15 January, 2015

Versatility of Graphene, Material of Tomorrow

English: Energy of electrons in graphene in th...
English: Energy of electrons in graphene in the tight-binding model, http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRev.71.622 Deutsch: Energie der Elektronen in Graphen mit Impuls k im Tight-Binding model, entsprechend http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRev.71.622 Alemannisch: Ällägdronaänrgie im Graphen mid ämana Impulz k im Tight-Binding-Modell, ändsprächad http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRev.71.622 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Graphene is the strongest, thinnest material known to exist. A form of carbon, it can conduct electricity and heat better than anything else. And it is not only the hardest material in the world, but also one of the most pliable.

Only a single atom thick, it has been called the wonder material.

Graphene could change the electronics industry, ushering in flexible devices, supercharged quantum computers, electronic clothing and computers that can interface with the cells in your body.

While the material was discovered a decade ago, it started to gain attention in 2010 when two physicists at the University of Manchester in England were awarded the Nobel Prize for their experiments with it. More recently, researchers have zeroed in on how to produce graphene commercially.

The American Chemical Society said in 2012 that graphene was discovered to be 200 times stronger than steel and so thin that 28 grams of it could cover 28 football fields. Chinese scientists have created a graphene aerogel, an ultralight material derived from a gel that is one-seventh the weight of air. Sixteen cubic centimeters 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 in nanomaterials at the University of Manchester. “All of these properties together are extremely rare to find in one material.”

So what do you do with graphene?

Physicists and researchers say that we will soon be able to make electronics that are thinner, faster and cheaper than anything based on silicon, with the option of making them clear and flexible. Long lasting batteries that can be submerged in water are another possibility.

In 2011, researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois built a battery that incorporated 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 cellphones as thin as a piece of paper and foldable enough to slip into a pocket.”

Dr. Vijayaraghavan is building an array of sensors out of graphene – including gas sensors, biosensors and light sensors – that are far smaller than what has come before.

This month, researchers at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, working with Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea, said Samsung had discovered how to create high-quality graphene on silicon wafers, which could be used to produce graphene transistors. Samsung said in a statement that these advancements meant it could start making “flexible displays, wearables and other next-generation electronic devices.”

Sebastian Anthony, a reporter at Extreme Tech, said that Samsung’s breakthrough could end up being the “holy grail of commercial graphene production.”

Samsung is not the only company working to develop graphene. Researchers at IBM, Nokia and SanDisk have been experimenting with graphene to create sensors, transistors and memory storage.

James Hone, a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University in New York, said research in his lab led to the discovery that graphene could stretch by 20 percent while remaining able to conduct electricity.

Another fascinating aspect of graphene is its ability to be submerged in liquids without oxidizing, unlike other conductive materials.

As a result, Dr.Vijayaraghavan said, graphene research is leading to experiments where electronics can integrate with biological systems. In other words, you could have a graphene gadget implanted in you that could read your nervous system or talk to your cells.

When these electronics finally hit store shelves, they could look and feel like nothing we’ve ever seen.

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, April 26, 2014