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Tuesday, 27 March 2018

All About Graphene

I have just got back from a very long weekend in France so I am a bit full of wine and croissants! Here's a post I wrote before I left.
I have tried to eliminate or explain all the many technical terms there were in this post so that, hopefully, every reader can understand it. I have a technical background and some of it is even beyond me so, as a by-product, I am educating myself about this very import material.
 Image showing the hexagonal atomic structure of graphene. 

  So what exactly is graphene? Well it's a sheet of hexagonal carbon molecules which is only one atom thick. It is regarded as being two-dimensional and it has many applications. It is the world's strongest known product and is the best conductor of electricity and of heat.
  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.
Graphite it is an allotrope of the element carbon, meaning it possesses the same atoms but they’re arranged in a different way, giving the material different properties. For example, both diamond and graphite are forms of carbon, yet they have wildly different natures. Diamonds are incredibly hard, while graphite is brittle. 
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.
 Many sporting goods, making use of graphene to enhance materials, are already in production such as: tennis rackets, skis and trainers as well as wheels, frames and safety helmets for bicycles.
   But perhaps graphene's most extraordinary property is that after more than a decade of intensive investigation it continues to startle the world of science. Recently two seemingly contradictory properties were added to the list. One is that it appears to be almost twice as bulletproof as Kevlar. At the same time another piece of research showed that the impenetrable barrier was actually porous to hydrogen ions. This has implications for drawing hydrogen, a potential fuel, right out of the air! You are going to be hearing a lot more about this exciting product in the very near future.
And if all of this hasn't impressed you, well hear this
- it can be self repairing!
I'm listening to Joan Baez singing her beautiful, plaintive composition Diamonds and Rust which is about her relationship with Bob Dylan. Listen here.


Andrew said...

An exciting product. I had heard of the graphine battery but there is one drawback and of course I have forgotten what that is.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - hope you had a lovely time in possibly slightly warmer France ... and perhaps now Spring really is about to spring in England - certainly warmer today over here ... I went out without a coat - my first time doing that in Canada!

I've had posts written about graphene - never posted and I hope they're still there when I get my 'stuff' sorted out on a newer machine ... it is an amazing material ... and so interesting to see the extra stuff ... I knew quite a lot. I believe they extracted it first with a piece of sellotape ...

Thanks for giving us that extra technical information ... cheers Hilary

Hels said...

If surgical tools covered in the graphene reduced the rate of infections and cut down on the use of sntibiotics, perhaps we would reduce the growth of super bugs.

bazza said...

Andrew: I'm not sure what the disadvantages concerning batteries are but there are certain things that are being 'ironed out' of graphene, generally speaking.

bazza said...

Hilary: We have had a lot of rain in London today but are enjoying a fairly mild sunny evening now (it's 6pm as I write this).
Graphene has an exciting future which I am impatient to learn about!

bazza said...

Hels: Yes, you're quite right. That is what is hoped for although it's early days yet.

Parnassus said...

Hello Bazza, Consider all the miraculous properties of graphene, and then consider that it is only one of a multitude of nano-scaled materials and technologies that are already transforming the world, and whose wonders have barely been tapped.

bazza said...

Hi Jim: It seems that the ideas are coming through at such a fast rate that no one will be able to exploit them. Nano-Technology is probably one the most important areas in which graphene will contribute.

All Consuming said...

It's truly amazing stuff isn't it?!! Great post bazza :D

bazza said...

AC: It sure is! New facts and ideas about graphene are constantly appearing. I may have to update this post soon.....

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Fascinating stuff! It almost sounds like the stuff of science fiction, doesn't it? I'm not nearly as informed about current advances in technology as I used to be, so I thoroughly enjoyed the update.

bazza said...

Susan: It strikes me that lots of new inventions were conceived in science fiction long ago!
I updated my own knowledge a lot with this post.

Sherry Ellis said...

Sounds like a useful material. I wonder if it can be used to fight cancer.

bazza said...

Well, I suppose it can be used in the medical application sense but we will have to wait to see the full range of things it could achieve. Let's hope it can!