Geology Home Page physical geology historical geology planetary gems
Roger Weller, geology instructor
by Maico Olivares
Graphene: Allotrope of Carbon and Super Material
Graphene is a revolutionary material made up of two dimensional
layers of carbon atoms bonded together in a hexagonal shape, often said to
resemble to structure a honeycomb. This allotrope, or variation in
structure, of carbon has been known about for well over a century, but it was
just recently in 2010 when two physicist discovered how to make graphene by
using scotch tape and graphite. You see, graphite is a stack of graphene
and being able to attain just one layer was the hard part, or so it seemed.
Who knew scotch tape could be used to extract a material that is not only
stronger than diamonds, but also as of now the best electrical conductor known
to man due to its two dimensional structure?
Some important things to know about graphene is that a single
molecule of graphene is comprised of six carbon atoms attached in a hexagonal
shape. Carbon itself it’s the 6th element on the periodic table
with an atomic mass of 12.01 amu. It is located in group 14 and on period 2,
making it apart of the p-block elements.
(courtesy of extremetech.com) (Graphene structure)
Graphene has been deemed as a wonder material due to the fact that
it is 300 times stronger than steel and harder than diamond according to “The
Conversation”, an online source. They go on to say that It is also an
amazing conductor of heat and electricity as well as being very flexible.
With all of these properties many are saying that graphene will inevitably
revolutionize the tech industry once scientists are able to find a way to mass
produce graphene. To understand how well graphene conducts electricity,
you can complete a circuit by drawing lines with a number two pencil between two
points on an electrical circuit. This means an electrical current only has
one direction to move in whereas in a three-dimensional structure like copper
wire the electrical current does not necessarily move in one way, it may deviate
slightly upward or downward until it reaches the other end.
With this sort of conductivity there are talks of replacing silicon
components in computers and electronics with graphene chips and graphene based
transistors and basically anything else in a computer one can think of which
would make machines faster, smaller, lighter, and more efficient in the future.
There are talks that graphene would be especially suitable for use in quantum
computers, the next frontier in computing as a quantum computer can compute more
than one thing at a time.
(quantum computer chip, courtesy of pingdom.com)
The fact that this carbon based molecule is also very strong and flexible leaves a wide open door of possibilities for future applications of this super material. In regards to structural integrity graphene is the strongest physically known material known to man although there are talks and possibilities of other carbon based molecules like carbine that could possibly be stronger if arranged in a particular lattice structure. Because of its amazing properties it could possibly be used to make better batteries, medical equipment, spacecraft, computers, nano materials, and even better bullet proof vests! The possibilities seem to increment a dozen at a time with the list of possible uses and aspirations increasing evermore as scientist begin to understand this material more and more each year. In words of a Discovery news (DNews) host on YouTube regarding a segment about graphene, the host says, “Graphene is poised to revolutionize pretty much everything.” That statement alone should make you wonder what things will be like in the future once humans are able to harness the potential of these amazing carbon allotrope.
If you didn’t know, many things we think are
impermeable are actually semi-permeable meaning air molecules can go through
very small structures. They go on to say that researchers at Rice University
were able to make airtight plastic bottles by simply layering the bottles with a
few atoms of thickness using graphene. If this simple method can be used
to air seal a bottle 100% then it will surely be used on boats, homes,
submarines, aircraft, automobiles and pretty much anything else one can think of
would need to be impermeable, or that simply needs added protection from rusting
or deterioration. All this from a simple two dimensional material
extracted from something so simple as graphite which we have all came across at
one point or another because it is found in regular pencils!
(graphite structure is comprised of sheets of graphene stacked and connected)
(courtesy of Prof. R. Weller of Cochise College)
The environmental impact will be incredible. Many of the
things we use or need to live our modern life create vast amounts of pollution
in the air, water, and the atmosphere. However, Diana Vilela of the
Max-plank institute in Stuttgart, Germany may have found a way to clean our
earths waters of pollutants and impurities by creating microbots as thin as a
hair made up of graphene, nickel, and platinum. The graphene laced microbots
have already been demonstrated to reduce lead in water by up 95% in just an hour
by trapping lead ions. The best part about the use of these microbots is that
they can be used many times, making them very useful without having to spend
vast amounts of money. If this feat can be accomplished by lacing a piece
of technology nearly invisible to the naked eye imagine the beneficial potential
this could have by releasing millions of these bots around the world’s nations.
People with poor water quality could live a little easier not having to worry
whether or not quenching their thirst might potentially kill them. Just
recently here in the United States Flint, MI had the worst water pollution this
nation has recently seen. These microbots in the future will be able to
take care of these sort of messes enabling better health and the ability to save
(courtesy of discovery.com)
Although the current problem with graphene is trying to mss produce
it researchers at MIT may have come up with a new technique that allows the
production of long continuous ribbons and sheets of this revolutionary material,
all this according to extremetech.com. MIT’s method involves sliding metal
ribbons within two concentric tubes at 1,000 degrees Celsius allowing the
graphene to be deposited along the metal ribbons in continuous sheets. It
is only a matter of time before this carbon material, the same of which roughly
19% of the human body is made of, meaning it is also biodegradable!
(Machine used by MIT researchers, Courtesy of ExtremeTech.com)
Graphene is the material of the future and without a doubt everyone should start taking a better look at this material. Not only is there a huge opportunity to invest and make millions of dollars, but potentially thousands of jobs may be created in the process once we begin implementing and integrating it in our lives. The most important thing to remember about graphene however is that it can replace almost everything you can think of, it is eco-friendly, and it can also clean our earth, meaning that by switching all other obsolete materials to graphene we may be able to ensure to the future of mankind’s survival on this planet.
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