There’s that all-too famous line from The Graduate, “Just one word… plastics.” Let’s change that to, “Just one word: graphene.” Most people know about plastics. Even at the time of the movie (1967), it was a plausible suggestion for a career, if more than a bit off-target for the Justin Hoffman character. But graphene? Graphene is a single layer, one atom thick, of densely packed carbon atoms. Many such layers together constitute graphite, the stuff of pencils. Graphene typically is found in flat sheets, which have a configuration of atoms that look like a honeycomb (or chicken wire), and it’s about 0.14 nm thick. The “nm” means nanometer, so graphene is part of nanotechnology, an important part. Carbon nanotubes and fullerenes are made of graphene. It has interesting properties, which have attracted many research projects – like this one:
In a paper issued online by the prestigious science journal Nature and slated for print publication in the coming weeks, physics professor Eva Andrei and her Rutgers colleagues note that the strong interaction between electrons, also called correlated behavior, had not been observed in graphene in spite of many attempts to coax it out. This led some scientists to question whether correlated behavior could even be possible in graphene, where the electrons are massless (ultra-relativistic) particles like photons and neutrinos. In most materials, electrons are particles that have mass.
“Our work demonstrated that earlier failures to observe correlated behavior were not due to the physical nature of graphene,” said Eva Andrei, physics professor in the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences. “Rather, it was because of interference from the material which supported graphene samples and the type of electrical probes used to study it.”
This finding should encourage scientists to further pursue graphene and related materials for future electronic applications, including replacements for today’s silicon-based semiconductor materials. Industry experts expect silicon technology to reach fundamental performance limits in a little more than a decade.
Whether graphene becomes a replacement for silicon, or not, doesn’t diminish its potential usefulness. The research above is interesting, at the least, but we’ll be hearing much more about graphene.