Buzz around graphene has floated through the science and tech world for 15 years now, and its promises are revolutionary. Discovered in 2004, the material is predicted to be the semi-metal that makes science fiction a reality.
Graphene is an insanely strong material. It only has a thickness of 1 atom, making it 2-dimensional. Its carbon structure is easily found in everyday objects like a graphite pencil.
Not only can it stretch up to 25% of its length, it is also the hardest material known today.
A sheet of graphene one atom in thickness is able to hold up the weight of a soccer ball. A sheet with two atomic layers is impenetrable to diamond-tipped weapons. Imagine what this could mean for building materials, let alone computing!
Graphene expands under cooler temperatures and shrinks when exposed to hotter temperatures, making it the only known material to have these qualities.
Another valuable quality is that it is a great electrical conduit. It carries electricity very efficiently and quickly which if turned into batteries, could extend the lifespan of our devices. Graphene could carry electrical currents in materials like clothing, inks, and could rid us of our need for lightbulbs.
The one-atom structure can also filter smaller electrons, potentially advancing quantum physics research.
In 2018, a group of scientists in Australia used graphene to create a water filter that could desalinate ocean water and make even the most polluted water drinkable. If large enough membranes were made, it could even solve the fresh water crisis for many countries!
From conserving natural resources, to advancing developments in technology, graphene could improve humanity for the better. So, where is it?
The reality is that mass-producing graphene is still a costly endeavor. However, the world has started to take notice of the material’s potential — the EU has invested $1.3 billion into research from 2013-2023. Although the price of has dropped, by the end of 2015, a 0.35 oz still cost $1,000.
Silicon is still a more favorable material from a production stand-point. Plastics and carbon fiber also faced similar challenges when first discovered. The innovation wave is coming, and when it arrives, we can (hopefully) look forward to a brighter, better future.