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Science in the Real World: Graphene

By: Andrew Miller

In order to contribute more articles about things going on in the real world, especially in the science world, I feel it is important to write this article about graphene. Graphene is essentially a one atom thick sheet of carbon, with tons of different properties and uses that make it such a versatile substance that is generally believed to be the “material of the future”.   

Pictured above, artist’s rendition of graphene

Graphene can be used for many different tasks due to its insane properties. It is incredibly flexible, yet incredibly durable, making it nigh impossible to break. It can be stretched, and is the world’s thinnest material along with being billed as the world’s best electrical conductor by the labs at the University of Manchester, who discovered the substance in 2004. It also acts as a perfectly impermeable barrier, not even allowing helium to pass through. This incredible functionality is projected to lead to advancements in many fields, from consumer electronics (i.e smartphones) to medical equipment and even water filtration systems, with it having recently been used to make saltwater potable. Graphene can be used from anything from augmented reality contact lenses, like the kind you see in movies, to more effective capacitors and energy storage, potentially even helping in the push for renewable energy in the modernized world, potentially even phasing out copper and other traditional metals for wiring due to its more effective electrical conduction. However, the methods to produce graphene are very expensive and time consuming. The means of production can be seen here.

Interestingly, a new method of graphene production has been invented at the University of Exeter in late 2016, that is cheaper and produces higher yields of graphene, potentially accelerating the introduction of graphene into more mainstream products as opposed to more novelty things such as graphene tennis racquets. There is a downside to this new method, however, as it does not produce neat sheets of graphene as the previous method does, but instead produces chunks, making it harder to use as a replacement for things such as silicon semiconductors at this time.Who knows; maybe in 10 years everyone will have their own Tony Stark transparent phone.  

To conclude, I believe that graphene will become an incredibly important, versatile resource in the future, and completely shift the way many of our current technology works, from things like refrigerators to data center computers. I believe that this new frontier will change the landscape of many major industries, and it is an incredibly important scientific discovery.


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