We are turning carbon into something that may change the world as we know it – Superconducting Graphene. Get ready for technology to be smaller, faster, more invisible and more awesome than ever before.
What is Graphene
If you are not familiar, graphene is a transparent, two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms, just one atom thick. If you were to lay this layers one on top of the other you would eventually have graphite, which is the stuff that’s in your ordinary pencil. Let’s say you take a sheet of that material and curl it, so its edges met, you can make a nanotube. One of the coolest thing about graphene is that we figured out how to make it into a superconductor. A conductor is able to conduct electricity, with some materials performing better than others.
Copper cables are pretty good for example, but a block made of rubber isn’t. It is an insulator. Still, even with good conductors you still lose some electricity because of resistance. A material resists electricity flowing through it and so some electricity is converted into heat. That means that, no matter how much electricity you pour into one end of a copper cable, you will never get the same amount out the other side.
Superconductors are different. They don’t have any losses while transporting electricity. That means that the amount you put in is going to be equal to the amount you get on the other side, with no resistance what so ever. Until recently, graphene was not one of those materials. Back in 2012 some scientists hypothesized, that if you were to introduce lithium atoms at careful locations inside a sheet of the material, you could turn it into a superconductor. Recently, the researchers did just that.
Applications and characteristics
Since the discovery in 2004, the applications for this new material have been growing really fast. It is the strongest material known to man and could be used to make better batteries, medical scanners, bulletproof vests, spacecraft, planes, trains, automobiles, transistors, nanomaterials, computers … ( So many things that we could not name them all. )
Graphene is around 200 times stronger than steel with its single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern.
In our current way of life a lot of things are semi-permeable, air molecules can move true plastic bottles, ( Which is why beer is still in glass. ) but graphene is here to make everything better. Using the unique material, researchers from Rice University made airtight bottles by layering it. By adding only a few atoms of thickness it becomes impossible for air to escape, or enter.
Similar processes protect metals from rust, so foods, drinks, fuel, automobiles, boats, spacecraft … anything needing protection from air loss could become better. ( And that is just the tip of the iceberg. )
Graphene can become naturally magnetic on the atomic level. Just by manipulating the spinning electrons of the carbon atoms, the researchers have turned it into a one atom thick magnet. ( So, data storage anyone? )
By putting graphene between two layers of one atom thick boron nitride, scientists have created the cleanest graphene known to man. Normally, they contaminate the graphene with their tools by manipulating it, but now one more milestone was passed to the goal of graphene computer chips. ( Another step closer to super fast, super small computers. )
Researchers are slowly improving the ability of graphene to collaborate with the human body, by grafting graphene into cells. That way, in the near future, scientists will be able to sense functions and one day our health directly with nanobots and graphene sensors.
Simply, this material is gonna revolutionize pretty much everything you know.
Problems and obstacles on the way to this technology
One of the problems with graphene right now is that it is really difficult to manufacture. For example, in computing, it is cheaper to make two powerful silicon chips than it is to make a single tiny strip of graphene. It is an amazing material to use, but a really hard one to produce reliably.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that these materials are operating at very low temperatures. ( And by low temperatures we mean seriously cold. ) To turn the material into a superconductor researchers had to lower the temperature to -267° C. ( -448.6° F ) Still, they are hopeful that if we play with where the lithium is placed, we can slowly raise that temperature at least to a certain point.
In the end, we are still working on the future. We just need a little more time to bring it here in the present.