Technology

Jun 1, 2017

THE SUPERMATERIAL

It may look incredible and surreal, but the first studies of these new material date from 1947. The terminology to define is described for the first time in 1962. The theory that this substance could become an electric conductor is suggested in 1984 and the name is born in 1987, but the first note over it in chemist literature describing this material, dates from 1994.

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Definitely, this is no ordinary material. There are even who considers it "the most recent miracle" of science and technology, or "the supreme material", the material which will revolutionize the world. And it is no less than that!

Recent because, even though the academic descriptions, the material was only isolated for the first time in 2004 and almost by chance. When polishing a graphite surface with a simple scotch tape, scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, from the University of Manchester, England, noticed that, the tape, there was attached with a thin film of graphite flakes. As they started peeling these layers they realised these never ended, until finally they reached the thinnest layer they could get.

Although considered as bizarre and the scepticism of the scientific world, the discovery worth them the Nobel Prize of Physics in 2010. And everyone who has been involved in developing this material properties, don't cease to be amazed with the qualities and possibilities it has brought into the technological world.

In a rather simple way, one can describe graphene as a single, very thin layer of graphite – yes, the very same one we find in a common pencil. This means it derives from the element carbon and, therefore, it has the same atom number, although displayed in a different way, which grants it also different properties.

As an example, both graphite and diamond are carbon derivatives, however they possess totally different properties. As diamond is extremely strong, graphite is brittle. And, if we separate graphene from graphite, it assumes miraculous properties.

The material becomes a thin plate of carbon atoms connected between them, in high density and only one atom thick in a crystal hexagonal structure. This makes graphene, the first two-dimensional material ever discovered and one of the most strong and tough in the universe – it is 200 times stronger than steel.

It also gives it unique properties: it is flexible, almost transparent, highly conductive and impervious to almost all composites, liquid and gas (not even helium can pass through a graphene film).

Future technology

So, why not apply it to everything? As almost everything in this world, it resumes to a simple factor: cost.

Graphene production is still too expensive and, therefore, its usage can only be applied to objects that can be produced in a large scale. Besides, production at an industrial scale increases the risks of creation microscopic cracks on its surface, thus compromising its performance and properties.

All this, even though, in 2012, a group of scientists from the universities of Cairo, in Egypt, and California, in the United States, have developed an efficient and profitable production technique. By applying laser radiation out of a DVD recorder over a film of graphite oxide, they managed to produce a thin layer of high quality graphene.

Since the discovery of this material, in 2004, the fascination of scientists, the academic community and technological companies hasn't stopped growing.

In 2016, a group of Chinese scientists developed a photovoltaic plate, made of graphene, which has proven to be able to produce energy out of sun rays, but also, after rain drops (pages 74 to 77, of Your VIP Partner Magazine, December 2016).

Already in 2017, a group of scientists at the South Korea's Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, alongside with Hanwha Techwin, presented a OLED flexible screen which they intend to apply to fabrics, turning future clothing "smart".

There is already unanimity considering this material will be applied soon, in areas such as energy storage, composite materials and coatings, bio-medicine, sensors and even in the production of membranes for water purification.

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