|The structure of a graphene sheet|
As technology becomes more advanced and demanding, current materials are beginning to reach their limits. The size of silicon transistors in computer processors is beginning to plateau, and materials more suited for development on the nano-scale scale are greatly needed. Many of the earth’s rare elements are being used up, and even elements like copper are becoming expensive due to their use in technology.
The versatile material that could solve all these problems is graphene. When it was discovered in 2004 at the University of Manchester, it was called the first “two-dimensional” material produced because it is only one atom thick, and is made of carbon atoms in a honeycomb structure. This structure makes it not just extremely strong, but the strongest substance ever discovered, more than 300 times stronger than steel and Kevlar while remaining 1000 times lighter than paper.
These properties make graphene and ideal construction material for both the large and small scales, and also for creating safer and more efficient transportation vehicles due to graphene’s high strength and low weight. Graphene can also be used as a semiconductor. Silicon is reaching its limits; silicon transistors cannot be made much smaller, but graphene provides a more organized and versatile base material that could replace silicon transistors completely. Because graphene is an efficient conductor, even at the smallest scale, it could be useful creating tiny low-profile wires that could shrink electronics even further.
On top of this, because graphene is made from carbon, a very abundant element on earth, it is unlikely for there to be any shortages of graphene. This means that the cost can be very low once production techniques are refined, and also that the production will take less of a toll on the environment. Despite this, the development of production techniques is one of the greatest challenges for graphene today.
Researchers from Northwestern University found a new method of depositing graphene onto silver. Silver is an ideal material for graphene deposition because it is very stable and conductive. By coupling this with an electric charge, the researchers were able to force the carbon onto the silver in thin sheets with relatively high accuracy. With further development of this silver method, graphene production could increase, leading to a decrease in cost. Previously, a gas was heated so that it could form onto a plate, but this requires extreme precision and very high temperatures, resulting in a low yield.
|Orange and yellow represent graphene growth on the dark red silver|
This new production method does not just affect the graphene market however, it also has an impact on both the development and production of other “two-dimensional” materials. As scientists begin to use supercomputers to model new arrangements of atoms in a two-dimensional form, many more types of materials like graphene will need to be tested, such as two-dimensional boron structures that are being researched. This new method of production will help these discoveries advance more rapidly.
Graphene promises to make society more efficient, safer, and maybe even build a space elevator, but the current production method fails to produce enough graphene at a reasonable enough price to make any impact. The new silver deposition method is much more efficient and effective, unlocking the massive potential of graphene and other two-dimensional materials..