What is graphene?

What is graphene?

An artistic representation of a 2D layer of carbon atoms, a.k.a. graphene.
| Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

When the same element is able to exist in different forms, the forms are called allotropes. Graphene, thus, is an allotrope of carbon, along with diamond and graphite. It consists of a single layer of carbon atoms that are linked to each other in a honeycomb pattern.

Graphene is among the most versatile materials known to humankind. As a nanomaterial, it is stronger than diamond, more conductive than silver, more elastic than rubber, and lighter than aluminium. Many people called it a “wonder material”.

It is simple to make graphene: use scotch tape to peel away the lead of a pencil for a while. Under a microscope, you should be able to see graphene residue left on the tape.

However, scientists use more sophisticated techniques in laboratories, like chemical vapour deposition, to deposit graphene in order to make stronger car tires or when making chips to replace those made of silicon in smartphones. When graphene is mixed with concrete, the latter becomes 25% stronger and less carbon-intensive.

Graphene also develops some unusual properties in a twisted bilayer form. In 2019, for example, physicists found that when one sheet of graphene is placed above another and rotated by 1.1 degrees relative to the bottom layer, the stack becomes a superconductor at low temperature.

Karthik Vinod is interning with The Hindu.

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