Graphene is a single layer of graphite — also known as that soft material commonly found in pencil lead — with the atoms arranged in a honeycomb-like, hexagonal pattern. While that description is decidedly unexciting, graphene is actually emerging as one of science’s most versatile new materials.
Just one atom thick (or thin, depending on how you think about it), graphene is among the strongest materials in the known universe, with 100 times the strength of steel, an astonishing amount of flexibility, and a whole lot of other talents lurking beneath the surface.
Do you remember that classic scene from The Simpsons in which Homer is offered “wax lips,” described by the salesman as “the candy of 1,000 uses?” Well, graphene is the wax lips of the material science world. And while we don’t have time to detail 1,000 uses, here are some of the most exciting graphene discoveries made so far.
Creating the world’s thinnest light bulb
Imagine a flexible, transparent display or light strip that’s just a single atom thick. That’s something graphene could help make a reality, as demonstrated by research from scientists at Columbia (University) Engineering, Seoul National University, and Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science.
By attaching small strips of graphene to metal electrodes and passing a current through them, the graphene was shown to heat — and light — up. Columbia professor James Hone described it as “the world’s thinnest light bulb.” Finding a way to translate this breakthrough into wearables such as smart clothing would be revolutionary.
Acting as a superconductor
Graphene can also act as a superconductor, meaning that electrical current is able to flow through it with zero resistance, a discovery that was made by researchers at the United Kingdom’s Cambridge University. The effect is activated by coupling the graphene with a material called praseodymium…