Friday, July 17, 2009

Imagine a cloth one atom thick

There are so many depressing items in the news these days that it seems almost pointless to write about them. But once in a while there is an interesting tidbit which isn't about our seeming rush over the cliff.

This is one such item, about a new material called "graphene", which is a sheet made of carbon atoms one layer thick.

"'It is the thinnest known material in the universe, and the strongest ever measured,' Andre Geim, a physicist at the University of Manchester, England, wrote in the June 19 issue of the journal Science...

Like diamond, graphene is pure carbon. It forms a six-sided mesh of atoms that, through an electron microscope, looks like a honeycomb or piece of chicken wire. Despite its strength, it's as flexible as plastic wrap and can be bent, folded or rolled up like a scroll...

Graphene was the leading topic at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society _ a leading organization of physicists _ in Pittsburgh in April. Researchers packed 23 panel sessions on the topic. About 1,500 scientific papers on graphene were published in 2008 alone."

While graphene won't solve the world's problems, it's an interesting material to contemplate. According to an article in Wikipedia,

"Measurements have shown that graphene has a breaking strength 200 times greater than steel, making it the strongest material ever tested." The largest graphene sheets made so far are about 1 square centimeter.

If it can be scaled up to large enough sizes, it would be amazing to be able to hold a fabric which is invisibly thin at the edge. Of course, its applications are unlikely to include conventional fabrics any time soon.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Nick, appreciate the bright spots given the news these days. Let me share one read today about a free-electron laser that promises to radically transform eye and brain surgeries of the future. -K