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Is That the Material of the Future?
Discovered by accident in 2004, graphene is one of the strongest materials available nowadays. Many call it a "miracle material" or the "material of the future". But what is it, where can it be applied, and is it really the solution to all our problems? Let's find out together.
Who or What is Graphene?
It was 2004 and Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, professors at the University of Manchester, were trying to build a transistor using graphite. Part of their effort was making the layers of graphite thinner. One of the things, they decided to do, was sticking tape on a pencil and peel off a layer of graphite. Then they repeat the process with what they had on the tape and kept on repeating until they had a one atom thick layer. What remained after they dissolved the tape is what we call now graphene. In simple words - Graphene is a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb-like pattern.
Graphene is a million times thinner than a piece of human hair and still 200 times stronger than steel (basically the strongest material known to humanity in the present). It is super highly conductive - both in terms of electricity and heat. It is also very light and transparent. All of this makes it the ideal material for almost everything. Did I mention Andre and Kostya got a Nobel Prize for their discovery?
Scientists predict a wide use for the promising material. Among the fields where it will be present the most are:
Electronics: Its high electrical and heat conductivity opens the doors for its vast use in electronics. It can be applied to high-performance transistors, foldable and flexible devices, heat management in nano-technology, high-frequency electronics, and many others.
Energy: There are four areas, where the use of graphene shows really promising results - as a substitute for Li-Ion batteries, as a building block for different parts of solar cells, as a catalyst in fuel cells, and as a supercapacitor for energy storage.
Sensors: The fact that each atom of the material is exposed to the environment, makes it the perfect material for gas, chemical, light, heat, electricity, and biological sensors.
Water purification and desalination: The perfect graphene doesn't let anything through on atomic level. The grid is so thick. But with carefully made adjustments it can be turned into a selective membrane.
Graphene is already in everyday increasing exchange in the market. Sports equipment, airplanes, tires, helmets, various parts are among them. Graphene-based bulletproof items are also gaining popularity. And many more are to be created.
There is one big issue with graphene - it is one atom thick. This makes it really difficult to create pure flawless material. Using tape "mechanical separation" is slow and not very quality-efficient. Some new methods are promising, but still to be improved. This all leads to an extremely high current price of graphene, which is another obstacle to its mass use.
The scientists promise, though, that they are working and they will find a way to make it affordable and will help to implement it in all suitable aspects of our life, which could be improved with its usage.