If you haven’t heard of Graphene before, you have now. And it may prove to be the next big thing in materials science. SciShow explains what it is, why it’s so awesome, and what challenges we face in harnessing its amazing properties.
Graphene is pure carbon in the form of a very thin, nearly transparent sheet, one atom thick. It is remarkably strong for its very low weight (100 times stronger than steel) and it conducts heat and electricity with great efficiency. While scientists had theorized about graphene for decades, it was first produced in the lab in 2004. Because it is virtually two-dimensional, it interacts oddly with light and with other materials. Researchers have identified the bipolar transistor effect, ballistic transport of charges and large quantum oscillations.
Technically, graphene is a crystalline allotrope of carbon with 2-dimensional properties. In graphene, carbon atoms are densely packed in a regular sp2-bonded atomic-scale chicken wire (hexagonal) pattern. Graphene can be described as a one-atom thick layer of graphite. It is the basic structural element of other allotropes, including graphite, charcoal, carbon nanotubes and fullerenes. It can also be considered as an indefinitely large aromatic molecule, the limiting case of the family of flat polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Graphene research has expanded quickly since the substance was first isolated in 2004. Research was informed by theoretical descriptions of graphene’s composition, structure and properties, which had all been calculated decades earlier. High-quality graphene also proved to be surprisingly easy to isolate, making more research possible. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene”.