Graphene

Today the world changed as a new era emerged.  Like the day the first personal computer (then called “microcomputers”) or the internet emerged.

Graphene.  This is the next big word, and we are now seeing graphene starting to gain traction and stability.

Two scientists, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, received a Nobel Prize in physics for their 2004 discovery of graphene, and subsequent work in developing it.

Graphene, simply put, is a 1 atom thick layer of carbon locked in a carbon-typical lattice.  It is impossibly thin and light, and up to 100x’s stronger than steel.  Additionally, it can conduct electricity extraordinarily well, and can work as a battery.

It is this ability to work as a battery that really has the tech world on edge, as not only would it be able to exponentially improve current battery design, but also be put to use in computer processors.  Imagine, millions of layers of graphene, each able to work independently from the other layers in moving electrons here or there, all with virtually no heat?  It is like the holy grail.

Below, a brief summary from Wired.com:

Super-Small Transistors

In 2008, the Manchester team created a one-nanometer graphene transistor, only one atom thick and ten atoms across. This is not only smaller than the smallest possible silicon transistor; Novoselov claimed that it could very well represent the absolute physical limit of Moore’s Law governing the shrinking size and growing speed of computer processors.

“It’s about the smallest you can get,” Novoselov told Wired Science. “From the point of view of physics, graphene is a goldmine. You can study it for ages.”

Super-Dense Data Storage

Researchers around the world have already put graphene to work. In 2008, a Rice University team created a new type of graphene-based, flash-like storage memory, more dense and less lossy than any existing storage technology. Earlier this year, two University of South Florida researchers have developed techniques to enhance and direct its conductivity by creating wire-like defects to send current flowing through graphene strips.

Energy Storage

The energy applications of graphene are also extraordinarily rich. Texas’s Graphene Energy is using the film to create new ultracapacitators to store and transmit electrical power. Companies currently using carbon nanotubes to create wearable electronics — clothes that can power and charge electrical devices — are beginning to switch to graphene, which is thinner and potentially less expensive to produce. Much of the emerging research is devoted to devising more ways to produce graphene quickly, cheaply, and in high quantities.

Optical Devices: Solar Cells and Flexible Touchscreens

In a paper in September’s Nature Photonics, a Cambridge University team argues that the true potential of graphene lay in its ability to conduct light as well as electricity. Strong, flexible, light-sensitive graphene could improve the efficiency of solar cells and LEDs, as well as aiding in the production of next-generation devices like flexible touch screens, photodetectors and ultrafast lasers. In particular, graphene could replace rare and expensive metals like platinum and iridium, performing the same tasks with greater efficiency at a fraction of the cost.

High Energy Particle Physics

In pure science, according to Geim, graphene “makes possible experiments with high-speed quantum particles that researchers at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland, can only dream of.” Because graphene is effectively only two-dimensional, electrons can move through its lattice structure with virtually no resistance. In fact, they behave like Heisenberg’s relative particles, with an effective resting mass of zero.

It’s slightly more complicated than this, but here’s a quick and dirty explanation. To have mass in the traditional sense, objects need to have volume; electrons squeezed through two-dimensional graphene have neither. In other words, the same properties that makes graphene such an efficient medium for storing and transmitting energy also demonstrate something fundamental about the nature of the subatomic universe.

In 2008, Geim and Novoselov handily won a Wired Science poll of that year’s Nobel Prize candidates. In 2010, Wired.com’s graphene fans finally got their wish.

“Game changers” are a rare occurrence.  The steam engine, computers, atomic power, the internet….every so many years a massive breakthrough occurs.  This could be one of the biggest yet.  This is the “material that would not bend or break” from Roswell.  From cars, to homes, to armor, to computers….graphene is going to revolutionize the world.

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6 Responses to “Graphene”

  1. Graphene « Bigfatfurrytexan…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  2. Yes, graphene transistors will drastically accelerate the speed of computing as we know it, also in combination with fiber optics and laser oscillators. The future certainly is looking very bright indeed 🙂

    • 🙂 It is good to see you again.

      As you noted in your next post, the possibilities for quantum computing are growing greater and greater. The increased understanding of metamaterials will push our understanding further. A primary hurdle has been how to create switches with light. Now, there are a few different solutions to this puzzle making themselves available.

      Graphene can make its biggest impact in energy, though (at least, in my opinion). Being able to have a material that is so conductive while being able to store energy creates so many possibilities. It becomes a substrate with which you can use as a canvas for energy gathering solutions.

  3. Scientists first to trap light and sound vibrations together in nanocrystal

    More on that trail of the future computing in the sixth block down on my Links of Interest page.

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