Graphene: A giant carpet for Innovation

Credit: AlexanderAlUS/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

Graphene emerged as a “fantastic” and “fascinating” subject of recent material science. Considered as a rapidly rising star on the horizon of materials science, soft condensed matter physics with promising applications, graphene is the incredibly strongest, thinnest material known to exist. It is a form of carbon, which can conduct electricity and heat up to 200-times better than any other known material. But the fascinating fact is that only a single atom thick, still it is not only the hardest material on the planet but also the most pliable material with incredible malleability that a single ounce of it could cover 28 football fields. A cubic inch of the material could balance on one blade of grass.

Graphene is one of the few materials in the world that is transparent, conductive and flexible — all at the same time,” said Dr. Aravind Vijayaraghavan, a lecturer at the University of Manchester. “All of these properties together are extremely rare to find in one material.

So what is all the Fuss about this wonder material?

It was in 2010 that all the fuss began when  Andre Geim and his student Konstantin Novoselov, physicists at the Manchester University, were awarded the Noble prize for their experiment on first peeled layers from graphite using sticky tape in 2004, 46 years since it was first discovered by Hummers in 1958. Since then graphene has been revolutionizing and found innumerable applications in the electronics industry, energy storage industry, in flexible devices, supercharged quantum computers, biomedical applications, drug delivery carrier, electronic clothing and computers that can interface with the cells in your body.

Illustration of emission of light from Graphene layer Source: IOP

Exploiting its full potential

Graphene is now used as an energy storage material. The role in the supercapacitor is named “holey” material to increase the amount of electric charge that can be stored in it. Recently a team at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have developed a method for increasing the amount of electric charge that this form of graphene can store as an electrode material in supercapacitors. The holes are in the average diameter of 1 nm. A sheet of graphene is being explored as world’s thinnest light bulb. In 2011, researchers at Northwestern University built a battery composed graphene and silicon, which the university said could lead to a cellphone that “stayed charged for more than a week and recharged in just 15 minutes.” In 2012, the American Chemical Society said that advancements in graphene were leading to touch-screen electronics that “could make cell phones as thin as a piece of paper and foldable enough to slip into a pocket.”

Martial of Tomorrow

Graphene transistors can be bend, charged and dunk for superior applications in optoelectronics. It a material of tomorrow. Sebastian Anthony, a reporter at Extreme Tech, said that Samsung’s breakthrough could end up being the “holy grail of commercial graphene production.” Along with Samsung, researchers at IBM, Nokia, and San Disk have been experimenting with graphene to fabricate next generation sensors, transistors, and memory storage. Last year, the scientists at the University of California, Berkeley made small enough graphene speakers and the sound quality was equal to or better commercial earphone.

Graphene transistors visible on a piece of flexible plastic. Credit Nicholas Petrone

In biomedical advance applications, a team at the Michigan Technological University is experimenting with a graphene-bound polymer to regenerates nerve cells in patients with spinal-cord injuries. In 2013, the Gates Foundation put $100,000 into an effort to develop a graphene-enhanced condom.

Being Optimistic

It took more than 30 years to take the devices based on carbon materials to the market. Compared to them, it is still a young technology: it is only 12 years that scientists and engineers are playing with it and tweaking its properties. It will revolutionize the industry. If Silicon industry will fall in next 10 years to deliver smaller to a more smaller transistor, a graphene transistor is one of the alternatives. It will change the future of computing technologies, biomedical applications and advanced hybrid devices in sensing, OLEDs, solar cell etc. By the time we’ll learn more and more about graphene processing and the production cost will decrease and the quality will improve.

The Graphene Flagship

The European Union has invested $1.3 billion in ‘The Graphene Flagship’, a consortium of academic and commercial researchers. The UK Government has provided £235 million ($353 million) to fund a graphene research center. Though the graphene market, including material sales, did not surpass $30 million in 2016, the end of the decade material sales may still be a little more than $100 million – which represents growth, but also a continuation of the research phase. And before long it will be quite a ubiquitous material.

How It’s Made: Graphene



Source Nature The Graphene Council NY Times

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