As the sixth most abundant element, carbon forms much of the universe around us. It has an exceptional ability to chemically bond with other elements to form unique structures such as large organic chains or diamonds. Recently, research has been focused on developing a compound called graphene. As is seen in the picture above, graphene is a 1-atom thick layer of carbon arranged in hexagonal “chicken wire” pattern. Graphite, commonly used as pencil lead, is simply multiple layers of graphene stacked on top of each other. The unique mono-atomic thickness and crystalline structure of graphene gives it some unique properties.
What Makes Graphene Unique?
Before graphene was successfully isolated and identified in 2004, many chemists believed it was impossible to create 2-dimensional compounds. Graphene’s unique 2-dimensional structure gives it some highly specialized properties. The following properties are listed on GrapheneA’s website:
- Due to its’ sp2 molecular hybridization, graphene currently has the highest electrical conductivity of any known material.
- Graphene is suspected of having the highest mass-to-tensile strength ratio of any material. Or in other words, it’s incredibly light and incredibly strong.
- Graphene has an unusually high opacity. This means that despite being only one atom thick, graphene is still visible to the naked eye.
What Can We Use Graphene For?
Since it’s recent discovery, researchers all over the world have been working to develop practical uses for graphene’s unusual characteristics. The following examples are just a few of the current areas of research for graphene:
- Bioelectric sensory devices
- LCD and OLED displays
- Water filtration
- Super-strong materials
- Photovoltaic cells
- Instantly charged batteries
Much more work needs to be done to further develop graphene. One of the main challenges hindering wider adoption of graphene is production. There is currently no easy way to produce a large amount of graphene. However, further research is developing better production techniques in addition to finding more uses for graphene. In a few years, it’s very likely graphene could be a ubiquitous compound in many devices.