In 2010, physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov received a Nobel prize for their groundbreaking experiments on graphene. Graphene is an allotrope of carbon of a single layer of atoms arranged in a two-dimensional honeycomb lattice.
They had conducted a simple experiment using scotch tape and graphite (from a pencil). They placed a small accommodable amount of graphite particles in between the scotch tape and folded its two ends, which were held manually for separating the adhesive parts of the tapes. There was a big surprise when they unfolded the tapes. Graphite particles were doubled, appearing on each side of the scotch tape. When this was done multiple times, a single-layered carbon structure had formed, which, when observed under the microscope, was a honeycomb structure of a single graphene sheet. Before this discovery, many scientists had thought that graphene was unstable, cannot be isolated into a single layer, and existed in multilayered form.
Graphene is the strongest material on earth and therefore has multiple applications. Biomedical applications and biomedical research use graphene and graphene oxides. The chemical vapour deposition (CVD) method (a vacuum deposition method used to produce high quality, high-performance solid materials) is used to synthesize large-area graphene, containing properties of hydrophobicity and flexibility, thereby playing an important role in cell growth and differentiation.
Graphene related materials are used as model materials for basic research. Manufacturing flights, aircraft, bullet-proof jackets, transportation vehicles, and accessories are ideas to be accomplished with graphene. Production of graphene has increased from 14 tonnes in 2009 to nearly 120 tonnes in 2015 and is estimated to reach nearly 1,200 tonnes in 2019.
Graphene is a unique material standing between organic and inorganic materials. With its multi-functionality, it has great potential to be a major component of the next generation of materials like high-performance composites, nano-electronics, microfluidics, micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), and nano-electro-mechanical systems (NEMS).
The high surface area, electron mobility, thermal conductivity, and mechanical strength of graphene can lead to novel or improved technologies to address the pressing global environmental challenges. Environmental decontamination programs such as ‘water treatment’ and ‘desalination membranes’ could be the most promising areas of sustainable nano-technology research on graphene. Desalination membranes (which extract freshwater from the saline water) could help solve the problem of water scarcity throughout the world, thus eliminating the possibility of a war in the future.
Graphene supercapacitors will significantly reduce the time of charging our electronic devices (like electric cars in the near future) and thereby making our lives faster and more productive.
The discovery of graphene will give us a better picture of the technologically advanced future that we are building. I would like to conclude with a quote from ELON MUSK (founder, CEO, CTO, and chief designer of SpaceX) during a TED Talk on April 30th, 2017: “I think it’s important to have a future that is inspiring and appealing. I just think there have to be reasons that you get up in the morning and you want to live. Like, why do you want to live? What’s the point? What inspires you? What do you love about the future? And if we’re not out there, if the future does not include being out there among the stars and being a multi-planet species, I find that it’s incredibly depressing if that’s not the future that we’re going to have.”