Graphene, the material that could change the world

By Graham Pinn

The invention of plastics changed the world in the Twentieth Century, graphene a form of carbon, will do the same in the Twenty-first. It is light and very strong (estimated at up to 200 times stronger than steel) – strong enough to stop a speeding bullet! It is heat and electricity conducting, and is believed to be the future of electronics, with applications in computers, batteries, solar panels, sensors, and medical and military devices. A recent development has suggested the possibility that graphene can even produce its own low- energy output, coming from the motion of its molecules.

The problem has been how to economically manufacture it on a commercial scale. Carbon exists in nature in two forms, graphite (as in lead pencils) and the more exotic diamond; graphene does not exist in nature. There had been 70 years of speculation about the substance before it was finally produced by rudimentary processes in 2004; its discoverers, in UK, were subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 2010. Its development has been the Holy Grail of technology.

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