Graphene has often been described as the "material of the future" with some stunning ideas in development. It's thickness is around 0.345nm. A nanometer is one thousand-millionth of a metre. It is essentially made out of graphite, the same thing that the lead in pencils is made of.
Five uses for graphene that are being developed.
Antibiotics: Graphene oxide, which is a form of graphene with oxygen incorporated into it, wraps itself around bacteria, puncturing it's membrane. With a burst membrane bacteria cannot survive. Surgical tools could be coated with this carbon-based compound reducing the need for antibiotics, reducing the rate of post-operative infections and speeding recovery times. Scientists have found that graphene specifically attacks bacteria cells and spares human ones although currently it's not clearly understood why. Graphene can also be used to deliver drugs to very specific cells in the body.
Camera lens: A flat optical lens just a billionth of a metre thick will enable us to see living creatures as small as a single bacterium better than ever before. These lens would have potential in nano-satellites thus drastically reducing the cost of launches into space. Ultra-thin flexible mobile phones are in development. Another potential use could be in the advancement of delivery of super-fast broadband.
Solar cells: Because graphene is so thin it allows loads of light through it which is great for applications that need transparency such as touch screens but not so good for solar cells which need to absorb as many photons as possible. In an interesting development, a team of scientists have developed a technique based on the ways moth's eyes work which enables them to have good vision in the dark by focusing light into the centre of their eyes. This has allowed them to increase the light absorbency of graphene sheets from 2.3% to 95%.
Lubricants: Much research has been undertaken to explore the conductance of graphene but a team in Switzerland is looking at it's lubricating prowess on a nanometer scale. In future they claim, that by coating parts of machinery they will create a frictionless surface resulting in almost zero energy loss between moving parts. This would improve energy efficiency and extend the life of equipment.
Batteries: Graphene can make batteries that are light, durable and suitable for high-capacity energy storage and with shorter charging times.