Graphene, the strongest material known to science since its discovery in 2004, is proving a magnet for R&D funding.
Efficiency is one grail of the grid [see 'Carbon nanotubes: the future of the grid?']. Speed is another. Graphene, the strongest material known to science since its discovery in 2004, trumps copper on conductivity and nanotubes on speed, thanks to a quirk that means electrons can move almost as though they were massless: it has just two dimensions. The innovation won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, both of the University of Manchester, who first peeled a single flake off graphite.
A 2D material is a strange thing to try to comprehend in a 3D world. A piece of paper is maybe 30,000 atoms thick; a pencil stroke on the paper is around 100 atoms thick. A sheet of graphene is one carbon atom thin, neatly arranged in a honeycomb lattice. In structure, it’s like a nanotube opened out flat like a template. This makes it easier to manipulate and to join together in a chain.
Potential applications include advanced photovoltaics, flexible touch screens, high speed computing and super-strong fabrics to name but a few – ideas that are proving a magnet for research and development funding. MIT has just set up the Center for Graphene Devices and Systems (MIT-CG), the UK has pledged £50 million towards a national research programme to develop spin-off technologies, and the EU intends to roll out its €1 billion Graphene Flagship research project over the next ten years. – Tom Forster
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