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Friday, 20 May 2011

Two-dimensional graphene may lead to faster electronics, stronger spacecraft and much more

National Science Foundation
May 19, 2011

In the 19th century novel, Flatland, by Edward A. Abbott, residents of that fictional country exist in only two dimensions. Women are born as line segments, while men come in a range of geometric shapes reflecting their rank, from lowly isosceles triangles, to middle-class squares, to six-sided hexagons, reserved for nobility.

The constraints of life on a flat plane satirically reflect the rigid Victorian class structure of Abbott's time. When the narrator of the story discovers a third dimension, height, he tries to communicate this freeing concept to fellow Flatlanders, and winds up in jail.

Graphene, a real-life version of Flatland, consists of row upon row of hexagonal rings of carbon atoms fitted together in a flat honeycomb pattern only a single atom thick.

This atomic scale makes graphene part of the nano-world, where objects a thousand times thinner than a human hair no longer follow familiar natural laws such as friction and gravity.

Just as the narrator of Flatland rises above his restricted existence to experience life in another dimension, objects on the nano-scale obey a new set of rules: the "spooky" laws of quantum mechanics.

One of the most exciting quantum mechanical effects in graphene is the high speed at which electrons can flow through it due to a lack of friction. This so-called "ballistic" transport could lead to a new generation of superfast, super-efficient electronics.

In addition, for its size, graphene is stronger and more flexible than steel. It conducts heat 10 times faster than copper and can carry 1,000 times the density of electric current as copper wires.

In fact, graphene's structure gives it many unique optical, thermal, mechanical and electrical properties, exciting engineers and scientists all over the world with grand new possibilities for all sorts of applications.
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