Ever since the first elements were identified, scientists have been on a quest to create the ultimate wonder material, stronger, lighter, more flexible and most importantly cheaper than what’s come before. Over the past 100 years, the public has eagerly embraced such cool stuff as Bakelite, nylon, Teflon, fibreglass and carbon fibre, making them a part of their everyday lives – and making a number of people rich in the process.
Now the big wonder material everyone’s talking about is graphene. The world’s first 2-D material, it’s the thinnest material known to science, just one atom thick. It’s ultra-light and almost completely transparent, but also very strong, almost 200 times stronger than steel. It’s a superb conductor – hence its potential use in computers, smartphones and sensors – and is a very effective barrier, not even helium can pass through it, which makes it a potential game-changer in the realm of water filtration and purification.
“It’s like a platelet – very flat, like a plate that is essentially one atom thick,” says Prof Mick Morris, the Director of Amber, the materials science centre based at Trinity College Dublin. “You know graphite, with its hexagonal structure, is like a beehive. Well, this is a slice down the beehive, so you still get the hexagons, but the hexagons are only one atom thick.
“It’s made of carbon, and so it’s phenomenally strong. If you think about basic material science, and you think about the mechanisms for the way things break – they break because of defects that are in them. So it’s like when you get a telephone book and try to rip it, it’s impossible. But if you cut it first, it rips quite easily. And graphene doesn’t have any of those defects. It’s crystallographically perfect. The other thing that’s nice about it compared to many materials is that it’s completely natural.”
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Source: The Irish Times