and adhesive tape will lead them to a Nobel Prize.
In 2004, two Russian scientists investigated the electrical conductivity of carbon graphite at the University of Manchester. Although it sounds very scientific, carbon graphite basically contains material from which the ordinary pencils are made. While they were cleaning the material by using ordinary adhesive tape, the scientists found that each time, a thin layer of mineral stayed on the adhesive tape. By repeated “adhesion,” they thinned the material to the thickness of one atom. Prior to this, it was believed that due to the thermodynamic instability, single-layer atomic structures are not persistent. The discovery of persistent and only 0.3 nanometer thin layer of the material, has led to a real euphoria to explore the possibility of the use and production of graphene. Geim and Novoselov received the Nobel Prize for Physics and got knighted for their achievement.
Graphene is actually composed of the basic building block of life – carbon. The name is a derivative of the word graphite and suffix “ene,” which derives from the physical descriptions of the single-layer carbon foils. Its atomic structure is similar to graphite, but its thickness is only one atom. Since it consists solely of a single layer of atoms, scientists marked it as two-dimensional material. It is almost completely transparent and lightweight and its square meter weighs only 0.77 milligrams. Despite the fact that it looks fragile, graphene is a material that keeps on surprising. Square meter of graphene can easily withstand the load of four kilograms. It is one of the strongest materials, a hundred times more solid than steel and yet so flexible that it can be stretched by 20 percent without causing any damage. Graphene conducts electricity better than silicon and is the best heat conductor. Even though it is made from one of the most natural materials and can be completely recycled, it combines almost all positive characteristics of metals and plastics into a single material.
Graphene offers endless possibilities for use. Its conductivity will improve the efficiency of electronic components, semiconductors and solar panels. Scientists are of the opinion that the miraculous material graphene will build the future and will cause even greater industrial revolution than the discovery and use of carbon fiber. The use of graphene will enable cheaper production of lighter and more solid objects that are less energy-consuming, their maintenance will be cheaper and they will be much more environmentally friendly.
Scientists are constantly developing cheaper ways of obtaining this exotic material. Few years ago, graphene was considered as the most expensive material in the world, but today, companies are producing it in large quantities. It is slim, lightweight, solid, flexible, highly conductive and environmentally friendly. Graphene is a miraculous material that will build the future and the technological revolution is only a step away.
Opinion by Janette Verdnik
The University of Manchester