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What Are the Uses of Graphene?

By Paul Scott
Updated May 16, 2024
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Graphene looks set to become one of the most revolutionary scientific discoveries of all time. This simple carbon allotrope possesses physical qualities previously unheard of and almost unthinkable potential in terms of the sheer number of its possible applications. It is literally a layer of atoms that can be moved around that is more rigid than a diamond, totally impermeable, and has an electrical current density a million times better than that of copper. At present, the huge number of potential uses of graphene are basically just that — potential uses. Development of this material is still in its infancy, but possible applications include touchscreen technology, electronic semi-conductor components, and gas sensors.

In scientific terms, graphene is one of the most anomalous substances ever researched. Practically, it is a simple allotrope of carbon, meaning that it's one of several possible forms of carbon, the diamond being another. Graphene is basically a single atomic layer of carbon molecules that is not only rigid enough to pick up, but also visible to the naked eye. It is totally impermeable, possesses outstanding thermal and electrical conductivity, and is resistant to strong acid and alkali attack. It also exhibits exceptional strength and flexibility and also has good optical properties.

All of these properties make graphene one of the most exciting and potential rich materials of all time. The research and development into the possible uses of graphene are still at the bottom of what promises to be a steep curve, but initial work has returned some very encouraging results. One of the industries that stands to gain the most from the many potential uses of graphene is electronic engineering. Flexible touchscreens, highly-efficient semi-conductor components, and room temperature superconductors are just a few of the possible uses of graphene in this industrial sector.

Graphene's impermeable nature and its molecular reaction to contact with gases also make it a strong contender for use in gas detection equipment. In addition, its inert nature holds great promise for the development of acid- and alkali-resistant coatings. The fact that it is a material that can produce the thinnest single atomic lattice and that it has good optical properties also means it would be an excellent support membrane for electron microscopes. Although large-scale commercial application of all of these applications are probably still years away as of 2011, the possible uses of graphene are too significant for it not to have created interest and a considerable wave of new research.

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Discussion Comments

By croydon — On Dec 29, 2011

@pleonasm - It's a single layer of atoms, laced together, from a carbon material like graphite I believe.

There are a lot of researchers working on it now that its properties have been made clear, so I'm sure they will quickly crack a quick and easy method of making and manipulating it.

Something I think is interesting is that it often seems to be described as a two dimensional material.

I suppose that's apt in some ways, since it is as thin as a material can get, being only one atom thick.

But it does have some thickness and two dimensions is technically not supposed to have any, at least as a mathematical concept.

By pleonasm — On Dec 29, 2011

@KoiwiGal - Since graphene is going to be most useful in the electronics industry I'll predict that it will in fact lead to even more discoveries. One of the difficulties with computers has always been space and size. The more computer power the more space things need. It's not just for convenience that computers have been getting smaller and smaller, it's also born out of necessity as innovations are made around the most powerful computers to try and shrink them down.

Something with the properties of graphene will definitely help in this department. The conductivity alone is astonishing, and when you add that to its lightness and rigidity, it's going to end up taking us into places we haven't been able to go before.

Of course, there's a long way to go before it can really be put to use. I believe it's quite delicate, and difficult to isolate from the parent material.

By KoiwiGal — On Dec 28, 2011

Wow I had never heard of this kind of material before and I almost thought this article was a hoax of some kind when I first started reading it. But it also has a huge wikipedia entry and it seems like a lot of other people are buzzing about it online as well.

It's amazing what kinds of scientific discoveries are still being made. Even something which seems relatively simple, like a single layer of carbon atoms, has yielded something incredible which could have massive implications on all areas of our lives.

This sort of thing always makes me think of that chap a few hundred years ago who famously declared that there was nothing left to discover, that human beings had pretty much decoded everything.

I think it's pretty obvious we still have a long way to go and I'm happy with that because the thrill of discovery is not something I'd want to give up any time soon.

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