Graphene: The Substance That Will Change World [Video]

In 2004, graphene was created by scientists when they realized they could create a new material by rearranging carbon atoms. Experts theorize that graphene will be the material of new, high-tech electronics in the 21st century. Graphene will replace silicon, improve battery efficiency, and make touch screens more adaptable to touch. Amazingly, graphene is only one atom thick, stronger than steel, and harder than a diamond. The creation of graphene may go down as one of the greatest creations from the early part of this century.

Harvard and Raytheon BBN Technology researchers recently published a paper in the journal Science. Researchers were able to see electrons in graphene acting like a water. This is the first time this has ever been seen. In order for the researchers to see this liquid activity, they needed to improve the method used to create graphene.

How Is Graphene Made?

There are at least four methods to make graphene.

  • Metal Exfoliation
  • Using An Atomic Microscope
  • Chemical Vapor Deposition
  • Growing Graphene Crystals

The first two methods for creating graphene are similar in that they mechanically strip apart graphite until the only thing left is graphene. One way of explaining this is to imagine taking graphite from the tip of a pencil and using tape to peel some of the graphite off. Now, take another piece of tape and apply it to the piece with the graphite on it. Peel the tape apart and you have two slightly thinner pieces of graphite. Continue this process until you get down to the one-atom thick substance. Creating this nano-substance in this way is a very long and arduous task. It is the main reason why graphene is the most expensive substance in the world.

In order for graphene to reach its full potential, scientists need to figure out a way to mass produce it in order to get the price low enough to use in current, and future, electronics.

Chemical vapor deposition is one way that graphene can be mass produced. In this method, scientists start with a carbon-based gas. They put the gas into a container with a conductive metal like copper. By manipulating the temperature and pressure inside the container, layers of graphene begin to form. This method is much more efficient than the two methods above.

The last method has not been used in the lab much, so its feasibility for long-term production is not yet known. Scientists start with a substance such as sugar that has lots of carbon in it. By manipulating the carbon, they are able to grow crystals of graphene.

The Harvard and BBN Technology researchers used a different method to create graphene for their experiment. They took an already made sheet of graphene and put it between layers of a crystal that has a similar molecular structure. Co-author of the research paper, Jesse Crossno, explains why studying and understanding graphene is so important to our future world.

“If you have a material that’s one atom thick, it’s going to be really affected by its environment. If the graphene is on top of something that’s rough and disordered, it’s going to interfere with how the electrons move. It’s really important to create graphene with no interference from its environment.”

Scientists are trying to figure out how to better transfer heat energy using graphene. When this problem is solved, the sky is the limit on what graphene will allow innovators to create. Co-author Andrew Lucas explains.

“Converting thermal energy into electric currents and vice versa is notoriously hard with ordinary materials. But in principle, with a clean sample of graphene there may be no limit to how good a device you could make.”

Once graphene is better understood, the world as we know it is going to be changed forever.

[Image via nobeastsofierce/Shutterstock]