By Dave Smith
The University of Manchester
The "super material" isn't ready yet, but it's going to make future technologies so awesome.
Graphene, the pure carbon material that's just one atom thick and nearly transparent when laid out in sheets, manages to be roughly 200 times stronger than steel, even though it's 60,000 times thinner than Saran Wrap .
Graphene is also an excellent conductor of energy, can be synthesized from unique carbon sources — anything from pencil lead to Girl Scout cookies — and it has thousands of possible applications.
How is it possible for one material to have so many ideal characteristics? When you search "graphene" on the web , the most common picture you'll see is a molecular lattice that resembles a honeycomb, or chicken wire. In reality, this depiction of graphene is perhaps the best way to understand its incredible properties: The structure is remarkably strong and efficient — even self-repairing — but it is essentially two-dimensional. As such, graphene is the most chemically reactive form of carbon, which also makes the material highly conductive and flexible, as well as strong.
Since graphene was finally isolated in 2003, scientific interest in the material has exploded thanks to a “land rush of patents” filed by companies like Apple, IBM, Lockheed Martin, and others around the globe. According to British patent consultancy CambridgeIP , China has filed for more than 2,200 graphene patents — the most of any country — followed by the U.S. with more than 1,700 patents, and South Korea with just under 1,200 patents.
Graphene still has a long way to go before it reaches commercialization, but when you consider what could be made possible by this unusual form of carbon, it’s easy to be excited. ...more