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Graphene: The Gift That Keeps on Giving


Scientists may have found a way to power electronic devices with just a fraction of the energy they currently use, and it’s all thanks to graphene, a much-hyped material with some remarkable properties.

Graphene has been hailed as a “miracle material,” but its structure is fairly simple. It’s just a sheet of carbon molecules, connected in a honeycomb-like structure. It can barely be called three dimensional—it is only one atom thick—but can extend indefinitely in two dimensions. And it’s been called the strongest, most flexible, and most conductive material in the world. The FT reports:

The latest finding, reported in the journal Nature Communications, is that microscopic patches of graphene can be made magnetic and the magnetism turned on and off with an electric switch. […]

Magnetic materials are key to many information storage devices including computer discs, which store bits of data through north or south polarisation. But flipping orientation is a relatively slow and energy-consuming process, which has not yet been incorporated in active devices such as transistors. […]

This could open a new route to electronic devices with extremely low energy consumption, said Andre Geim, who shared a Nobel Prize for the original discovery and is a co-author of research.

This “on/off” switch for magnetism is just the latest in a remarkably long line of discoveries made in the short nine years since graphene was first uncovered. Scientists are already working on using graphene to make faster transistors, more efficient lasers, and better batteries. Companies looking to capitalize on its strength are working on introducing graphene into everything from tennis racquets to airplane wings. Flexible computer screens could be making their way to consumers soon.

This serves as another reminder that those who predict the future based on the technologies of the present are almost guaranteed to look foolish. Here is a material with immense potential—just a collection of carbon atoms—that wasn’t discovered until 2004. We’re excited to see what scientists and engineers can come up with next.

[Graphene image courtesy of Wikimedia]

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  • Anthony

    Is it true that 70% of supply presently controlled by China? And what mineral resources compose manufactured graphene – I know it’s made of carbon atoms?

  • bpuharic

    Well I’m a 58 year old physical chemist. Graphene and similar products have always been touted as the technology of the future for decades. Richard Smalley, Nobel Prize winning chemist at Rice, won for his ability to formulate ‘buckyballs’ in a novel, cost effective manner. They’re still a laboratory curiosity.

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