We are currently pushing the boundaries in the world of electronics. Products don’t seem to be able to get much thinner without compromising strength and durability. What if we had a new family of materials which were just one atom thick, whilst retaining their strength? Is this possible?
The short answer is Yes. With the emergence of a new “super material” called graphene, the rule books may just have to be rewritten. Graphene was first discovered in 2004 by physicists; Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov at the University of Manchester, UK, for which the pair won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010. However only now that we understand it in more detail is it beginning to cause a stir.
At just 0.33 nanometres thick, graphene is the thinnest material known to man. On its own this property isn’t much use, but when Geim and Novoselov investigated further, they found it to have a myriad of properties which would grab the attention of many hi-tech companies. Graphene is around 300 times stronger than steel and 100 times better at conducting electricity than copper. It also has an extremely high thermal conductivity, allowing effective dissipation of heat into the surroundings.
The most surprising of these properties is its immense strength – it would take the weight of an elephant focused onto the end of a needle to create the pressure needed to break the structure of graphene. This strength is due to the honeycomb-like, hexagonal lattice formation of the atoms.
This super-material still has a number of hurdles to jump before becoming a common material in everyday electronics. The current method of production simply isn’t efficient enough to produce graphene on a large scale. Producing high quality “films” industrially is still in its infancy and not without teething problems, but with continued research graphene is sure to be in our back pockets in the very near future.
Image courtesy of James Hedberg – visit jameshedberg.com for free science images