Graphene – the perfect atomic lattice






Graphene is a form of carbon. As a substance, it is entirely new – not only the thinnest ever but also the strongest. As a conductor of electricity, it performs as well as copper. As a conductor of heat, it outperforms useful conducting metals such as silver and copper. It is completely clear, yet so dense that not even the smallest gas atoms can pass through it. It is so strong that a 1 m2 hammock, no more substantial than a cat’s whisker, could bear the pressure of an average sized cat without breaking.

Graphene

In a world of paradoxes
Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov used a piece of graphene no thicker than the diameter of a hair to investigate the miraculous traits of graphene. The most striking is that electrons traveling in graphene behave as if they did not have any mass and move ahead at a constant speed of one thousand miles per second. This opens up the opportunity of studying certain phenomena more efficiently on a much smaller scale, i.e., without the use of a massive particle accelerator.

Energy distribution of the charge carriers in graphene

Graphene also enables scientists to test for some of the more ghost-like quantum effects that have so far only been discussed theoretically. One such phenomenon is a variant of Klein tunneling, which was formulated by the Swedish physicist Oskar Klein in 1929. This tunnel effect in quantum physics describes how particles can sometimes pass through a barrier that would usually block them – the more significant the wall, the smaller the chance of quantum particles passing through. However, this does not apply to electrons traveling in graphene – in some circumstances; they move ahead as if the barrier did not even exist.



Graphene

Dreamworlds
So far, most of the possible practical applications for graphene exist only in our fantasies. Graphene’s conducting ability has spurred a great deal of interest. Thus graphene transistors are prophesied to be substantially faster than those made out of silicon today. Maybe we are on the verge of yet another miniaturization of electronics that will lead to computers becoming even more efficient in the future.

Graphene

Since graphene is practically transparent (up to nearly 98%) while being able to conduct electricity, it would be suitable for the production of transparent touch screens, light panels, and maybe solar cells. Also, plastics could be made into electronic conductors if only 1% of graphene were mixed into them. Likewise, by mixing in just a fraction of a per mille of graphene, the heat resistance of plastics would increase by 30˚ C while at the same time making them more mechanically robust. This resilience could be utilized in new super durable materials, which are also thin, elastic, and lightweight.

The entire structure of graphene also makes it suitable for the production of sensitive sensors that could register pollution at the molecular level.

Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov
Andre Geim
Dutch citizen. Born 1958 in Sochi, Russia. Ph.D. 1987 from Institute of Solid State Physics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Chernogolovka, Russia. Director of Manchester Centre for Meso-science & Nanotechnology, Langworthy Professor of Physics and Royal Society 2010 Anniversary Research Professor, University of Manchester, UK.


Konstantin Novoselov
British and Russian citizen. Born 1974 in Nizhny Tagil, Russia. Ph.D. 2004 from Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Professor and Royal Society Research Fellow, University of Manchester, UK.

Playful collaborators
Konstantin Novoselov started working for Andre Geim as a Ph.D. student in the Netherlands. He subsequently followed Geim to the United Kingdom. Both of them began as physicists in Russia; now, they are both professors at the University of Manchester.

Playfulness is one of their hallmarks. With the building blocks they have at their disposal, they attempt to create something new, sometimes even by just allowing their brains to meander aimlessly. One always learns something in the process and, who knows, you may also hit the jackpot. Like now, when with graphene, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov have written themselves into the annals of science.

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