Graphene, a newly invented supermaterial, is an allotrope of carbon, which has such properties that can be used in wide applications. It has a single layer of atoms in the hexagonal form that means it is a two-dimensional hexagonal lattice structure. The structure of graphene is very similar to other allotropes of carbon such as charcoal, carbon nanotubes, graphite, etc. Now the question is, what makes it supermaterial and different from other allotropes of carbon? In comparison to the strongest steel it’s at least 100 times stronger and at the same time, it’s more than 6 times lighter. Graphene is even harder than diamond and the hardest material known to date. An imaginary setup can be visualized to explain its strength by having a single layer of graphene sheet held by the corners and an elephant balanced on a pencil which is placed at the middle pointing towards the sheet will not be able to penetrate it.
It has been found that some attempts have been made to study graphene previously can be traced back to 1859 but it was in 2004 when Professor Sir Andre Geim and Professor Sir Kostya Novoselov of the University of Manchester discovered an isolated single layer of graphene from graphite using an adhesive tape and won prestigious 2010 Physics Nobel prize for their groundbreaking invention.
Graphene is present in the graphite in the form of small flakes. The layers of graphene are held together in graphite by a weak van-der-Waals force and get easily exfoliated when it is used for writing in a notebook. It can be extracted from graphite by simply using an adhesive tape by applying and removing it on the surface of graphite repeatedly until a thin small flake size sheet of a single atomic layer is found. Although the size of graphene extracted in this manner is not very useful but only for study and research.
Research shows that graphene sheets can be used for water purification through reverse osmosis. Graphene sheets naturally do not allow water or gases to pass through it but if it is made perforated of desired size holes, it allows only water molecules to pass through it while separating all other elements including microorganisms which enables super-efficient filtration and open a door for the possibility of purifying ocean water effectively.
Like graphite, graphene also is a good conductor of heat and electricity. But unlike graphite, graphene is highly transparent and its transmissivity goes up to 95%. Because of this unique property, it is anticipated that it will completely transform future display technology like television screens and smartphone touch screens making them scratch resistant and flexible. This material is expected to be used in future foldable smartphones allowing bigger screens to be more compactly fit in pockets.
Because of its good thermal and electrical conductivity, it can easily be employed in various electrical and mechanical applications. Graphene also shows diamagnetism when exposed to a magnetic field, even greater than graphite, and can be levitated by Nd-Fe-B magnets. Other possible areas for future research and application are composites, energy, telecommunications, electronics, sensors and imaging, and biomedical technologies.
Research and development of this material in electronic components have been seen progressing at a faster rate in the last decade. Supercapacitors made of graphene could be the biggest application of this material in electronic engineering in the long term and are expected to replace current lithium-ion based batteries.
In conclusion, the future scope for supermaterial graphene is very promising which opens a new dimension in the field of material engineering. It will have an impact on almost every field of science and will transform the way of our living altogether. Currently, the production of graphene is quite expensive and it is only available for research. Scientists are making efforts to reduce its production cost to such a level that its unmatched properties can be utilized economically and this wonder material can benefit all lives.
Ajeet Bahadur Singh
Mechanical Engineering Department, Kalinga University, Naya Raipur, Chhattisgarh, India
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