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Roger Weller, geology instructor

wellerr@cochise.edu

Carbon
by Maico Olivares
Physical Geology
Spring 2016
  
 

                                                                                 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 live.
 

(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.

 

 

 

 

Citations

Bradley, D. (2014, June 10). Chemical history of graphene. Retrieved April 12, 2016, from http://www.materialstoday.com/carbon/comment/chemical-history-of-graphene/
 

De La Fuente, J. (n.d.). Graphene properties. Retrieved April 10, 2016, from http://www.graphenea.com/pages/graphene-properties#.VyCb3aODGko
 

Staedter, T. (2016, April 12). Graphene Microbots built to scour the waters of heavy metals. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://news.discovery.com/tech/graphene-microbots-built-to-scour-water-of-heavy-metals-160412.htm
 

Graphene will rock your world. (2015, May 22). Retrieved April 18, 2016, from http://royal.pingdom.com/2015/05/22/graphene-will-rock-your-world/
 

Guillot, M. (2015, May 27). MIT researchers pioneer technique for mass producing graphene. Retrieved April 16, 2016, from http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/206573-mit-researchers-pioneer-technique-for-mass-producing-graphene