Graphene is a wonder material that could dramatically change many industries, but it's been hard to manufacture. Now, scientists from Samsung Electronics say they have developed a method that could help fix that problem.
"We expect this discovery to accelerate the commercialization of graphene, which could unlock the next era of consumer electronic technology," the research team said in a statement.
The work was conducted by researchers from the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, in partnership with Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea, and is published in Friday's issue of Science Magazine and Science Express.
An Elephant and Saran Wrap
Graphene's uniqueness is based on the fact that it is stronger than steel, has high heat conductibility, is flexible, and has much greater electron mobility than silicon.
The research team figured out a new way of creating large area, single crystal wafer scale graphene, growing it on a specially developed layer of germanium. The semiconductor industry has been propelled by growing the area of a silicon wafer. Multi-crystal graphene, in which smaller particles are synthesized to create large area sheets, damaged the material's electrical and mechanical properties.
There are a variety of possible applications for commercially available graphene, which consists of a single layer of carbon atoms patterned in a series of hexagons. This pattern helps to make it the strongest material on the planet, even though it is a million times thinner than paper. It's so strong, in fact, that a Columbia University professor once said that it would take an elephant "to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of Saran Wrap."
Pencil lead is stacked graphene, and carbon nanotubes, used in bikes and a variety of other products, are made from rolled graphene. It wasn't until 2002 that researchers, led by Andre Geim at the University of Manchester in the U.K., were able to laboriously peel flakes of layered graphene until they had created graphene that was only 10 layers thick.
Solar Cells, Bendable Screens
By 2004, the researchers announced that they were able to create graphene that was a single layer thick, a feat for which Geim and a colleague received the Nobel Prize. By 2009, a single layer 30 inches across was created.
The substance's strange properties include the ability to move electrons as much as 200 times faster than in silicon. Even though it is the strongest material around, it is also flexible and can be stretched and curved to some degree. It also absorbs about 2 percent of the visible light hitting it, so one can see through it.
What are the potential applications? Commercialized graphene could lead to a revolution in solar cells, since substituting graphene for the silicon in the current generation of cells could mean much more efficient conversion of solar rays to electricity, and cells that are hundreds of thousands of times thinner and lighter.
Computer chips could be made much more efficient, faster, lighter and thinner. Electronic devices of all kinds might have screens that are very strong, very thin and flexible. Many other possible applications include camera sensors and even DNA sequencing.