There’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of graphene before reading the title of this article, but there’s an equally good chance that you’ll be using it in the very near future. This unique carbon material is set to revolutionise many different kinds of technology.
What is it?
Simply put, graphene is an incredibly thin layer of pure carbon.
Many scientists have theorised about graphene for decades, and in 2010 Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their research on the material. At one atom thick, it is the thinnest, lightest known compound and about 200 times stronger than steel. It also happens to be the best conductor of heat and electricity. Because of these properties, this substance could have many high-tech applications. Here are five ways we can use this super substance in the future.
Due to its ability to conduct electricity more effectively than other materials, mobile phones that use graphene will be able to support plastic rather than glass screens. Not only would this mean thinner, more durable interfaces, it would also fuel the creation of flexible phones with the use of Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) displays currently being developed by companies such as FlexEnable.
The battery of the future
High-powered, graphene-based supercapacitors (also called ‘ultracapacitors’) may soon be an alternative to batteries. These supercapacitors are able to store hundreds of times the amount of electrical charge than a standard battery, weigh significantly less, can recharge much faster and are kinder to the environment – as graphene is essentially graphite, a form of carbon, it’s a more ecological way to store energy.
Because graphene is so thin and flexible, it could be the perfect material to help integrate bionic devices into living tissue. Since graphene can conduct electrical signals, it can connect with neurons and detect nerve impulses. Scientists are already working with graphene to develop an artificial retina implant, and in the future, this material could be used to help people regain the use of their limbs after damage to the spinal cord.
Researchers have also used graphene to make seawater drinkable. They have created a graphene filter with holes the size of a nanometre to filter salt from the water. This could purify seawater at a lower cost than the current reverse osmosis techniques.
Radioactive waste cleaner
Researchers at Rice University and Lomonosov State University have found that graphene oxide can remove radioactive material from contaminated water. This could be a breakthrough for contaminated sites, like the water near Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
It’s clear to see why graphene has been nicknamed the ‘miracle material’: with so many advanced uses, it has the power to revolutionise so many industries. Although we will have to wait a while to see these applications brought to fruition, it’s clear we’re on the brink of something revolutionary.
Image Credit – Graphene Structure from Flickr (Creative Commons)