The miracle material: Graphene

Graphene is often referred to as the miracle material. Why is this the case?
Interesting Engineering

Graphene is often referred to as the miracle material. Why is this the case? After all, graphene is simply formed from a single, thin layer of graphite – the soft, flaky material used in pencil lead. 

Both diamond and graphite are forms of carbon, yet they have widely different natures. Diamonds are incredibly strong, while graphite is brittle. However, graphene’s atoms have the unique trait of being arranged in a hexagonal shape. 

So, when graphene is isolated from graphite, it takes on some miraculous properties. It manages to be a mere one-atom thick, the first two-dimensional material ever discovered.

Graphene was discovered relatively recently in 2004 by physicist Andre Geim and his team. It all began when Geim set his student Da Jiang the task of obtaining as thin a sample as possible of graphite by polishing a one-inch (2.54 cm) graphite crystal. 

A few weeks later, Jiang delivered a speck of carbon in a petri dish. Upon looking through a microscope, Jiang was asked to try again. Unfortunately, that was all that was left of the crystal. Another student noticed that a ball of used Scotch tape was in the bin. 

This Scotch tape had graphite residue on its sticky side. Geim placed the tape under the microscope and discovered that the graphite layers were thinner than any others he’d seen before. He pressed and pulled the tape apart, resulting in the flakes peeling into yet thinner layers of graphene. 

During further research, Geim and a Ph.D. student named Konstantin Novoselov discovered that graphene had a pronounced field effect, the response that some materials show when placed near an electric field. This would then go on to earn them both a Nobel prize in Physics in 2010.

Scientists would go on to state that graphene could replace silicon because of its ability to field effect. Research into graphene was ignited, and scientists across the world were startled by their findings.

Graphene was noted to be one of the thinnest materials known to man, yet it was a hundred and fifty times stronger than a material of its equivalent weight in steel. It is as pliable as rubber and can stretch to a hundred and twenty percent of its length.

Today it is being used in bullet-proof vests and even in batteries. It also has the potential to one day replace silicon in computer chips. Its applications are limitless, and new methods for its use are being constantly discovered.