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Feeling Isolated: The Story of Graphene

25 July 2013 by Emma Blunt

The scientists who discovered this wonder material were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010. So, what is Graphene and what are the implications for the IT industry?

There’s a reason we’re always waxing lyrical about Manchester as a city of innovation. It was the home of one of our own personal heroes, computer scientist and philosopher, Alan Turing. What people might not know, however, is that Graphene was basically created in the University of Manchester by two scientists who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010.

What’s so great about Graphene?

Everything! It is basically a sheet of carbon that is one atom thick but which is about one hundred times stronger than steel. It is a two-dimensional material and has a structure like a honeycomb, made up of a single layer of carbon atoms. A fact from the website Home of Graphene claims that a Graphene string, thinner than human hair, could support the weight of a grand piano. It is virtually impermeable, incredibly light and thin. It is the most conductive man-made material in the world!

When was Graphene Discovered?

It was discovered in 2003 by scientists Professor Andre Giem and Professor Kostya Novoselov, and the results of the work were published in 2004. They discovered the material and its properties by isolating Graphene from Graphite, the material formed by layers of Graphene sheets stacked on top of each other. Graphite, as you may know, is found in pencil lead. Previously, Graphene had been thought of as unstable in its free form but Giem and Novoselov proved this to be untrue.

How could we use Graphene?

Well, work has already started on some projects but it’s likely to take a few more years yet. However, the potential of this incredible material is huge. Some experts have speculated that because it can be programmed to attach itself to specific cells, such as cancer cells, it could revolutionise medicine. There is talk of Graphene being utilised for smart phones, creating the ability to fold away one’s device!

In telecommunications, the use of Graphene could dramatically accelerate Internet speeds by up to a hundred times, according to new research by scientists in the University of Bath‘s Department of Physics. Why? Because the research showed that the response rate of an optical switch using Graphene was ultrafast, much faster than the materials currently used for switches.

There is also research to suggest that Graphene could be used to cool electronic equipment. An International Research Project found that a layer of Graphene had a cooling affect when applied to hot spots within electronics. The implications here are huge for our industry where the cooling process in data centres uses a large amount of energy.

With further research, Graphene is sure to play a big part in the technological and scientific advancements of the future.