Two scientists awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics, have managed to extract a flake of carbon, just one atom thick, with a piece of sticky tape!
Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov found that the tiny flake of carbon yielded a completely new material called Graphene. Graphene is a very thin sheet of carbon atoms that are densely packed into a crystal honeycomb lattice that looks not unlike a piece of chicken-wire. When stacked together, these thin sheets form a ‘Graphene flake’. To give you an idea of how thin these flakes are, if you stacked 3 million Graphene sheets one on top of the other they would still only be one millimetre thick!
The Graphene extracted by the two scientists came from ordinary graphite pencil lead. Graphite is a notoriously slippery substance. It’s so slippery that it can be used as a lubricant. Ever had a stuck zipper? Rub an ordinary pencil lead over both sides of the zipper and be amazed at an easy quick fix!
Experiments have shown that Graphene conducts heat better than any other known material. It’s such a good conductor that Graphene transistors are thought to be superior to current silicon transistors. This could mean a huge impact for improved computer speeds and efficiency. Due to its transparency and conductivity properties, Graphene could be used in transparent touch screens, light panels or possibly solar cells. Here’s an excellent demonstration of how Graphene could be used.
But it’s not just as an alternative to silicon transistors where Graphene shines. Geim & Novoselov’s work shows that Graphene can become an excellent conductor of electricity when mixed into plastics. This helps to create more heat resistant and more mechanically robust materials – the new super-strong composite material could be used to make everything from satellites, to airplanes to cars.
Stronger than steel, transparent, a better conductor than copper, Graphene has tremendous possibilities to improve our world. And all thanks to something one atom thick found in the lead in your pencil and discovered with some sticky tape!