Is Graphene The Plastic Of The 21st Century?

Thinner and stronger than steel, graphene already outperforms all other known materials as a conductor of heat.

Graphene is a thin flake of ordinary carbon – a mere one atom thick, yet 200 times as strong as steel. Researchers at Columbia University’s Foundation School of Engineering said that “it would take an elephant, balanced on a pencil, to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of Saran Wrap.”

Hailed as an incredible breakthrough, graphene could be as transformative in this century as plastics were in the 20th century.

But the most amazing thing about graphene isn’t its strength. It’s ability to conduct both heat and electricity efficiently means that graphene could soon be used in innovative technologies such as transparent touch screens, light panels and even solar cells. The substance could also help make computers more efficient or be used in the future production of satellites, airplanes and cars.

Russian-born scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov extracted graphene from a piece of graphite, such as that found in pencils. In October 2010, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work. Although graphene has the potential to improve the efficiency of electronics and even renewable energy technologies, there are some environmental drawbacks.

The process through which graphite is mined and milled creates harmful air pollution, exposing workers to fine particulate and also soil contamination from powder spillages. Dust masks are normally worn by workers during the production process to avoid worker exposure to the fine airborne graphite and zircon silicate, but there could still be health risks.

Wanna know more about this versatile material and how it could affect our lives in the future? Check out this comprehensive infographic.

Article by Beth Buczynsk, appearing courtesy Crisp Green.

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