In 2010, the Nobel Prize for Physics went to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of Manchester University for their pioneering work with the material graphene.
So what is this “miracle material” exactly? Well, it’s a material made of a single sheet of carbon atoms (one atom thick) arranged in a hexagonal honeycomb-like structure like the one below.
It’s extracted from graphite and is about 100x stronger than steel. It conducts electricity better than copper, is more flexible than rubber, and on top of all that, it’s so light that a roll of it can perch atop a delicate flower.
Because of its extreme versatility, inventive minds are already salivating at all of the possible applications of the material including:
- Flexible, electronic screens
- Enhancing solar cells
- Extending battery life
- Sensors for measuring strain, gas, magnetism or pressure (graphene is extremely sensitive to environmental conditions)
- Building new body tissue for regenerative medicine
- A graphene “paint” could be used to coat materials and make them stronger, more conductive, impermeable and rust-proof
There is still plenty of work to be done, however. The material’s proponents acknowledge that the most amazing characteristics of the material are only achieved with the highest grade graphene- a level of quality which, as of yet, hasn’t been able to be reproduced on an industrial-scale.
But this isn’t stopping countries and corporations for leaping headfirst into the material. The British government has invested almost $100 million in developing the technology already.
And since the research began in 2004, over 7000 patents using the material have been filed, the most being in China, which has over 2000 (Samsung owns more than 400 of those).
So, while the material may be too expensive for major every day use now, its future is looking very bright.
Read more from the BBC here.