A new building material is capturing attention in the electronics world because it offers compelling capabilities for designers building the next generation of cool gadgets. Graphene's unusual properties make it ideal for invisible and flexible touch-screens in devices such as smartphones and tablets that fold up, bendable smartwatches, TVs, and memory chips to mention just a few.
Graphene is an atom-thick two-dimensional mineral discovered in 2004 by Andre Geim, PhD, and Kostya Novoselov, PhD, both researchers at the University of Manchester, UK. The two professors were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for their groundbreaking experiments. It's little wonder since it seems like this new material will be a superhero for designers: Graphene is stronger than steel, harder than diamonds, more conductive than copper, more flexible than rubber. It is transparent and almost invisible. Graphene conducts electricity 100 times faster than silicon and can take any form you want. Watch this short video to learn more about graphene:
Superconducting graphene-calcium compound
Recent research at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University discovered how graphene is superconducting in a graphene-calcium compound, allowing graphene to carry electricity with 100% efficiency. Although the superconductivity of graphene-calcium has been known for nearly a decade, the new study shows that the graphene layers are instrumental in the process.
Researchers isolated the carbon sheets by chemically interweaving graphite with crystals of pure calcium. The resulting calcium intercalated (layered) graphite, or CaC6, consists of alternating one-atom-thick layers of graphene and calcium. The CaC6 samples were made at Imperial College London and later on sent to the SLAC. Thanks to this discovery, the scientists expect the manufacture of superconducting graphene devices and the engineering of other materials for nanoscale electronics.
The study, Superconducting Graphene Sheets in CaC6 Enabled by Phonon-Mediated Interband Interactions (open access), was published in the journal Nature Communications in March this year.
An extract from the abstract reads:
Our results indicate the opening of a superconducting gap in the π* band and reveal a substantial contribution to the total electron-phonon-coupling strength from the π*-interlayer interband interaction. Combined with theoretical predictions, these results provide a complete account for the superconducting mechanism in graphite intercalation compounds and lend support to the idea of realizing superconducting graphene by creating an adatom superlattice.
The graphene revolution
Graphene promises to be invaluable in hardware design innovation. It will not only make a great impact in the future of electronics and telecommunications applications due to its unusual electronic properties combined with the possibility of chemical modification, but graphene will also revolutionize other industries such as aerospace, automotive, energy storage, coatings and paints, sensors, solar, and oil. There is also a door open for developing new materials on demand by stacking layers of graphene and other two-dimensional crystals with different insulating, conducting, and magnetic properties. With this beginning, we also enter "The Wonderful World of Wonder Materials."
Laboratory wars, or court wars ahead?
As graphene becomes more popular because it promises to become invaluable in hardware design innovation, and as it becomes revolutionary in so many industries, the world of patents and patent-related lawsuits may see graphene entering the courtrooms as well. However, the first wars over graphene that electronics manufacturers will fight are going to take place in the lab environment.
Apple, Samsung, IBM, and Foxconn have been reported to have graphene-related patents. In the future, we can expect to see more terahertz computer chips, flexible displays, and ultra-powerful batteries. It is only a matter of time before the first mobile devices and wearables using graphene are manufactured.